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Giving A Voice to Postindustrial America

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A Chat with Carmen Gentile
Words by Kurt Diserio — Photos by Alexa Diserio
Additional Photos by Matt Cipollone + Nish Nalbandian + Justin Merriman
A few years ago when I received a message from a journalist who wanted to meet up in Lawrenceville to talk about motorcycles and publishing, I had little knowledge of his past or what he was trying to establish here in Pittsburgh. Typically, this type of meeting meant that I needed to activate Business Professional Mode and hide the rough, unrestrained half of my personality in the back of the room until I got to know them better. That wasn’t the case with Carmen Gentile, an eye-patch-wearing Pittsburgh native who lived a life of adventure and chaos so ridiculous that it was actually impressive from a biker’s perspective.
For me, it’s interesting meeting folks like Carmen. Maybe it’s because I often feel misunderstood from having to balance between what seems like two different worlds at the same time. We relate on the need to be both disciplined enough for financial purposes while also pursuing what Hunter Thompson called “The Edge” for personal, creative reasons.
In 2010, as a wartime journalist in Afghanistan, Gentile came a little too close to that edge when he was struck in the head by a rocket-propelled grenade. Somehow, it did not explode. He survived — but not without having half of his face crushed and losing sight in his right eye. The most shocking part is that even after endless surgeries and trauma, he voluntarily returned to Afghanistan multiple times to continue covering the war. There isn’t enough space in this publication to go through his life in detail, so do yourself a favor and read his book, Blindsided by the Taliban. If you’re a motorcycle enthusiast, there’s a good chance you’ll understand the bold, reckless behavior that Gentile frequently seeks throughout the pages, from start to finish.
Carmen Gentile Postindustrial Media Pittsburgh Motorcycle Journalist
Copies of Postindustrial magazine. Learn more at postindustrial.com
Gentile’s latest project, Postindustrial, is an independent media outlet and magazine based out of Pittsburgh that covers stories from the Rust Belt and Appalachia. These aren’t just stories of triumph, but rather a truthful, modern approach to an area of our country going through rapid changes.
Was there something that pushed you into the type of frontline journalism that ultimately led you to the war in Afghanistan?
Carmen Gentile: I’ll be extremely generous with myself and say I got into frontline journalism because I have an unyielding zeal for excitement and adventure that sometimes leads me into situations that most right-minded people would outright avoid. Another less generous way of putting it: I have many screws loose.

Let’s say we split the difference.

Seriously, I do it for many reasons. It’s the most intense form of journalism you can do. More importantly, covering war is hard and doing something hard that is worthwhile is its own reward, no matter how corny or cliche that may sound. That’s the truth. I could wax poetic and profane all day about my unrequited love affair with war reporting. She’s the temptress I just can’t quit.
How do motorcycles fit into all of this?
CG: I can rattle off the names of more than a dozen men and women I know who ride motorcycles and cover conflict. Maybe two dozen. Now, why could that be? Let’s see. Is it because both riding and war reporting can potentially take you right to, and beyond, that “Edge” of which you previously wrote so eloquently? I’m guessing that’s part of it. Now that I think about it, I started riding about the same time I started covering conflict, almost 20 years ago. Huh. I just had a minor psychological breakthrough in the pages of Pittsburgh Moto. Thanks for the mental assist, Kurt.
Carmen Gentile Postindustrial Media Pittsburgh Motorcycle Journalist
Carmen Gentile Postindustrial Media Pittsburgh Motorcycle Journalist
Can you give our readers a story or two from your time in the Middle East?
CG: My first moto experience in the Middle East was way back in 2008. I was embedded with U.S. forces in the Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City, which at the time was a nightmarish maze of narrow streets where shootouts and bombings were an everyday occurrence.

So we’re walking through Sadr City and come upon some young kids on small motorbikes. I tell them I like their rides and one offers me his bike to take for a spin.

Now, I usually weigh about 210lbs. That day, wearing my body armor and helmet, I’m like 260. I get on this little bike and it feels like it’s about to buckle underneath me.

Despite the strain, the bike takes off when I pull back the throttle. I then race a few hundred yards down a street lined with curious onlookers, temporarily forgetting that I’m now completely alone in what is, at the time, probably the most dangerous place on earth.

After regaining my senses, I race the bike back to the patrol and apologize for my stupid behavior.

My most memorable Middle East motorcycling exploit has to be the great Mosul Ural Caper of 2017.

My friend and photographer Nish Nalbandian and I were covering the fighting between Iraqi forces and the Islamic State in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. I don’t want to get into too many details, but simply put, it was the worst urban combat I’ve ever seen. Death and destruction was everywhere you looked. The Islamic State had taken complete control of the city and kept its citizens prisoner for more than three years. Just hell on earth.

