Back to and from Pittsburgh.

20 April 2009

As I write this, Bill (my father in law) just came out of surgery to implant a defibrillator to monitor his heart. I'm told that the procedure went smoothly, and he's recovering nicely. He'll be spending about four days in the hospital while they experiment with his medication a little.

After work on Friday night, Lyssa, Laurelinde, and I packed our gear to make the trek northward back to Pittsburgh, by way of Chili's for dinner just of the Beltway (to give the bridge and tunnel crowd a chance to get home and clear the way). We packed as little kit as we could get away with, given that we would only be in town for a day or two, and would be spending much of that running around. Our basic plan was that Laurelinde would drive (seeing as how her car has a lot more legroom than mine) us back to Pittsburgh, where we had hotel reservations. We'd run around a little bit during the day on Saturday and then drop me off at my parents' place, and then head out to Lyssa's parents' place (a good two hours away, if you count the 'getting to Pittsburgh' part of the show). At an undetermined time that night, they'd pick me up, we'd drive back to the hotel, and then head home sometime Sunday to get ready for work the next day.

As usual when it comes to Pittsburgh, the gulf between planning and execution is a vast one. I'd holed up in the back seat with a couple of books (if I'm not driving, I can plow through a decently sized book in about five hours) and thus missed the exit for Harmarville (and our hotel) by a couple of miles. Specifically, we wound up a good thirty miles off course - way too far north of our destination, in fact. We wound up turning around somewhere in Cranberry and doubling back, then cutting through northeastern Pittsburgh (where I lived shortly before decamping for the nation's capital), and then driving back and forth a couple of times in search of our hotel (which looks nothing like the photograph on the website these days, thanks to the addition of a nightclub). Around 1000 EST5EDT we dragged ourselves out of bed in sequence, showered, got dressed, and managed to shake ourselves into some semblance of consciousness to get out the door and back into the car. Our first stop was the local King's Restaurant, a diner chain that appears indiginous to Pennsylvania for coffee and breakfast. Suitably fueled up, we headed out to Oakland and my alma mater to do a little running around and go on a walking tour of the campus. Our first stop was Hocus Pocus on the south side of the campus to see if a couple of old friends were about, but neither Lucien nor Kali appeared to be about at the moment.

We headed northward a ways and parked just outside of Soldiers and Sailors, the lawn of which was covered with co-eds catching sun and cramming for finals. The three of us had a short walk to the Cathedral of Learning, which we entered through the first floor (up the front steps, where most people head in) and promptly got separated from one another while searching for the bathrooms. We finally met up again in the basement (where the coffee stand appears to now be a permanant fixture) and spent the next couple of hours running around the building admiring the marble floors and architecture. The lowest couple of floors are still done in the original style, carved stone and metal; none of us thought to take any pictures (myself probably due to the fact that I graduated from there). After wandering around on the bottom floor we went up a few flights of stairs and started poking our noses randomly around in the Nationality Rooms, classrooms which are decorated as closely as possible to resemble classrooms of the countries they represent. Not all of them were open at the time but we did visit the Welsh, Indian, African, and Lithuanian rooms for a time. We then walked behind the Cathedral of Learning to check out Heinz Chapel, which we'd seen many times (well, Lyssa and I, anyway) but had never actually visited. As it turned out we nearly crashed a wedding taking place inside the Chapel itself; a helpful caretaker of the site shooed us away before we could accidentally walk in at precisely the wrong moment. A few minutes later, however, the wedding party departed and we took a brief look around inside. The stained glass windows are nothing short of breathtaking. They're mostly done in cobalt blue and depict many historical personages, from Sir Isaac Newton to William Shakespeare to Ludwig van Beethoven, though a quick look at their web page shows that much more is depicted by those windows than the three of us saw that afternoon.

It was around this time that we headed back to the car and drove a little farther to wander up and down South Craig Street, where Lyssa and I used to waste a lot of time in between classes. I took Laurelinde to the new location of Phantom of the Attic, which is possibly my favorite gaming store in Pittsburgh (plus it's the easiest to get to). At the same time Lyssa was nosing around in the Irish Design Center. Laurelinde and I then paid the Caliban Book Shop a visit.

Caliban's book selection is hit or miss: you'll either find exactly what you want or you won't find anything that you need. Regardless of the day, you'll find lots of rare, unusual, and yes even strange texts on the shelves. Textbooks, reprints of reprints, first editions that you'd have to mortgage your house to afford (such as a complete first edition set of The Wizard of Oz novels), if you're lucky and hunt long enough, you'll find most anything there. I chanced across a pair of Victorian texts (both reprints but the content definitely dates correctly) which I picked up immediately. Unfortunately, another shopper was thinking along the same lines, only without the intention of paying. I didn't get a good look at the woman who ran out the door with a couple of books in hand but the cashier did, and gave chase, only to give up a few moments later.

