(A holiday short story.)

A newspaper ad designer, a reporter and a Teamster walk into a bar. 

That was one minute ago, just as the cold-but-gold sun plopped into the gray water of the Ohio River and the sky went dark in Pittsburgh on this Christmas Eve.  

“It’s not even freakin’ FIVE,” says Gina, the woman behind the busy bar. She follows sunrise and sunset times and other meteorological stats like she’s an ironworker who’s got bets out. 

It’s just that she’s not from here, but from Nashville, and there’s little she loves more than hating on Pittsburgh weather. Unless it’s the Preds pounding the Pens. She has tickets for that game — March 30. 

“Actually, the days are getting longer,” calls Gina’s ever-sunny partner, Tisha, from the window to the warm and well-lit kitchen. 

Tisha grew up in this sliver of the North Side, which goes by different names that people call it as they see it — Manchester, Allegheny West, Chateau. 

The two women, who met when they worked at Verizon, saved their money to buy, renovate and reopen this old-man corner bar, so it no longer reeks of smoke. It’s one of the many previously unthinkable small acts that are changing this city more and more quickly than it usually stops to contemplate. 

Neighbors were surprised that the new owners kept the old name, “Stasiowskis.” The original owner, Ed, who opened the bar after serving in the infantry in World War II, saved a little money by not getting an apostrophe added in his last name when he had it written in neon tubing. 

“It’s pronounced Stah-SHOE-skees,” Gina tells anyone who says Staz-ee-OW-skees.

If you say it the other way, Gina still corrects you — “It’s Staz-ee-OW-skees!” — and tries to hide her smile. 

Neighbors are happy that Tisha insisted on relighting the red neon sign and kept the mostly Polish menu. Other customers come from afar on Sunday mornings for Gina’s “Biscuits Brunch.” 

Squeezed together at the bar on this Christmas Eve are the newspaper ad designer, the reporter and the Teamster. 

The designer, or “composer,” Lauren, is dressed up — short skirt, tall boots, satin jacket — and scrolling on her phone. 

The writer, Greg, in ragged-cuffed khakis and a vintage Point Park College hoodie, is scribbling in a skinny reporter’s notebook. 

The driver, John, is wearing a full red Santa Claus outfit, with the snowy white cotton beard pulled down so he can sip one of six draft beers in small pilsner glasses before him. 

Greg: “You know, Santa is the first Teamster.” 

Lauren (Googling that): “Cool graphic!” 

Greg: “How’s this? 

“ ’Twas the night before Christmas/

“We’re afraid for the cat.

“The creature that’s stirring/

“Is Scabby the Rat.” 

Lauren (Googling images of the inflatable mascot that shames strikebreakers): “That rat creeps me out.” 

John (raises a glass): “To scabs!” 

Lauren and Greg join the toast.  

The three didn’t know each other from Clement Clarke Moore a couple of months ago, when their three unions and two others at the Post-Gazette went on strike over health care and other issues that matter enough to them to pause getting paychecks. 

They’ve gotten to know each other on the picket line and realize that, as different as they are, they have things in common. 

Lauren: “Sucks to be on strike at Christmas.” 

John: “Yeah. But I don’t mind people buying us beers!” 

Greg (turning to the folks at the table at their backs): “Thank you very much and happy holidays!” 

Christmas songs from the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s play on the original jukebox. Strings of colored lights — the old fat bulbs — glow overhead. In the kitchen clang the late Mrs. Stasiowski’s pots and pans and plates. 

John: “Jesus, Tisha, that smells good!” 

Lauren: “John! It’s Christmas!” 

John: “CHRIST, Tisha, that smells good!” 

Greg: “What are you cooking, T?”

Out through the kitchen window pops a thick Shenango China bowl full of steaming macaroni.

Gina, without breaking stride on her way along the bar, grabs it and sets it down with a thud and a warning: “Hot!” 

John: “Knew it! Goulash!” 

Greg: “Didn’t know goulash is Polish.” 

Lauren (Googling): “Uh …” 

John (waving a hand over his burned tongue): “Itth’s hoth!” 

Tisha (calling from the kitchen): “I like that bright red.” 

She hands out a second bowl, which Gina relays to the bar, and then a third bowl, which Gina plunks down with another “HOT!” 

Lauren: “What’s the green stuff?” 

Gina: “Collards!”

(Lauren Googles.)

