Pizza with, Yikes, a Politician, in Skippack
When I started my I Love Skippack blog, I vowed never to write about local politics or interview a local politician. I begrudgingly grant that politics is an ugly necessity of a democratic society, the toilet of freedom if you will. Still, too much of the writing on the Internet, from too many bloggers, concerns political issues; I find their words harsh, strident, lacking poetry or subtlety, lacking beauty.
Why then, you ask, is the Skippack Blogger sitting inside Skippack Pizza and interviewing PA State Representative Mike Vereb who, if he wins the upcoming election, will be the representative for Skippack at the state house in Harrisburg? Why am I doing this?
Winning the Championship
I will tell the truth. I am doing this for a friend. I am doing it for love. I am doing it because I love my friend.
You see, my good friend and Skippack neighbor CJ Santangelo has been friends with Rep Vereb for more than twenty years. CJ is a most remarkable man and unusual friend. I know that it will make him happy to see Mike Vereb on my I Love Skippack website and Facebook page. When the path to give happiness to a friend like CJ becomes clear, I do not look to the left, I do not look to the right; I walk.
No doubt some people will not like my choice; I ask you to forgive me for favoring the irrational whims of the human soul over objective considerations.
Forgiven or not, here I am with PA State Rep Mike Vereb, holding a slice of pizza and hoping to take the focus of our conversation away from local politics. This is going to be challenge as a today has been a big day in the political world in which he moves. A bill he sponsored in the PA State House has been signed into law by the governor, accompanied by ceremonies, speeches, and articles in the press. He has even been given one of the highest honors achievable in a democratic society: angry shouts from protesters.
“In my business, getting a bill passed and signed by the governor,” Rep Vereb explains, “is like winning the championship.”
From the State House to the Corn Fields
Mike Vereb’s district in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives was reapportioned, as required by law, to include Skippack. He has since been learning about our corner of paradise: He tells me he has knocked on about 2,500 doors in Skippack Township.
“I try to figure out different ways to get people to talk, to open up, to say what’s on their mind,” says Mike. “There’s a lot to learn about Skippack.”
There is also a lot to learn about Mike Vereb. I ask him to tell me about some key event in his life that helped form his character.
“When I was 10 years old, I had a dirt bike,” Mike recalls. “I would race through cornfields. I would get chased by park rangers at the Norristown State Hospital for cutting thru cornfields.
“My parents were going thru difficult times. I was the baby of five children, the last one at home. It was a recipe for a disaster. As a kid, who do you have if your parents aren’t getting along? My dirt bike was my sounding board.
“I was riding across the cornfield one day. Out of nowhere, there’s this police car chasing me. I go into these woods. I come across a stoney creek. I look up and there’s this big police van. ‘Oh my Lord,’ I thought, ‘it’s a road block in the woods.’
“I cross the creek. It turned out to be an organized dirt bike motocross track run by the Police Athletic League. I ended up spending every weekday during the summer there, motocross racing with the Police Athletic League. After racing, we would take our motorcycles and ride them single file on the road up to Via Veneto Pizzeria
“Everything I needed was there: friends, camaraderie, competition, a facility to race my motorcycle without getting chased by police. From there I got involved in other Police Athletic League programs.”
Mike went on to become a police officer, and serve 10 years with the West Conshohocken police force. He would later become the head of security for Comcast before entering the PA House of Representatives.
Every boy and girl growing into adulthood must find a tool, their weapon of choice if you will, for carving out a place in the world. The hope for young people is that they will find the right tool, one that suits their individual character and abilities. For Rep Mike Vereb, that tool was his dirt bike. And still today, he enjoys putting on his jeans and helmet from time to time and riding motorcycles with our mutual friend, CJ Santangelo.
At Justin’s Carriage House
Later that evening, the conversation has moved to Justin’s Carriage House, Mike is there with CJ, talking over dinner and beers. They are recalling one of many joint community service activities from years past. About 16 years ago, around Christmas time, they would borrow a flatbed tractor trailer from Santangelo Hauling Inc, a business owned by CJ’s father. They would decorate the flatbed trailer with a tree and ride into Norristown, an area with a large poor population, to hand out gifts, with Mike Vereb dressed as Santa Claus.
Occasionally, recalls CJ, they would finish handing out gifts on a particular block and start driving away. Suddenly, a little girl would come down the steps out of her house, wrapped only in a blanket. The tractor trailer would come to a screeching halt and the tree would shake and almost topple over. They turned around to deliver her gift, possibly the only gift she would get that Christmas. Police officers who escorted the tractor trailer, hardened by years on the beat, who dealt with crime day in and day out and made tough arrests, would see this and start crying.
Watching these men enjoy their beer and dinner and get lost in conversation, I can’t help but admire their love of human connections. One may agree or disagree with a political platform, but it is hard to deny the power and energy they direct toward getting involved and creating community.
As is wont to happen over beer, the conversation starts to wander. Suddenly, the Skippack Blogger’s ears perk up. CJ is talking about my writing.
“Michael’s words always paint a picture,” I hear CJ say. “I look at something and see it as black and white, but when I read Michael’s description of the same thing, he makes me see it from a different perspective, he gives it color, brings it to life. Suddenly I’m seeing something I thought was black and white as pink and purple and all shiny and bright.”
Wow. Those are words a writer lives to hear. And hearing them from CJ Santangelo is the whip cream on a hot cup of cappuccino. For writing is my dirt bike: my tool for dealing with the world, for entering the company of men like CJ Santangelo and Mike Vereb, for reaching out to the community, and to you dear reader.
And after many lost years, where did my writing finally find a home? Skippack, Pennsylvania.