Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Pittsburgh trip review

We left for Pittsburgh on Thursday morning, August 4, around 9:30 in our rented Mazda. We had hoped to get as far as Harrisburg before stopping for lunch, but traffic and hunger dictated that we stop at the first Cracker Barrel we found in Pennsylvania. We had an even longer accident-related delay near Somerset, when a nasty multiple-car wreck stopped all westbound traffic on the PA turnpike for 45 minutes for us. We finally got to Pittsburgh about 7 PM and found our way to Todd and Kitten's apartment on the North Side of Pittsburgh, near PNC Park. They live in a great loft in the School House, an old middle school converted to apartments. We had dinner at a restaurant across the street from their building and Liz had the job of keeping all plates, silverware, and glasses out of the reach of their 15-month-old son Hunter.

On Friday we went to the Mattress Factory, Andy Warhol's one-time workspace and now a showcase for room-sized art environments. One exhibit was a funhouse mirror-like room in black light, another mirrored room had mannequins covered in large red dots, and the works by James Turrell were light- and darkness-based, exploring the boundary between what we see and what is real. Check out the descriptions on the site. That evening, we went to a seafood restaurant on Mount Washington, which overlooks the city from the hills to the south. We had a fantastic view of the downtown skyscrapers and new stadiums, and enjoyed some amazing fish. I had a blackened Cajun-style mako shark steak, which was like a firmer, moister salmon. Hunter was the hit of our section, and had several members of the wait staff fawning and cooing over him. He even tried to pick up the check at the end of the meal, but somehow had forgotten his wallet.

We drove out to Mount Lebanon to see the house Todd and Kitten are in the process of buying, and to check out their new neighborhood. On the way back we stopped at Primanti Brothers to pick up sandwiches for lunch. I hadn't enjoyed one of their creations for a few years, and eating the cheesesteak sandwich was like tasting a little bit of Heaven. I felt like a pig when I was done, but it was a glorious sensation. Partly because of the heat, and partly because of the torpor induced by so much meat and French fries, we decided to stay in for the rest of the afternoon. My mother arrived just in time for dinner, which was Todd's now-famous enchiladas and pico de gallo.

We went to a German pub for Sunday brunch. The buffet was an assortment of typical breakfast foods (sausage, bacon, eggs, pastries, etc.,) as well as some sort of German farmer's breakfast (eggs, three kinds of sausage, and German potato salad all in the same dish), beef stroganoff, chicken parmigiana, and potato latkes. The other notable aspect of the meal was the endless loop of German oom-pah music, which reminded me of some of my father-in-law's favorite cassettes and made me want to put on lederhosen and dance around like Clark Griswold in European Vacation.

The real highlight of Sunday was the Pirates-Dodgers game at PNC Park. I hadn't been to the new Pirates stadium before, so I was understandably excited all weekend at the idea. I wasn't disappointed. PNC Park lives up to its reputation as one of the best ballparks in baseball. The stadium faces the downtown skyline, so fans get to see the beauty of Pittsburgh's buildings and bridges just over the outfield fences. We had seats about 30 rows up from the Pirates dugout, just under the upper deck, so we were in the shade for the entire game. But the sightlines were excellent, and we didn't suffer at all for not sitting out in the open. We were just a few seats too far over to catch any foul balls, which was probably a good thing since I would have had to sacrifice my camera to snag one. The concourses are wide, the bathrooms plentiful, and the lines at the many concession stands blissfully short. I had to wait about 10 minutes for hot dogs during the 7th-inning stretch, but that was because everyone in front of me wanted ice cream and the soft-serve machine was slow. The game itself was a disappointment, though. The pitcher subbing for the injured Kip Wells gave up four or five hits in the top of the third inning, and the Dodgers may have batted around -- after the Pirates pulled him for Ryan Vogelsong I got up to get some drinks and missed the rest of the half inning. Down 6-0 in the bottom of the ninth, the Pirates did mount a brief comeback against the Dodgers closer (the forgettable Yhency Brazoban), but ultimately couldn't finish them off, and the game ended 6-4. But we did enjoy the pierogi race in the fifth inning, and I appreciated the lack of other loud between-innings music and entertainment. And I even liked the fans sitting around us, even the loudmouth drunk lady who kept shouting at her companions next to her. At least we didn't get any profanity like we've heard at games here in New York. Since Hunter is too young to appreciate it (or care), I got to take home the day's giveaway: a ceramic bobblehead doll of Cheese Chester, one of the participants in the pierogi race. It's now on my desk at work, next to my Chuck Tanner statuette.

We decided to try to get home earlier on the way back, so we left at 8 AM instead of the planned 9 AM departure. We had to drive through rain nearly the entire way back, but luckily there were no accidents or traffic delays. We dropped off the rental car around 3 PM and went home to three cats who were happy to see us.

I'll have pictures posted as soon as I get a free moment to get them online. There are a lot of game photos, so I'll have to pick out the best ones.

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