Last week I was in Pittsburgh, compliments of the Polar Vortex, a weather phenomenon nobody had ever heard of three weeks ago, and there was general agreement among people I met that the name was coined as a joke by bored meteorologists. The PV, as I am certain we will all be calling it soon, was responsible for freezing half the plumbing pipes in the Middle Atlantic States, and that was the reason for my trip.
My hotel was in the heart of the city, just west of downtown, a short walk from the cultural district and the University of Pittsburgh. To me this was a welcome change, since I normally find myself in the suburbs; the generally convenient but consistently predictable suburbs.
This part of Pittsburgh appears to be a healthy mixture of different ethnicities and levels of status. Early twentieth century mansions, many of them still well kept, and three-story row houses, some not so well kept, seem to coexist through an unspoken understanding that both have a right to share the space. Students from the University of Pittsburgh and nearby Carnegie Mellon walk and jog and bicycle the streets in large numbers.
I found Logan’s Pub on a corner of Craig St., and they sold Yuengling, my favorite beer that I can’t get at home. Logan’s is a neighborhood bar. It’s smoky, very much working class, and the regulars were an equal mixture of black and white. They all seemed to know each other, and to the casual observer they all appeared to be friends, which I found positive and hopeful.
I like to sit in the back pews of old cathedrals and just appreciate the detail in the architecture. My interest is not spiritual, although if something of that nature were to come upon me while I sat there, I think that would be alright. It fascinates me that just a few generations ago people routinely built these magnificent buildings. What a lost art it is. I doubt that in one hundred years anyone will ever sit in the back of a modern day mega-church and marvel at the craftsmanship in the prefabricated concrete walls.
When I was a teenager my father took the family to Pittsburgh, combining a business trip and a family vacation. One summer night we went to Forbes Field to watch the Pirates play baseball. I distinctly remember seeing Roberto Clemente play in right field. It was one of the highlights of my life, and when I tell people who are baseball fans I once saw the great Clemente they never fail to be impressed.
At Logan’s Pub there is a photograph on the wall of Forbes Field, and written on it in white ink was the address of the old ballpark. I put the location in my phone and a map came up showing it was just a few blocks away, on what is now part of the University of Pittsburgh campus. A building called Posvar Hall sits on the spot today, but the home plate from the ball field can still be seen there, encased by heavy glass in the lobby floor.
Parking is a headache in this part of Pittsburgh, and so are potholes and crumbling curbs, but there are many good places to eat, and Tessaro’s on Liberty Avenue is one of them. I recommend the Ruben sandwich and the hamburger, for which they are locally famous. The lobster ravioli at Lucca’s on Craig St. is also very good, though they are much to proud of their beer. Unfortunately, I cannot be so charitable about The Pittsburger at Primanti Bros. on 18th Street, which is marketed as a cheesesteak sandwich. I’ve never had a cheesesteak like it, and I don’t mean that in a good way. There are french fries in the sandwich, for god’s sake, and coleslaw, and the meat was some kind of frozen patty that wouldn’t make the cut at McDonald’s. It was an unnatural experience best forgotten. Next time I’ll try the pastrami.
My co-worker Chapin and I agreed we would like to see Pittsburgh in the summer, and also in the fall, as we guessed in those months it would be quite attractive. But in January it is a cold, dreary place, and the surrounding hills are bleak and without color except for browns and grays, and I understand why the filmmaker picked this area as the setting of The Road, a story about a post-apocalyptic world. It was an appropriate choice.