Tisha’s voice from the kitchen: “It’s a Pittsburgh recipe. I wanted something I can make a big batch of for the folks at the shelter to have tomorrow. I call it Christmas Casserole.”  

Greg: “You’re donating holiday food? That’d be a good story for the PUP.” 

Gina: “We always donate food. It’s not news.” 

Around one of the small round tables, fellow strikers — pressmen and mailers — thank the people at the next table for buying another round. Christmas songs play, lights twinkle, and it seems later than it really is. It feels good. 

John inhales his goulash, then polishes off the rest of Lauren’s. He’s not been a Teamster as long as Santa Claus, but he’s been around and tells them stories about the Pittsburgh newspaper strike of 1992. 

 “Before you were born,” he says to Lauren.

Lauren: “I know about it from my Pap.”  

She reminds John of his granddaughter. He can’t believe she’s on strike after less than three weeks at her first job after college. She got dressed up, for a change, to go to a Christmas party later this night in Lawrenceville. The outfit isn’t new. 

John (to Lauren): “Hey, Santa got you a present.” 

John fumbles to get his hand into his red suit, pulls out his wallet, pulls out a card and slides it over the bar top to her.

Lauren: “John! That’s the same one I got” — the gift card all the strikers got from their parent union, CWA, worth $100 to spend at Giant Eagle. 

John (in a loud Santa voice): “HO-HO-HO! MERRY CHRIST-MAS! Santa doesn’t have time to shop. That’s a job for Mrs. Claus!” Then in his own voice: “I’m sure you can make good use of it.” 

It may just be the light from the phone, or the beers, but Lauren’s face is glowing. 

Greg: “Funny, John, but I got you something.” He slaps down in front of the older man a rectangle of plastic: his own $100 gift card. 

Lauren (to Greg): “I got something for you!” She opens her purse and hands him an identical card. 

The three clink glasses and talk about what a miracle it would be for the strike to be over so they can go back to their jobs — their careers.  

Just before 7 p.m. on the Old Overholt clock, the bells on the door jingle and a bundled-up young woman walks in and stands at the end of the bar. 

Greg: “SHIT!”  

Lauren: “Greg!”

John (turns and dunks his beard into a beer): “Shit!”  

Lauren: “What?!”

Greg recognizes the woman as one of his newsroom co-workers who hasn’t gone on strike. She is a good friend of his. Was? 

“Awkward,” he whispers to his friends. “Don’t look!”  

John: “Well, Santa is not bringing her anything but …” 

“Order up!” Tisha pops into the frame of the kitchen window, her two hands in potholders hoisting a big foil-covered tray. Gina grabs the tray with bare hands, wraps it in a brown paper bag, and takes it to the waiting woman, then repeats that with a second tray. She scribbles on the back of a blank order check and tapes it to the top bag, saying: “Here’s how to warm it up!”   

Woman (to Gina): “Thank you, thank you. They’re going to love this at the shelter tomorrow.” 

She turns with the trays and hurries out. 

John abruptly stands from his stool, rosy cheeked and cherry nosed, and quickly fixes the beard on his chin. With a wink, he starts after the woman.

Lauren: “John!” 

Greg: “John, don’t!” 

But John already is out the door. Lauren and Greg are hastily gathering their things to go after him when Greg notices that the three gift cards on the bar top are gone. 

“Wait,” Greg tells Lauren. “He’ll be right back.”

And sure enough, in one minute, with a blast of cold air and jingling bells, John steps back into the bar. Everybody quiets as he holds forth in his booming Santa voice about how he enlisted a little help in delivering a few gift cards to some people who surely can make good use of them. 

Gina and Tisha thank the Teamster, the reporter and the ad designer and join them while they sip one last small beer. Those three news workers still are on strike, and so wish the nonstrikers would join them, because their goal is to win fair contracts and health care for everybody. 

But for now, it’s almost Christmas, and it’s Hanukkah, and it’s whatever — a time for celebrating good things that a lot of different people have in common. 

Lauren has to go to her party. John has to get to his nieces and nephews. And Greg has to finish a story. 

“Happy Christmas to all,” he scribbles into his notebook, “and to all a good fight.” 

Bob, a feature writer and editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, is currently on strike and serving as interim editor of the Pittsburgh Union Progress. Contact him at bbatz@unionprogress.com.

Bob Batz Jr.

Bob, a feature writer and editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, is currently on strike and serving as interim editor of the Pittsburgh Union Progress. Contact him at bbatz@unionprogress.com.