All Aboard!
Bringing Passenger Rail Back to the Valley

ARTICLE BY SCOTT SLINGERLAND
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ELIZABETH HUNT

Growing into a Regional Rail Network
To make the whole rail idea more enticing (and profitable), the LVEDC study is looking at how rail service can stretch in all directions from the Lehigh Valley. In addition to eastbound service to New York and southbound service to Philadelphia, extending service north to Scranton and west to Harrisburg would solidify the A-B-E trifecta as the hub of a truly regional rail network. A rail network of this scale could replace approximately 347 flights per day from Philadelphia Airport that are less than 300 miles long.

Emissions of Locomotives Compared to Other Vehicles
Reducing flight volumes from airports would reduce the airports' thirst for expansion, and it would also reduce CO2 emissions (per passenger) by up to 90% compared to air travel.

Some may question the environmental benefits of trains compared to autos and buses. This is a complicated comparison, that must consider the entire life cycle of vehicles: their manufacturing, how many passengers they carry on average, roads/tracks they use, fuel sources (for electric trains only, does electricity come from power plants that consume fossil fuels?), and more...

Compared to automobiles, conventional diesel-electric trains produce about 1/3 of the CO2 emissions (per passenger). Diesel-electric trains produce comparable to slightly higher CO2 levels compared to diesel buses over an average lifetime. Trains being developed with higher efficiency and regenerative braking have a chance to beat conventional buses, but at the same time, technology in buses is advancing in the same direction. The emissions war between buses and trains is one area where buses may have an edge, depending on whose calculations you consider. (Pssst... you can save the environment by taking the bus today! You don't have to wait!)

Where Will the Tracks Go?
Some proponents of rail expansion propose to use interstate highways for rail lines, such as author J.H. Crawford. While the laying of tracks directly onto asphalt may seem extreme to many, the idea of using established highway right-of-ways should not be ruled out.

The preliminary rail study is just underway, which means that fruition of rail service is still years away. Land for tracks and stations need to be procured which is an arduous and sensitive task as open land becomes more scarce. Heading east to New York requires an agreement with New Jersey Transit to extend their service from High Bridge to Phillipsburg, without which, nothing can happen (they are conducting their own feasibility study as well). Southbound trains to Philadelphia may tie into existing SEPTA service, but that has yet to be studied as well.

How Will We Pay For It?
To most people, the thought of buying trains, laying new track, building stations, bridges and tunnels may sound like a humongous financial burden, in which the federal government will be the likely bearer of the brunt. This is true. The shining beacon of funding for rail development is $8 Billion over the next eight years (of the $787 Billion economic recovery bill). The federal transportation budget includes highways and rail infrastructure. In line with a strategic shift in priorities towards mass transit, funding for highway expansions can (in the future) be diverted toward rail. For reference, the approximate U.S. federal transportation budget for 2008 was $40 Billion (pre-stimulus plan). 1% of this budget went toward rail service (Amtrak). U.S. military spending for 2009 is about $700 Billion.

An Open Mind to See the Most Sensible Means

We must make up our own minds about what means of transportation are the most sensible based on our most important values. Looking at historical trends and our own consumption will tell us what we need to know in order to decide.

Transportation is more than just the vehicles we drive. Transportation systems define the pace and rhythm of how we move through our daily schedules. When a new system is made available for the first time (or in this case, after a fifty year absence), it may be a thing of beauty, marvel, speed and efficiency. However, slowly (over a generation or two), we become reliant on the new system and we build our lives around it, like tree roots growing around a stone. When limits and drawbacks of a particular transportation system become apparent, we are often resistant to growth, if it means divergence from our comfort zone. To make a change is more than simply exchanging a set of car keys for a train pass, it is a renovation of our conditioning. The realization that widening roads from 2-4-6-8 lanes is not the feasible solution is not a spontaneous frying pan to the head; it is a slow process within each of us, by which, through observation of self and society, we are drawn closer and closer to a tipping point. That tipping point signifies a threshold of personal clarity beyond which there is no returning to ignorant practices of the past.

Are you close to the tipping point? Ask yourself the following questions. Do you want to spend hours a day on traffic-jammed Route 22, 33, 145, I-78, I-80 or I-476? How much fuel does your car consume and how much pollution does it emit? Is it possible to go on vacation without a car? What could you be doing to improve your life if you were given back all the time you spend sitting in a car?

