A mountain-view metaphor for November
The view is simply breathtaking.
Sit on the wooden front porch of the Summit Inn on Chestnut Ridge, atop one of the higher peaks of the Allegheny mountain range, and you suspect the legend of being able to see three states from that spot on a clear day might not be a legend at all.
On Memorial Day weekend, the massive porch of the 110-year-old hotel — which once hosted Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone for a “Wizards of Science” meeting — was draped with American flags to honor those who served but never returned.
The gleaming white exterior of the hotel — built by coal barons of Uniontown, which once took pride in having the world's highest per-capita rate of millionaires — hasn't lost its luster or appeal to anyone passing by on the National Road.
As you stare at the valley below, you essentially are looking at the colony of Vandalia, a plot of Benjamin Franklin's that would have placed parts of Western Pennsylvania (including Pittsburgh), Eastern Ohio and a big chunk of West Virginia into one colony. The plot would have made Franklin a lot of money and opened opportunities for the original colonies to move west and push out the French.
A little revolution got in the way, however, and the plan fell apart.
Yet an invisible kinship has always existed among the people who live within sight of this mountain ridge, starting with the earliest settlers who staked out what then was the “Wild West.”
It was here that a young George Washington inadvertently sparked the French and Indian War, which eventually led to the American Revolution.
The nation's first road came past this hotel in 1812. And it was here that iron, steel and coke were forged to build the nation during the Industrial Age and to protect it during wars.
Here, too, that coal turned common men into kings and poor men into the middle class.
It is highly likely that the people you can see from this summit will, unknowingly, hold the key to this historic presidential cycle because the balance of the electoral vote lies along the spine of Appalachia as it crosses Pennsylvania and Ohio.
The economy will play a big role in their voting decisions, and the region received a significant boost last week when Shell Oil Co. said it would begin building its multibillion-dollar ethanol cracker in Beaver County, a plant that will benefit the regional shale gas boom; spur manufacturing; establish 6,000 construction jobs and 600 permanent jobs; and attract plastics manufacturers to set up shop close to the plant.
The ripple effect around here will be a game-changer. It's the kind of news for which working-class people have hoped for for nearly a generation.
That good news, however, cannot fix an economy that has seemed to be humming along for everyone except the folks who live here. The May jobs report was abysmal: The country created just 38,000 jobs that month. March and April numbers were revised down, showing we added 59,000 fewer jobs than originally estimated and putting spring hiring at just about 110,000 a month.
People here walk a fine line between prosperity and devastation, a line that is largely affected by the whims of government and special interests, such as shrill environmental groups that make millions by holding these people hostage.
As an impressive storm rolled across the valley below, four families watched Mother Nature work her magic from the 2,770-foot perch of the hotel's porch; within minutes, those strangers were chattering together about the view, the storm, where they were from and how they found the hotel.
Their ethnic backgrounds were, by sheer coincidence, a perfect patchwork of America — black, Hispanic and white, elderly and a couple of teenagers, all strangers and all taking in together a moment of communion over the country below.
It turned out that they all were from Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, making them part of the fabric of who will decide November's election.
And without knowledge, planning or a social media app, they continued that invisible kinship among the people who live within sight of this mountain ridge.
Salena Zito covers politics for Trib Total Media (firstname.lastname@example.org).