Entries tagged with “Pittsburgh”.

From my perspective as a professional yo-yo man, it sure seems as if yo-yos are recession proof.  As the economy tanked almost everyone suffered, and I am no exception. However, for the last two years I have seen an interesting trend in my business. While it has gotten increasingly difficult to book shows, when I can actually get my foot in the door and get in front of an audience, they are buying yo-yos like crazy.


I make my living as an entertainer.  In general the way it works is that people hire me to come and perform my show at an event. I get hired for a wide variety of gatherings: it could be anything from a local library show, a school, a company picnic or holiday party to an international festival in Shanghai China or a trade show in Australia.  I have been around the world with a yo-yo in my pocket, but I mostly work in the Midwest of the United States.  While my main product is my show, I always have yo-yos for sale afterward if I can.  It’s a nice way to let people take a piece of the show home with them, enjoy a part of our national cultural heritage, and have fun with a new toy. For me of course, yo-yo sales allow me to have a little extra money in my pocket, and until the recession hit, “little” was usually the operative word.


So why are yo-yos selling so well now? I think that there are several reasons:

  • Yo-yos are cheap.  You can get a lot of fun out of a $5 or $10 yo-yo, and it’s a lot easier on a strained budget to spend even $50 on a really nice yo-yo than to drop hundreds of dollars on a new videogame system.
  • Yo-yos are fun. You get an immediate shot of fun injected directly into your brain.
  • Yo-yos are easy. Almost anyone can learn a few cool tricks with only minimal instruction, and if you have access to a professional or the internet, you can learn even more.
  • Exercise. While yo-yoing is nothing like doing the decathlon, it is physical activity, and a lot of people are looking for any way to keep kids (or adults for that matter) active.
  • Boost hand-eye coordination. There is no doubt that yo-yos are good for this.
  • Yo-yos are social. Especially in a school environment, yo-yos lead to more social interaction. One person knows how to do a specific trick, so other people come to them for pointers. I had one Principal who was thrilled with the massive inter-grade socialization that happened at her school after I had performed and taught workshops there.
  • People are simplifying. Yo-yos are a classic part of American culture, and remind us of simpler times. They let you feel like you are getting back to basics, and taking part in our traditional culture.

I should point out that I am certainly not getting rich off yo-yo sales, especially since getting in the door to do a show in the first place is still difficult, but yo-yo sales have helped me get through this slow economy. I think it’s fascinating how our behavior changes in hard times. I’ve always known that yo-yos were incredibly cool, and as a professional yo-yo man it’s extremely gratifying that when times get tough, and we as a nation look for entertainment, yo-yos are the comfort food of the toy world.



Mark Hayward is a full-time professional yo-yo man, and he also runs howtoyoyo.com where you can buy your own yo-yo, and learn how to use it. For  more on Mark’s show, and booking information check out www.markhayward.net



This is a photo from Frick Park in Pittsburgh a few weeks ago when we got more than 20 inches of snow. Check out the bent and broken trees in the background.

Lola, Onyx, and Vader

Hayward/Thomas Model A Covered Bridge Tour, October 12 2008

We couldn’t have asked for a better day for a drive.  The morning started off a little cool, but the sun warmed us up nicely by midday.  The fall colors had just come out, and we had plenty of opportunities to see them on the many tiny, winding roads we took to get to the covered bridges and the trolley museum.

Things started off at the McDonalds on Washington Ave. in Bridgeville.  On our earlier scouting runs Lenore and I had discovered that all the covered bridges that we knew of were identical, so for the tour we decided to just see a selection of them.  Since the bridges tend to be on very small roads, and not near towns, the tour group got to drive on some very narrow, winding roads through some gorgeous rural areas.  Several people wondered how Lenore and I were able to find these tiny, out-of-the-way roads after having only lived in the state for a year… it was all thanks to the internet.  Much of the planning was done with the help of the Google Maps website, followed by several scouting trips.  You can see our route here.

We drove right through the first covered bridge without stopping, and went on to the stone “S” bridge at the intersection of Hwy 40 and Hwy 221.  It’s an all stone bridge, completed in 1818, that was actually built for wagon and stage traffic headed toward the expanding West.  It was fun to see something designed for a time so long before our cars were around.