In the Interim
In the years before train service gets reestablished in the Lehigh Valley, get a taste of mass transit mobility by using the LANTA bus system or one of the other bus services that run daily between the Lehigh Valley and New York City (Transbridge) or Philadelphia (Bieber). You'll be surprised at how they can take you places in comfort, with less pollution and less stress, all contributing to an improved quality of life for everyone.

In this article, we'll look at the motivating factors for bringing passenger train service back to the Lehigh Valley. To understand this, we'll step into past trends and present sociological and economic conditions that may make it viable. We will also glimpse at transportation trends in other areas of the United States and abroad, as models of what was, what is, and what could be.

Modern Day Mindset
It's funny that without even trying, transportation finds itself at the intersection of social, economic and environmental philosophies. Transportation defines our mobility, whether be it an airplane, a train, a bus, a car, a bicycle, a wheelchair or our own two feet. How we “get around” symbolizes our conscious and subconscious priorities: speed, safety, comfort, health, environment, affluence, community – to name a few.

Nationalism can even be represented through transportation choices. Justification to say, “I drive my gas guzzler a hundred miles a day, because it is my right as an American”, is merely sentimental; it is not sustainable.

While many families and individuals have taken on the supercommute in recent years, every sign points to the non-sustainability of this lifestyle. The Lehigh Valley's population is the fastest-growing and its rate of land-consumption is the highest in Pennsylvania. Traffic congestion, highway deaths, and air pollution, are all trends that are increasing with our current practices. Between 2009 and 2039, the population of the United States is predicted to increase by 33%1. Think about the impact of that...

Switching Tracks to Passenger Rail
Passenger rail transit is a timely topic, as the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC) and Lehigh/Northampton Counties have just kicked off a $250,000 moon's eye view study to determine what it will take and how successful it will be to restore passenger service between the Lehigh Valley and New York City/Philadelphia.

The LVEDC is spearheading the rail study, because rail is in-line with its mission to grow economic prosperity for the region. “A regional rail network can attract employers to the area; creating large-market jobs for professionals.”, says LVEDC Marketing Director, Margaret McConnell.

When economic goals are aligned with environmental and social sustainability, everyone benefits. “For the valley's eleven colleges and universities, regional rail network can eliminate the need for thousands of out-of-area students to be transported in by car.” If rail stations return to the downtowns of Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton, “housing and businesses in the cities will prosper”, says McConnell. This has a domino benefit, increasing the tax-base in the cities, which in turn increases the cities' resources to improve services to city residents. By locating rail stations in city-centers, efficient long-range transportation is directly accessible to all members of society.

Transit-Oriented-Development (TOD)
When cities regain their status as hubs of transportation, or even, when new communities are planned with density sufficient that people can walk or bicycle to a train or bus station, this is known as “transit-oriented-development (TOD)”. Paul Marin, of the LVEDC, is a champion of the TOD concept that not only reduces reliance on the automobile, but it improves the overall quality-of-life. “TOD residents are five to six times more likely to use mass-transit than non-TOD counterparts”, says Marin. This makes smart sense!

TOD will make the Lehigh Valley a more desirable place to live, by preserving what diversity of the landscape that remains, and by reducing traffic volume on overburdened roadways. TOD can happen much sooner than rail service, as part of “smart growth”, says Easton Mayor Sal Panto (a former high school history teacher). “The freedom that the automobile has given us, has led to land development that makes us overly-reliant on the automobile.” Promoting mass transit, walkability and bicycle transportation is the backbone for Easton's new zoning standards, touting smart growth as the only growth that Easton is willing to consider in the future. If this means that new development will respect existing neighborhoods and not turn them into parking lots, everyone will win. A return to the village mentality, where people share resources and accountability - that is the key.

Decline of Suburbia and Rebirth of the Village
In conversation with Mayor Panto of Easton, he talks of a “reverse migration” on the horizon, with large populations coming back to cities by choice, with awareness of their environmental footprint and consumption. This is the essence of a smart growth mentality. Think about everyone having and maintaining their own swimming pool that is empty most of the day, versus a community sharing a single, larger swimming pool that is located within walking distance for most residents.

The same example can be used for a variety of the most common land-uses: food stores, office buildings and retail shopping. It all ties together with transportation. Which do you think is more sustainable? Single-use land development, where daily destinations are miles apart? Or mixed-use land development, which takes on the feel of a village (if you prefer the slower pace), or the city (if you like excitement)? Mixed-use development favors mass-transit and eliminates the need for automobiles. Viva el Pedestrian!

