There was more than a little skepticism in this flood-ravaged city when it heard 200 more bureaucrats were coming. After three weeks of digging mud and filling out government forms, even one more "expert" from Washington was more than most people could stomach.
It almost made it worse than these particular bureaucrats were from ACTION, the national volunteer agency. "We've been up to our necks in volunteer experts. Everyone wants to tell us what to do." said Mayor Herbert Pfuhl Jr. "There've been some experts that I'd like to throw in jail."
No one here is against volunteers. Hundreds of them have come to this city since the July 20 flood killed at least 72 persons.
Amish, Mennonite and Salvation Army workers have spent weeks here. So have other religious groups. They've worked quietly, not seeking or receiving recognition.
The federal government is also no stranger here. Scores of disaster workers from a host of agencies, which expect to spend a total of $170 million on recovery efforts, have been here for weeks. But they were paid. Volunteers doffing white shirts for a weekend in the mud was another matter.
"I don't know if they're doing this as a public relations gimmick, or if they're sincere." said one local official, who asked not to be named. "I tell you, if they come here just for p.r., they're going to have to shovel a lot of . . . to get it."
When the five busloads from ACTION arrived Saturday, they were greeted by a network television crew and the President of the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown in hiking boots, Adidas sneakers and prefaded blue jeans, the group appeared uneasy.
When one woman was asked if she was worried about dirtying her costume of Freye boots, bright yellow rain slicker and tight new jeans, she said knowingly. "It's the only thing I ever wore when I lived in San Francisco."
Mary King, the deputy director of ACTION, was embarrassed by the scene. "We didn't want it this way at all." she said, adjusting the Pan Am bag on her shoulder. "We didn't want any publicity at all."
King, ACTION Director Sam Brown, and most of the others were charted off in their air conditioned buses to Solomon Run, a housing project badly damaged in the flood.
They began work at 1:05 p.m. and ended at 5 p.m. They shoveled mud, carried garbage, swept floors, scrubbed walls and refrigerators, spread lime - and sweated. They cleaned several floors of apartments in the housing project and emptied three basement rooms filled with mud.
The group included secretaries, former Peace Corps volunteers, VISTA workers and most of the top of ACTION's organizational chart. Marjorie Tabankin, who heads VISTA, was there. So was John Lewis, who oversees all domestic poverty programs, Don Green, Brown's right-hand man, and a host of other top-level bureaucrats.
At midafternoon George Wakiji, the agency public relations chief, was puffing on the sidelines, complaining of his age (48). Nobody had been pressured to come, he insisted. Everyone volunteered for the weekend.
Wakiji also said the public affairs office had not alerted the news media to the trip or issued any press release. Several news organizations, however, received numerous calls from ACTION staffers. Wakiji said these came not from public information officers but from other staffers. They were so enthusiastic about the trip, he said, that they called on their own.
Of himself, Wakiji said, "If you're in charge of a division, you do feel a certain sense of responsibility to show you care, of course. Not that I'm going to do that much. At my age I can't work like I used to. But I'll get a few shovelsful in and it'll help out a little."
About 50 yards away, Willis P. Greene, who works in ACTION's supply division, was wiping his brow. He'd brought his wife along for the weekend of work, he said. "Everyone is really glad to be able to be here and put into action the things we're always talking about in Washington."
A few minutes later, a CBS television crew came around looking for Brown. "He isn't going to like this at all." said Marjorie Tabankin. "He didn't want it this way. He didn't want it to look like another Sam Brown media hype."
As an antiwar leader in the later 1960s, Brown, now 33, learned the value of the media event, the slick show for the cameras, as well as how to mobilize volunteers. But this time he looked genuinely uneasy. "Hurry, he's doing something like common people." one volunteer quipped as the cameras began to roll.
What did this all mean? Brown was asked. What had it accomplished?
"I was down in the basement in the mud all afternoon." he replied. "What do I know?" But he added. "There've been a lot of other groups come in here. It shows some of us still believe in voluntary action."
Then Brown, left. He'd gotten his shoes and blue jeans dirty, and he really hadn't tried to make a big deal out of it.
Walt karageanes watched it all from the steps of the public housing apartment building where he lives. He was pleased, amused and frustrated. The volunteers impressed him, he said, but they really didn't get at his real problems.
"We don't have any lights, gas or water in here." he said. "We're using kerosene lanterns, cooking on charcoal and carrying our water."
The long-term problems here are even worse than the immediate ones, and may require more help from the bureaucrats in Washington than the cleanup efforts. Bethlehem Steel, the largest employer, has announced it will reduce its work force by 4,000 men and Penn Traffic, the largest department store, has said it won't reopen downtown, cutting off another 400 jobs. The city itself remains confident. "We're wet, but not washed up." popular T-shirts proclaim. But many individuals aren't so sure.
Matthew Pesarehic, a 21-year-old steelworker, is homeless and jobless. The family of four he lived with were killed in the flood.
"I have $20 in my pocket and no place to live." he said. "I can't go back to my old place. There's nothing there anymore. It's a valley, a death valley."