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"Well, we're living here in Allentown" sang Billy Joel in1982 — except I was and he wasn't.

"Well, we're living here in Allentown," sang Billy Joel in1982 — except I was and he wasn't. And I and maybe a hundred thousand or so fellow Allentownians muttered to themselves, "Huh?"

"Huh?" we muttered because, Joel got it all wrong — and pretty soon after the song's release he was willing to admit it.

For those unfamiliar with that part of eastern Pennsylvania, Allentown and Bethlehem, Pennsylvania are sister cities separated by the Lehigh River, similar to the way Sacramento and West Sacramento are separated by the Sacramento River. What Joel says about Allentown is really about its sister city, Bethlehem.

During this period, Allentown was a boom town with a growing electronics industrial base with companies such as Western Electric and Lucent. On the other side of the Lehigh River, the mainstay industrial complex of Bethlehem Steel was hemorrhaging money and jobs.

I remember speaking to one worker who noted that since the noise of the steel plant had ceased, he could no longer sleep at night.


Ironically, I sort of had a Billy Joel connection. I was a project engineer building an oxygen/ozone plant for a unique physical chemical wastewater plant to process paint discharges into Lake Erie. The lead engineer for the project was Ron Joel, Billy Joel's cousin. That's as close as I got.

The song talks about the associated decline of the coal/coke industry. After living in an Allentown suburb for 15 years, I moved about 45 minutes north to Jim Thorpe, PA which was the epicenter of the anthracite coal industry.

Anthracite, also known as hard coal, was the major industry for 50 miles around in the 1800s. But by 1900, soft coal and oil, both from Western Pennsylvania and increasingly from the western United States, was increasing in supply and decreasing in cost to pretty much put much of the anthracite coal industry out of business.

But Bethlehem was more than Bethlehem Steel. It's a beautiful town. It has Lehigh University — originally founded to provide engineers for the coal mining and transportation industries, and a charming heritage dating to the early Mennonite pioneers in Eastern Pennsylvania.

So, I'm not living there in Allentown. Neither am I living in Jim Thorpe. Good-bye Northeastern Pennsylvania. It was fun, but I'm getting too old for the cold weather. Maybe I'll return some summer's day.

~ Al Zagofsky









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