 




United States Congressman Charlie Dent, serving the 15th district of Pennsylvania, including the Lehigh Valley, Indian Valley, and Upper Perkiomen Regions.


ask
Mr. Smith goes to Washington

INTERVIEW BY DAWN NIXON
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ANTHONY J. MARRACCINI

What about the people out there whose employers can’t offer health care benefits, and who make too little to afford to buy them and too much to qualify for Medicaid?
55% of the uninsured problem in America is under the age of 35. What we’d like to do is help those people to stay on their parents plan until the age of 29. I don’t have to disrupt millions of American’s coverages to do just that.

And if an employee’s company doesn’t offer health coverage, then you have to use your after tax dollars to buy it. Let’s give you a favorable trade. Let’s give you tax credits, refundable tax credits, deductions or exclusions. If the person is not making enough money, then make it a refundable tax credit.

The point is that there are things that we can do. The things that I want to do are to equalize tax treatment so that individuals will be able to purchase health insurance in a more affordable manner. We need to control costs. We need substantial and serious medical liability reform. Medical liability drives up costs because of defensive medical practices. We need to develop high risk pools to help people with pre-existing conditions so that they can be subsidized and these people can purchase insurance.

We also need to emphasize prevention and wellness. Why not give incentives for things that people can do to take care of themselves.

So those are just a few suggestions. We also need to establish a medical rights act that simply states that no government bureaucrat can stand between you and your doctor, to basically protect that sacred relationship.

The bill before us has employer mandates all over the place that will lead to higher unemployment. The bill will also raise health care costs and raise the federal deficit quite substantially. It will drive millions of Americans out of their private coverage and into a government plan which will be heavily subsidized and no one will be able to compete against it. The costs will go up, the government will then delay and deny care and you’ll have people waiting in line.

It is a difficult and complex issue and that’s why we have to move deliberately and not in a rash manner.

What are your thoughts on gay marriage?

I’ve always supported traditional marriage. When I was in the Pennsylvania legislature I basically supported a law that says a marriage is between a man and a woman.

I do acknowledge that there are ways in which we can help people who are in committed relationships that are of the same sex,that might have to do with disputes on property or visitations in hospitals and similar issues.

Can you tell us a little about your family life and how being a congressman affects that?
I’m married with three children. And obviously when you’re in congress, you spend anywhere from three to five days a week in Washington. And then I come back here on weekends. I live here. I live in the Lehigh Valley and that has never changed. Some people say “How do you like living in Washington?” and I say “Well, I live in the Lehigh Valley.” My home is here. My children go to public schools. We live in the city of Allentown, in the Parkland School District.

We are active in our community and I am back and forth between Washington and the Valley. Obviously that has its rewards and its challenges but I think my family understands that serving the public is an immense responsibility.

My wife and my children do make some sacrifices so that I am allowed to serve and I do appreciate that. Without their support I wouldn’t be able to do this.

I feel at times like a part of history. It’s been a great thrill. To represent the people of our district is a true honor and a fantastic privilege.

Republican Congressman Charlie Dent sits down with the Elucidator and tackles the tough political questions. He gives us his sometimes controversial answers to health care reform, gay marriage and Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan’s hotly debated run for Congress.

Along the way we get to know him a little too. He opens up about his family life and what it’s like to be a part of history.

So you’re up for re-election in 2010…How do you feel about Bethlehem’s Mayor Callahan throwing his hat into the ring? Some people think that is quite contentious.
Well, it is. It’s quite presumptuous actually. We will be more than ready. He’s out there proposing to raise the sales tax in Pennsylvania so that he can spend more money. There are some real contrasts. He’s been very much a proponent of the stimulus package, in contrast to myself. He supports borrowing tremendous amounts of money in one fell swoop. Borrowing and spending a lot is what he is about. We will have some very interesting and heated debates.

What will the platform be that you will be running on?

Jobs. Jobs and the economy, that’s what we are going to be talking about quite a bit. Jobs, the economy and experience.

With this issue of the Elucidator we are focusing on the efforts to bring commuter rail service to the Valley, do you think this is feasible?
Well, regarding passenger rail service between cities in the valley, I’ve been working with folks on this issue in the Souderton area of the Indian valley. From there you could conceivably run lines from Shelley down into Bethlehem and Hellertown. I’ve been supportive of that issue but the problem is trying to address the different needs between passenger rail and freight rail. You have to accommodate both uses. That’s the challenge.