Ever have one of those moments where you want to do something, anything, but you don't have the slightest idea what? I hadn't gotten a good look at the woman who tore out of there, so I didn't know who I could reasonably go after if I threw everything down and took to my heels. The manager was called, and presumably the police were called as well. When you get right down to it, what could we have done?

We met back up with Lyssa and decided to take a chance on going to Lulu's Noodle Shop for a late lunch. Lyssa and Laurelinde ordered some fairly mundane Chinese food while I opted for a pot of oolong tea, not being particularly hungry from breakfast. We set out for my parents' place around 1600 EST5EDT, and arrived in fairly short order. After Laurelinde and Lyssa left, I sat down with my folks to eat dinner for the first time in a while. Now that my grandfather's back up and around and doing better, he jumped at the opportunity to make all-day (slow cooked) chili for dinner. After dinner and coffee, my mother and I headed to Best Buy to pick up a couple of component cables for the home theatre system and a wireless network card for her computer. Plugging everything in went smoothly; after looking at the manuals a few times I knew exactly what had to be done, and after a few minutes the DVD player was hooked up to the new television. Moving my mother's computer upstairs was a bit more of a trick because we had to move stuff around in the spare room, disconnect everything, haul it upstairs, haul my old steel workbench upstairs... all things being equal, the hardest part of the whole deal was stopping the bleeding.

Yes, that's correct. When reconnecting the printer after setting everything up, my right temple found a nail sticking out of the walll the hard way. My first clue that something was amiss was the horrible scratching sound echoing through my skull as the nail carved a neat groove through my skin. Strangely enough it didn't bleed like most scalp wounds do, but it was enough to throw a monkey wrench into my mojo for a couple of hours.

After getting everything booted back up, I spent the rest of the evening sitting in the living room with my folks, watching a little television and otherwise enjoying the evening. We caught up on old times until shortly after midnight local time, at which time Lyssa and Laurelinde arrived. We piled my small amount of field kit into the car and headed back to the hotel to crash for the night. The next morning we piled our meager gear back into Laurelinde's car and decided to visit one of the defining restaurants of the Pittsburgh area: the Primanti's in Harmarville (as opposed to the one in the Strip District). It is only here where you can order a cheesesteak sandwich with dry (read: not sloppy) sweet and sour sourkraut and french fries as toppings and fried dill pickles for an appetizer. Yes, they're horrible for you. Just don't tell my cardiologist.. she's still getting over the two hearts thing.

In truth, I found the flavor rather lacking. Maybe it's due to the fact that I don't really have a sense of taste (I prefer textures to flavors), but I had to add a little cayenne sauce to my sandwich to spice it up a little. Still, they're pretty good, and if you think that you can handle one without puttting yourself in mortal peril I highly suggest that you try one if you happen to find yourself in the Pittsburgh area.

The trip home was far more interesting than normal. Somehow, and I'm still not certain how, the three of us found ourselves horribly lost in Pittsburgh. We missed our exit to get onto the turnpike. We wound up cutting through downtown Pittsburgh and Monroeville in our search for route 28. We even went the wrong way on the highway for a while. As near as I can tell, what threw our GPSes out of whack was the fact that they don't actually take into account elevation, just longitude and latitude. The western side of Pittsburgh proper, over by the Point, is known for its multi-level bridges leading eastward, southward, and down into the city itself as well as running alongside two of the sides. Our GPSes were thoroughly convinced that the car was fifteen feet to the right and forty feet straight up which changes the route you need to take dramatically.

There's a reason that an often heard phrase in Pittsburgh is "Ya can't get there from here."

I don't know when we finally figured out where we were going. I do know that Lyssa and I got back home around 1800 EST5EDT on Sunday evening, and after a quick trip to get groceries, we met up with Hasufin, Orthaevelve, and Jareth at Chili's (again) for a late dinner.

I actually don't have a whole lot else to say right now. I'm getting back into the swing of things at home again, or trying to. I don't know if it was the unfamiliar food, the water in Pittsburgh, the two trips to Chili's within a short period of time, some combination of factors or what, but I've been mostly laid low by stomach trouble since early this morning. I'm hoping that my body can shake off whatever it is that I appear to have caught on the road so that I can get back on my game. That's probably more information than you really needed right now but it's also the logical end to my weekend. I went home, I saw my family, I did some good deeds, I got sick again.

My immune system and I are going to have a long talk soon.