Next it was off to our last two bridges, in the vicinity of East Finley.  This was when we had the first break-down of the trip… and unfortunately it was my car that broke down.  On the upside, it was a quickly fixed sticky clutch pedal, and I got to see a “roadside seminar” up close and personal.

Keith Waltower gets us back on the road.  It was very funny that the men couldn’t wait to look under the hood, but most of the ladies stayed in the cars.  Lenore took this fantastic photo.


Long thought to be extinct, and to live only in its natural habitat of Southern Australia and the island of Tasmania, a fine specimen of Tasmanian Tiger (aka Thylacine) was spotted and photographed in Pittsburgh!  Amazingly it was also in my front yard… during our pumpkin carving party… and it’s wearing a collar… and looks suspiciously like someone just panited our dog.

Real Tasmanian Tigers are incredibly cool animals.  For more info check out the Thylacine Museum.

Summary: when resurfacing the manifold, leave the exhaust and intake manifolds bolted together.

  1. So they will be the same thickness when you’re done
  2. Because the bolts that hold them together are often rusted and will disintegrate and not go back together again later. You may have to drill and re-tap the hole, and use bigger bolts.


Every maintenance saga starts off the same way: someone says something like, “Oh yeah, that should be an easy fix.” This time at least it wasn’t me who said it.

When I first got the engine running on my 1930 Model A Ford Sport Coupe I noticed that there was an imperfect seal between the engine block and the exhaust manifold. I could see little puffs of smoke coming out. If you’re not a car person, the exhaust manifold is a cast-iron branching tube that funnels the exhaust out of the engine and into the exhaust pipe. I mentioned the leak to my friend Devin, and he was the one who said the famous last words this time, “It’s easy to replace that gasket. You don’t even have to take the manifold all the way off to do it.”

So I bought a new gasket, loosened the nuts on the manifold, slid out the old gasket, and slid in the new one. Easy. Except that it didn’t fix the problem.

I mentioned it to the guys at one of the meetings of the 3 Rivers Region Model A Ford Restorer’s Club and was told that I might have to have my manifold resurfaced. Apparently this is a common problem with Model A Ford manifolds. After a while the flat surfaces that are supposed to be perfectly flush with the side of the engine block get warped and no longer make a good seal. Fortunately Keith Waltower is in our club, and he is a very experienced mechanic of old cars. He told me of a NAPA shop down in Belle Vernon PA that had a giant belt sander that could do the resurfacing more quickly, easily, and cheaper than taking it to a machine shop. Apparently a lot of the cost of getting a part machined is in the set-up, and with a giant belt sander there would be no set-up.

I was trying to get the car ready to drive for a 4th of July parade in Cannonsburg with the Model A club in a couple of days, so I was in a bit of a hurry to get the job done. The place that Keith mentioned was about a 45 minute drive from my house, so I made a few calls to see if I could get the resurfacing done somewhere a little closer to home. Most places couldn’t do it soon enough, and they wanted about $80. So off I went to Belle Vernon with my exhaust manifold. In hind-sight I now know that this is where I made a critical mistake. You may even know what it is if you’re a Model A person, and we’ll get back to it later. (more…)

I got a call as we were driving home to Pittsburgh from the Midwest for a last-minute gig for the Sheetz Company. They have a big meeting coming up and the CEO wanted to have a fun video as an introduction to his big speech. Since the theme is “road trips”, he is going on an adventure-filled road trip in a go-kart with a racing suit and helmet on. My job was to be him when he pops into a Sheets convenience store for snacks and coffee.

Poised with my juggling-sandwiches.

Lookin’ good!

So I juggled sandwiches, grabbed snacks off the shelf with a juggler’s flair, and I even ordered a drink off the touch-screen ordering system while tossing a sandwich into the air with one hand, and holding a whole mess-o-snacks in the other. It was fun. I have to say that I was very impressed at how easy it was to order my drink. If I can do it while repeatedly tossing a sandwich into the air and catching it again with one hand while wearing a racing helmet, then I think the average Joe should be able do it under more normal circumstances. We finished the shoot with me balancing a stack of something like 10 cups and walking out the door. I tried to do it as a real balance, but the cup lids were too squishy, so we had to use gaffer’s tape to stick them together. After the juggling sequence I believe the CEO is going to bust out and do a little break-dancing (with someone else in the suit).