As far as bringing passenger rail from New York City or Philadelphia into the Lehigh Valley, many are aware of the I-78 corridor study going on on the Jersey side. There will also be a study on the Lehigh Valley side to look at the I-78 rail initiative. But the reality is that the priority of N.J. Transit right now seems to be building another tunnel under the Hudson River. And thus largely the fate of bringing commuter rail from New York into the Valley hinges on the folks in New Jersey at the moment. But I’m looking forward to the results of the corridor study and that’s something we’ll learn more about in the coming months.

What are your thoughts on health care reform?

First, I think that health care should be patient centered and not government centered. Health care is very individualized and people take it very personally. Unfortunately the plan that has moved through the three committees in Washington is not particularly patient centered, it’s government centered. Those proposals will disrupt the coverage’s of millions of Americans and basically throw them into a government plan with all sorts of mandates and payroll taxes.





Reel Life in the Valley
An Up Close Look at Area Filmmakers

ARTICLE BY KELLY PRENTICE
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ANTHONY J. MARRACINI

“There’s always an opportunity, however small, to put something out there that can change the way people are thinking. When I saw what Spike Lee was doing, I thought, you could really use movies to help people examine themselves. I heard somewhere, ‘a life unexamined is not a life worth living.’”

He’s near completion of his first full feature film, a psychological thriller that deals with schizophrenia in the vein of Jacob’s Ladder. And he’s considering filming it in the Valley.

“My ultimate goal is to wrap these stories in fantasy and imagination with characters that are so true.”

Maciek Albrecht: Down the Rabbit Hole

Down another short alleyway on Easton’s West side, a metal door that used to lead to a social club now leads into a magical place. Floor tiles of the rainbow draw you in and life-size animated characters open up your imagination. Every day is an adventure in Maciek Albrecht’s animation studio (www.greenmagikworld.com). A character designer, director and producer of animated shorts and illustrations, Maciek illustrates the old-fashioned way: 2-dimensional animation frame by frame.

“Classical animation is rare today,” Maciek says. “We do everything from pop art to clay figures to cutouts. Every film is a different journey.”

Maciek came to the U.S. to visit his brother in 1981 and Marshall Law banned him from returning to his native Poland. He lived in New York for 10 years, but always had ties to Easton. Maciek designed the mural that used to grace the bridge where Route 611 South begins, working closely with the Boys and Girls Club of Easton.

He’s since done dozens of family specials for HBO, including the Emmy-winning series, Classical Baby, a clever, precious series of specials that teach toddlers about music, dance, art and poetry.

“Having parents come to us and say their child recognized classical music because of our set, this was meaningful to me,” Maciek says.

I’ve never seen Emmys in person, and when Maciek swung open the doors to his editing suite, the golden glow stopped me in my tracks. He humbly says his best work is yet to come.

“I think the biggest fun in making the film,” Maciek says, “is when time doesn’t really exist. One right move can take a day, or a few hours. You are entering a different time zone when you animate.”

Maciek’s illustrations have appeared in The New York Times, Traveler Conde Nast and Rolling Stone. His latest illustration work, “Eco-Families”, will be featured at the opening party of the SouthSide Film Festival June 16 at Home & Planet gallery. Not only does he want to promote environmental awareness, Maciek also wants to get families thinking about doing things together.

“The example comes from parents,” he says. “My family joined Green America Organization and wanted to get involved in some way to encourage small changes in each neighborhood.”

[K] Studios: Production Work
Across from the old Americus Hotel on Hamilton in Allentown lies the door to [K] Studios (www.kstudios.com). After a ride up the elevator, the atmosphere screams “Let’s play!” from the retro arcade game to the gory mask from their horror feature, “Hells’ Half Acre.” Later, president Sean Tiedman unveils quirkier décor—pulling a tarp from the “TAM” mannequin from Easton’s Weller Center.

“Our job is never boring,” Sean laughs. “I have to go buy a rat today, take it home and train it to run in circles.”

[K] Studios has won awards for television and commercial editing, web design and production work. Sean and his partner, Scott Krychia, recently filmed segments for the Bravo! Network’s highest rated series of the year, 100 Scariest Movie Moments. They served as co-producers on Everything’s Jake, a Hollywood drama starring Ernie Hudson from Ghostbusters fame.

Locally they produce and direct The Stage (www.thestagetv.com) on Service Electric TV2, an award-winning music show that features interviews with stars like Daryl Hall and John Oates, Counting Crows, Papa Roach and Godsmack. Their “corporate” work includes Weller Center projects, among them a short documentary they shot at Allen High School about student stress. Part of the appeal of staying small and local is that [K] can achieve a high level broadcast quality for its clients at a lower rate.

