I was in Charleroi yesterday around 7:30 a.m. and it was eerily quiet. Businesses quiet. Few people out and about. Silent, basically, except for that train whistle.
Paul Simon said it best: “There is something romantic and mysterious about a train whistle.”
Trains are a microcosm of life. You hear them off in the distance, they are upon you for a few moments, then – just like that – they are gone to some far-off destination. You cannot help but wonder where a train has been and where it is going.
Today, like the trains of days gone by, the Mon Valley is taking a bad rap. I remember when taking the train was commonplace. As a wide-eyed child, it was a magic carpet ride.
I also remember when the Valley was a place people respected and wanted to be. Where pride was commonplace, and collaboration was the norm. Make no mistake, we had our rivalries. On Friday nights, we were Cougars and Greyhounds, Dragons and Wildcats. But the rest of the time, we were the Mon Valley. We were innovation wrapped in steel. We were power covered in coal soot.
We do not do those things anymore. But back in the day, America’s railroads rolled in glory. They helped build cities, provide an economic backbone of commerce, and shape our country.
That sounds much like the Mon Valley of the past. Back then, we were like that train whistle. The deeds of our fathers and grandfathers let everyone know the Valley was coming and it was best to get out of our way. We were many parts moving in unison to move our region, our state and our country forward.
Whether we were inventing the components that would revolutionize the oil and gas well drilling technology in the 1930s, or being one of the most prolific regions in the country in contributing to the war effort in the 1940s – we were one.
Now our business community is fractured, much like our communities, and our people are divided by imaginary boundaries. Independent, critical thinking seems to be in short supply these days. What if we came together – our businesses, our communities and our people – to develop solutions to our country’s problems?
We should all want what is best for every American. We should all be against racism. It does not matter which group you identify with. We should all want to do right, rather than fight to be right.
We are experiencing a unique time in our history, and have been given an amazing opportunity to change the trajectory of our society. Emerging from this experience, our region can fix what is broken – if we can find our way to each other.
What is that sound off in the distance? Do you hear it? Here we come.
Jamie Protin is founder and principal of The Protin Group in Belle Vernon.
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