Things I learned while doing this video shoot:

  • If you walk into a convenience store with a racing suit on, everyone will stare at you.
  • I no longer care if everyone stares at me.
  • Racing helmets get fogged up on the inside if you wear them for things other than driving a race car.
  • Despite having a camera crew pointed at you, normal people will always think there is coffee in that giant stack of cups you are balancing.
  • Some people get scared when a man in a racing helmet comes running at them while juggling three sandwiches.
  • Wearing a racing suit in public makes you feel like a super-hero.

Sheetz Inc. seems like a fun company, so I hope I get to work with them again.

There is a new Service Plaza (and maybe several) on the Pennsylvania Turnpike (Hwy 76), and on my recent trip from Pittsburgh to New York I noticed the sign pictured above. Not only is there extra-special parking reserved for “Low-Emitting Fuel-Efficient Vehicles” but it is also right up front, next to the Handicap spaces. I was amazed.

I had heard about preferred parking for hybrid vehicles, but this was the first time I actually got to use it. On the way East I hadn’t noticed it until after I had parked, but on the way back I drove right up to the front and took my place on the “I am so special” throne.

The irony of it in my mind is that when I am on the road I actually prefer to park as far away from the building as possible so that I can get a little walking in and stretch my legs. My first thought was that most people driving super-efficient cars would also welcome the walk, but then I remembered that young, enviro-leaning, wiry , jumpy guys like myself are not the typical Toyota Prius drivers. Regardless, even if it’s just a parking space, I think it’s great to see official recognition that people driving fuel-efficient, low-emission vehicles are doing us all a favor.

My birthday was a few days ago, and it was a great one. I met the 3 Rivers Model A Ford Restorers Club at Kennywood (the local amusement park) early in the morning, and we all drove our antique cars onto the park grounds so that the patrons could see them. We were invited there as a part of Kennywood’s “Celebrate Pittsburgh’s 250th Anniversary” week, so everyone in our cars got in free, and each car got an additional 4 free day passes to use another time. It was a total coincidence that it fell on my birthday, but I couldn’t have planned it better myself.

We were led onto the grounds by a staff member in his car, and it was like our own personal secret parade, since the grounds were still closed and no one was watching. Once we were parked, the club members all took turns watching the cars so that people could get out and enjoy the rides and other things going on in the park. It actually worked out better than I had expected. Some of the older members in the club really just wanted to hang out by the cars anyway, so the younger members were free to go on rides. It was awesome. We had to be back at our cars by 5:00 to exit the park, but if we had wanted to we could have re-entered with a hand stamp.

Kennywood is a great park. It’s not very big, but they have done a fantastic job of packing in the rides. There are a ton of roller coasters in addition to all the other kinds of rides. There are only two steel coasters, all the rest are wood, and can be a little abusive in the way they rattle you around. I now understand why Kennywood is the favorite park of my coaster-enthusiast friend Chris LaReau. He prefers the rides that knock you around, so there is plenty of action for him at Kennywood. My favorites were Ghostwood Estate, a modern day version of the interactive shooting gallery, and the Exterminator, where your car actually plays the role of a mutant rat that scurries around and twists and turns in the dark. Amazing.

On the way home it became painfully clear that I had not yet succeeded in fixing the exhaust leak in the engine of the Model A. Lenore and I both arrived home with Carbon Monoxide headaches and a little nausea, so I vowed that I would not drive the car again until that was fixed. On to another Model A maintenance saga….

Today Vader and I flushed out a turkey and a snake at the dog park.  Vader saw the turkey, but not the snake.  I’m still curious how he’s going to react to seeing a snake.  Then, a little later, when Vader came out of the brush I was looking him over for ticks, and I found a tiny little baby praying mantis.  It was really cute.

I had lunch at a Pittsburgh tradition today: Primanti’s. I met my new magician friend Doc Dixon at the Carson St location. Thankfully he warned me in advance that the sandwiches come with the fries and coleslaw in the sandwich!

Without his warning I think I might have been traumatized. We had a nice lunch, and then hung out at the magic shop for a little while. I hooked Doc up with the skinny on which paddleball he needed, and he’s pretty excited about the prospect of a new toy.