“You have all the resources you need here,” Sean says. “And why not stay here and be a big fish in a small sea.” He notes the Lehigh Valley has always been a popular place for filming and thinks its popularity with filmmakers will continue to grow.

For many films, [K] Studios functions as a mini-publicity team, completing all of the public relations artwork that surrounds a feature film today: from still photography to the “making of the movie”.

“We should have quit about 100 times, but we keep on going,” said Scott. “It’s all about the hard work. We love what we do. We see so much behind the scenes, it’s like a backstage pass to life.”

Filmmaking has taken hold in the Lehigh Valley. Start asking about local filmmakers and doors open up from Allentown to Easton. Behind each door, a world of talent all its own, flush with award-winning writers, editors, producers, even animators.

Perhaps you’ve heard of Lou Reda, the award-winning producer of documentaries for the History Channel, headquartered on Ferry Street in Easton. But, did you know Hollywood editor Gershon Hinkson, who worked on movies like Poseidon and Spider-Man 2, lives blocks away from Reda? And Emmy-award winning HBO animator Maciek (mah-jeek) Albrecht creates his “magic” just across town? In Allentown, [K] Studios is busy co-producing compilations like the 100 Scariest Movie Moments for Bravo! Network

Not only do filmmakers make their home here, once a year, independent filmmakers from New York to Europe pour into South Bethlehem for a film festival unlike any other. Festival Director Graham Stanford says the grassroots festival has drawn the community closer, and brought independent vision to the Lehigh Valley.

Lou Reda Productions: Making History in Easton

The door to the Reda building across from the Easton Post Office is swung wide open. Walk in and you’ll find rows and rows of archival war footage on the shelves. The executive suite, a bit harder to find, is a step back in time. Muzzles and rifles hang dignified on every wall, flags drape the chairs and artifacts are preserved behind glass. It’s positively a museum, until Executive Producer Scott Reda and I turn to face his massive Macintosh monitor to play the rough cut from their latest documentary, WWII HD.

“This is groundbreaking for History [channel],” says Scott. “We’re following 10 characters with intriguing stories, like Band of Brothers.”

It’s an understatement to say Scott’s excited. His staff of internationally recognized filmmakers and editors are working on their most ambitious project to date, a 10-part series that will offer one of the most visually astonishing World War II experiences ever seen on television. Fighter jets appear on screen, and his top-flight speakers roar.

WW II HD will draw from 3,000 hours of archival footage unearthed from Reda’s archives and restored to pristine condition through advanced HD technology. After poring through hundreds of memoirs, Scott’s team chose 10 veterans whose stories were most compelling and the series will follow their experiences.

“We’re bringing out the best of the best for this one,” Scott says. Hollywood talent like L.L. Cool J. and Amy Smart are being considered to tell the stories in the veterans’ own words.

Scott’s father and founder Lou Reda began acquiring archival film and video footage from the Army and Navy in the ‘60s. The company now holds 13,000 hours of stock footage, which they offer for license, along with their state-of-the art technical and creative production and editing services.

Though best known for History Channel documentaries about events that shaped the world (their latest is 70s Fever.), Reda Productions has also earned critical acclaim for its biographies of famous faces and music icons like Bob Marley and Eric Clapton.

Gershon Hinkson: A Life Examined
Just down the alleyway from Reda Productions is a large warehouse door painted with a magnolia in sweeping shades of lavender. Quite surprisingly, you’ll find nationally respected editor and aspiring filmmaker Gershon Hinkson behind this door.

At one time, Gershon’s life was enmeshed in the negative elements of his Brooklyn neighborhood—crime, drugs, and violence—until a fortuitous opportunity to take a film editing class catapulted him into a career in Hollywood. Gershon took charge of life and became editor to films like Clockers, Girl 6 and Great Expectations. Eventually, he moved to L.A., where he served as assistant editor for blockbusters such as Head of State, The Interpreter and Spider-Man 2, Aeon Flux and Poseidon.

Today, in his studio apartment, Gershon appears to be less Hollywood glitz and glamour and more Lehigh Valley laid back. He makes his permanent home in Easton now with his fiancée Barbara and lovely daughter.

“Easton is still a bit urban, but also offers me the freedom and peace of mind to be creative,” he says. “That’s all an artist and a writer can ask for. My mind is able to dwell in this open place.”

Gershon knew movies were his passion from the day he saw E.T. He knew acting was not his thing, so editing was a natural fit.

“When you’re editing, you’re really creating the story,” he says. “And today with computer technology we’re responsible for so much more, like mixing audio together.”