Nish spotted the Ural and showed it to me. It was riddled with bullet holes, sidecar filled with old, toys, and the gas tank was crushed because a mortar struck his home and a piece of a wall fell on it.

We bought the bike for 400 bucks, had it fixed in a nearby shop for a few hundred more. Then, through bribery and the help of some friends, we got it out of Mosul and rode it back to safety in the nearby city of Erbil. We later produced a story about it.

I still need to figure out how to get it to the states.
Can you explain Postindustrial and your reason for creating a multimedia company that focused on an often-forgotten part of our country?
CG: The Rust Belt and Appalachia, what we call “Postindustrial America” has long been mischaracterized by much of the national media, which somehow still thinks we’re nothing more than a collection of out-of-work steelworkers and coal miners hooked on opioids. I started Postindustrial because I want to correct the record and give authentic voice to the region.

That’s one reason.

The other was the 2016 election, which was a real kick in the groin for me as a native son of Postindustrial America. Watching Trump pander to people from the region with dogshit promises of reopening mills and mines was lunacy of the highest order. You just don’t flip the switch on a steel mill that’s been shuttered for 40 years. Folks here know that, yet they swallowed the Trump delusion whole because it tasted so good. Besides, I’m pretty sure most of the mills have been razed or turned into condos and movie studios.
Carmen Gentile Postindustrial Media Pittsburgh Motorcycle Journalist
Carmen Gentile on a Royal Enfield motorcycle on Friday, May 22, 2021 in Berry, Kentucky. Photo: Justin Merriman / American Reportage
You recently completed a motorcycle tour through Appalachia and the Rust Belt region covering stories for Postindustrial. Did tackling this assignment on motorcycles add a unique perspective?
CG: Riding bikes through Postindustrial America allowed us to take in more of the landscape and enjoy the travel in ways you just can’t in a car. For me, motorcycles are ideal for journalism assignments because they allow you that freedom and heightened sense of connection to the story and people. That’s why I try to make riding a part of every story I do these days.
What do you feel is the outlook for folks that you talked with in these areas? Is there a sense of hope or optimism after such a turbulent year?
CG: Some folks are optimistic, while others are worried about a still-uncertain and challenging future. I get both perspectives and find myself constantly vacillating between optimism and deep worry.
Where would you like to see Postindustrial in the future?
CG: In the mailboxes of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of paying subscribers. Is that what you mean?

Perhaps you mean coverage-wise, in which case, I’d like to spend more time in Baltimore, which is an immensely intriguing city for many reasons, most of them not good, unfortunately. It’s a prime example of how Postindustrial cities have been decimated on so many fronts, losses that trickle down from generation to generation.

Yet, like so much of Postindustrial America, there are inspiring stories of hope and resilience coming out of Baltimore. And much of the city is downright gorgeous. Plus, the seafood scene there is insane. I’m salivating just thinking about it.

I also want to expand our coverage beyond the 13 states we currently identify as comprising “Postindustrial America.” There are important stories to be told both in the US and beyond. Without giving too much away, I’ve been kicking around some Postindustrial story angles from Europe, the Middle East and Latin America.
How could folks learn more about Postindustrial and your projects?
CG: By going to www.postindustrial.com and subscribing to the magazine. Subscribers get our print edition, daily digital edition, access to our entire podcast network, invitations to events, and more. It’s inexpensive and by far the best publication out there, only second to the one you’re reading right now, of course.
Carmen Gentile Postindustrial Media Pittsburgh Motorcycle Journalist
Carmen Gentile speaks with a group of muralists in Tennessee who created a building-sized tableau of the Iraqi city of Erbil, for a story about the Kurdish community in Nashville. Gentile reported and wrote the story in 2019 for Postindustrial Media. Photo: Nish Nalbandian
Carmen Gentile Postindustrial Media Pittsburgh Motorcycle Journalist
Journalists Carmen Gentile and Jason Motlagh at New River Gorge National Park in Fayetteville, W.Va., on Sunday, May 23, 2021. Motlagh was on assignment for Rolling Stone. Photo: Matt Cipollone
Carmen Gentile Postindustrial Media Pittsburgh Motorcycle Journalist
Blindsided by the Taliban by Carmen Gentile. Available on Amazon.com
Carmen Gentile Postindustrial Media Pittsburgh Motorcycle Journalist
  • Featured in Issue 10
  • CARMEN GENTILE
  • POSTINDUSTRIAL MEDIA
  • www.postindustrial.com
  • www.carmengentile.com
  • facebook | instagram
  • Words by KURT DISERIO
  • Photos by ALEXA DISERIO
    MATT CIPOLLONE
    NISH NALBANDIAN
    JUSTIN MERRIMAN
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