Now, Gershon’s reinvesting his Hollywood earnings to write, direct and produce his own films. In his first film short called Seven Breaths, he writes about an incident that had a profound impact on his own life. The main character gets held up at gunpoint, making him contemplate his own mortality. Gershon wants to tell stories that make a difference.

The SouthSide Film Festival: A Must-See
There’s one more door that opens every summer, and in pour independent filmmakers from all over the world to Bethlehem’s SouthSide Film Festival (www.ssff.org). On June 16, an opening party at the earth-friendly furnishings store Home & Planet on South 4th Street will kick off the 2009 festival. The crowd of filmmakers and film lovers will follow the sound of the City’s Bagpipe Band up the hill to historic Packer Chapel at Lehigh University, where they’ll screen the silent film Metropolis to an original score by local band Sports for Kin.

Though it has roots in the close-knit community of South Bethlehem, this film festival is more global in flavor, appealing to those looking for hard-hitting, socially relevant films. SSFF Board President Jeff Vaclavik says the jury selects from hundreds of submissions based on quality, innovation and, most importantly, the ability to tell a story.

“We look at every film exactly the same, whether local or international,” says Jeff, also owner of Deja Brew Coffee House. “We view film as art, not as a commercial enterprise. Many of these independents are writing, producing, starring in and editing the film.”

“I think the festival’s choices are always bold and I think they’re courageous,” says filmmaker, participant and festival workshop leader Shanti Thakur. “They are really outside the mainstream, but still accessible to people who love a good story.”

The festival has hosted filmmakers from 57 countries and 33 states, and many returning artists. This year, 40 films will be shown (up to three screenings each) in Lehigh University’s Whittaker and Sinclair Lab auditoriums, in addition to the old Victory Firehouse at Webster and Columbia streets. The 2009 films include a documentary about living with Alzheimer’s, a mockumentary vampire movie, a reprise of a 1920s era silent film and a short about the making of cigar box guitars.

The main way the SSFF differentiates itself from other film festivals is by its focusing on the filmmakers as artists

“We create a sense of community right away when they arrive,” Jeff says, “Usually they come into the coffee shop and I meet and greet them. The people who come to see the films want to engage the filmmakers, too. It’s a relaxed, close-knit atmosphere.”

To top off that welcome, the SSFF Board offers them housing in the “Filmmaker’s Village” (Lehigh’s Campus Square). South Bethlehem is well known for its strong sense of community and the vigorous support of its businesses, artists and patrons of the arts.

“I don’t think you could do this festival in other places,” Jeff said. “South Bethlehem is conducive to this because of the community here. There are generations of hardworking people here from all over the world.”

The festival has featured a handful of local filmmakers over the years, including Ishai Setton from Allentown who wrote and produced The Big Bad Swim; DeSales University alum Kevin McCrory; Kevin Kiernan of Spaceship Brain in Bethlehem; and animator Maciek Albrecht.

“It’s not a matter of coming to just watch films,” says SSFF volunteer Vern Walker, “it’s a matter of coming to be immersed for a few days in an art form with a community.”

The Filmmaking Hub
If you live in the Valley, you’ve probably walked by at least one of these doors a dozen times. Perhaps you had no idea about the stories that lie behind them. From classical animation to horror, from hard-hitting documentaries to Hollywood, the area is rife with film talent on every side of the industry. Perhaps we’re already living in the filmmaking hub of the Northeast, even if it is top secret.




Down & Derby
Here in Rollergirl Land, the final score is determined by the contest itself

ARTICLE BY GEORGE COOPER
PHOTOGRAPHY BY MICHELE SZOLKA

The object of the contest, called a “bout,” is to out-point your opponent by sending one skater, or jammer in Rollergirl lingo, around the track and passing the opponents. Each team is comprised of three blockers, one pivot and the jammer. The jammers seem to be like scatbacks in football. Think Reggie Bush trying to squeeze through a moving line of skaters intent on blocking his progress. The blockers are allowed to use body parts above the mid thigh to impede the opposing team’s jammer from passing through their “pack.” The bouts consist of two 30 minute or three 20 minute periods. The referee signals the beginning of “jam formation”, which is when the entire pack moves counterclockwise, sans jammers. When the pack is formed and has begun skating, the referee whistles again and the jammers enter the fray to try to pass the opposing team’s blockers and pivots. Players who block illegally or break other rules are put in a penalty box much like hockey.

The Rollergirls worked a drill practicing different jammers on the track with different line formations. Communication among the blockers seems to be very important in building an impenetrable line to thwart those sneaky jammers. The game is slower than I remember from those long ago Saturday afternoon, due mainly to the flat track. I didn’t see anyone practicing that slingshot move either.

OK, so it’s not your mother’s roller derby. I don’t envision chair-throwing melees with role-playing combatants. Here, in Rollergirl land, there will be no shady, cigar-smoking promoters telling the Hissy Fits that “it isn’t your night.” The final score is determined by the contest itself. Team founder Elaina Borchelt described the Rollergirls as a varied group, comprised of those with strong athletic backgrounds and others with simply a desire to participate in an offbeat, aggressive sport. Importantly, all team members buy into the business model required to run a successful franchise. The novices may require some skating lessons to get started but everyone uses off track skills to contribute to the Rollergirl brand. All in all, a business model with some punk sensibilities.

What we do have here is a group of women, with attitude, that play a clean, yet tough game that will entertain on the track, and be positive role models off the track. Players develop their own little fan groups. Rose Beef has an entourage that brings A-1 bottles to the bouts for encouragement. The unique culture of the roller derby bout allows these busy women to leave their everyday lives and become a colorful athlete for a few hours, complete with fan club. And in those few hours real competition ensues, with no outcome pre-arranged. Milk Maiden, who has played a number of team sports including college rugby, enjoys the team comraderie and new challenges this sport presents. So imagine a corporate board meeting, complete with power point, marketing strategies and the like, coming to a close, and, a short time later, those same participants emerging from a locker room with gladiator pads, clever nicknames and a kickass attitude to elbow their way into the Lehigh Valley sports scene. These are your Lehigh Valley Rollergirls!

Elaina Borchelt 267-252-5107 founder/manager of the Lehigh Valley Rollergirls

Wow! An opportunity to get a close-up look at women’s roller derby! My wife invited me along to write about the Lehigh Valley Rollergirls, the local group of women that practice and compete at the Independence Family Fun Center in Schnecksville, PA, reflecting a resurgence in the sport of roller derby. The Rollergirls were established in January of 2006, growing into a non-profit organization with two traveling teams, the Hissy Fits and the Special Vixens Unit. This skater-owned-and-operated outfit promotes “strong women and the spirit of sisterhood, both on and off the track.” The teams are striving to join the sport’s governing organization, the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA). Founded in 2005, WFTDA consolidated thirty leagues and adopted standard policies and procedures with which to govern those leagues and add new members. WFTDA has added eight new member leagues since September 2006. The Rollergirls remain committed to gaining admission to WFTDA.

I arrived at the practice facility with a frame of reference of the Bay Area Bombers, or the Philadelphia Warriors, gleaned from Saturday afternoon television. I was prepared to dodge women flying off the track, slung by this generation’s “girl next door” Judy Arnold. My first observation was the absence of a banked track. A flat skating rink made for slower speed and more difficulty in the turns. Women were skating leisurely in assorted practice gear. The common denominator was the brightly striped socks worn by the Rollergirls. All wore helmets and the full array of knee and elbow pads, hinting at upcoming mayhem. First, though, the women sat through a team meeting and a review of the recently administered WFTDA rules test. The process of gaining membership in WFTDA is challenging. This particular test had 70 questions, with 50 correct answers needed to pass. Team members need to be conversant in all derby rules and referee hand signals.

Finally, the Rollergirls began their skating portion of the practice. The actual oval was roped off and the team members glided around, stretching and hopping to develop balance. There was a range of experience among the skaters, from the confident veterans to the tentative neophytes, or “fresh meat.” Many of the team members, either Vixens or Hissies, had their roller derby names and numbers printed on the backs of their jerseys. I saw Daisy Destructo and Tortelina Temptress. I spoke with Milk Maiden, # 1/2 & ½, and Rose Beef, whose number was appropriately, # A-1. The backgrounds of the women range from the ranks of the corporate professionals to the stay-at-home moms. The teams are non-profit, skater-owned and operated. Ms. Beef stressed the gamut of experience that is gained from simply being a Rollergirl member, from marketing and promoting the team to the actual physical and intellectual development of the women participating. The women strive to be positive, empowering role models for girls. All 31 members of the Rollergirls roster share this mission.





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INTERVIEW BY DAWN NIXON
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ANTHONY J. MARRACCINI

And of course I’d like to see us start to think big, to not be afraid to think big, and to use our inherent strengths to our advantage to draw people to the area. The only way Easton can grow is if people start to see how cool Easton really is. If we can attract more people to live here and open businesses, then there will be jobs and the economic base will do better and we’ll all prosper.

To that end, I’m trying to encourage the arts as an issue of economic development. In fact, one of the most important things I’m involved with is the Bushkill Corridor and the 13th Street Silk Mill Projects. We’re looking to make that into some sort of arts complex that houses creative industries and can also be mixed use commercial/residential.

The arts alone are a powerful way to bring people together, to integrate people and to bring cultures together. And people are starting to say, “Hey, I really want to come to Easton, because I hear the arts are a big deal.”

Do you ever see yourself getting involved in politics, locally?

I don’t know…It’s such a difficult question, ideally I could see myself doing it and I would hope I’d be good at it, but not in the near future, no. I’m still young and I’m still figuring myself out.

Outside of your work with Connexions and the Easton Arts Community at large, you are first and foremost an artist in your own right. What are you working on right now?

My work is largely autobiographical. That’s the motivating factor of my solo show coming up in September at Connexions. I’m working on the concept, the overall theme of the show. I’m working with a lot of found pieces; it’s very conceptual and rather cathartic. I use text and salvaged materials.

There’s a lot of my Catholic angst in the work, and this whole necessity to forgive myself for who I was in the past. There are things I’ve done that I’m conflicted about and there are conflicts in me. I want it to be sort of a story around the room with some sort of revelation or release at the end. For me it’s the whole concept that’s important. There needs to be a whole dialogue and somehow every piece needs to have a conversation.

Finally, what brought about this newest venture? What made you to decide to take over the Elucidator and do you think you’ll be changing its direction at all?
I’ve always wanted to do a magazine. It’s an interesting concept to have a voice like that. There are some really cool local people that are working on it with me. And I like that idea of bringing creative people together.

As far as change, I’d like it to remain smart and edgy while broadening its base. A broader audience allows for more voices to interact through it.

And I’d like to add to it. For instance, this interview itself is a new addition. I have ideas for a serial, maybe a graphic novel. Over time, I want to make it thicker. I’d like to see it issued more than four times a year. Overall though, I don’t want to dumb it down, but I do want to make it a little more fun. I think if I change it at all, that will be the focus; still informative, but more fun.

This truly is a very positive creative venture. I’m intrigued by the notion of people being able to express themselves verbally through the magazine and to then get feedback from the public. I’m really interested in that interaction between the magazine and the community. It all comes back to community.

As an artist, co-owner of Connexions Gallery, President of the Arts Community of Easton (ACE) and an overall fixture on Easton Art’s scene, Anthony Marraccini has his hands in a bit of everything locally. And he’s not afraid to get those hands dirty.

His can-do leadership has aided in prompting many of the recent positive changes in Easton and helps to inspire a renewed focus among downtown artists and businesses.

Anthony’s latest project is taking over the reins of the Elucidator. We sat down with him recently to discuss art, Easton, and the future of the magazine.

You and your partner Alice just celebrated your five year anniversary as the proprietors of Connexions Gallery. How has Connexions changed in the past five years? And what do you see in its future?
Well, I’d love for it to be a cultural beacon in the area, which I think it is becoming. About two years ago we started having music on a regular basis. And while it continues to be a true formal gallery space, we’re adding workshops currently so that the public can come and learn and interact with the art. People can draw closer and make things in the gallery, create things.

All in all, it has become more of a community hub. A lot of people come and hang out here and meet each other. Many young people and students attend, so we try to make it inclusive that way. Because of the way Connexions is presented, people think it is more their place, more their own.

So tell me more about your involvement in the community…
Since taking over the gallery, we’ve tried to be as proactive as possible as opposed to just sitting inside and waiting for things to change in our area. We said, “We’re going to go out and we are going to engage the neighborhood and try and find ways to help.”

And since becoming President of ACE, I’ve done my best to push ACE out into the community. The exciting part about being president is the opportunity to bring people together.

With the Riverside Festival of the Arts, for example, we try to foster a convergence between the public and the local arts community. It’s something I’ve been involved in for 6 years, and it’s now part of ACE as well. We’ve taken it from a one day event to a two day event, have upped the prize money and made efforts to attract high quality art. It is poised to become a really good arts festival.

So, what would you like to see for the city of Easton, what positive changes would you like to see made?

I believe that there is good energy here in Easton, but I would like to see people cooperate more. We’d get a lot more done if we’d just cooperate. I do think Mayor Panto does a good job with that. He is very much his own man, but at the same time he brings people together.