Tuesday, July 31, 2012

PGH Book #7: The Lost Cyclist

The hardest decision I had to make about the bike trip wasn't the route ("stay on trail" was the plan) or the food (noodles, oatmeal, noodles, oatmeal, and a smores poptart here and there). It was the books to read. Last year I tried to take a copy of Devil in the White City with me. I had read it before, and was completely aware of its contents, but a friend advised that taking a book about a serial killer while I would be camping alone might not be my best idea yet. This year I wanted to take along The Lost Cyclist, but when I described it to someone as "a book where this guy from Pittsburgh tries to ride his bike around the world but ends up disappearing in Turkey," he thought maybe I should come up with other options. (Which I eventually did. But I don't think taking either Gary Paulsen's Hatchet or The River were the most brilliant choices thematically anyway.)

So, once I got back from the trip and had settled back into normal life, I picked up The Lost Cyclist.

This book did nothing the quell the extreme wanderlust I felt a few weeks after getting back to Pittsburgh post-bike trip. Before I even started in on The Lost Cyclist, I was already researching the possibility of riding my bike across Canada. The Cyclist at the center of this story is Frank Lenz, from Pittsburgh, which is why this counts as a PGH Book. He was one of the first cyclists ever to get into racing and touring. It was his dream to ride his bike across the world (i.e., become a "globe girdler"), and he got the opportunity to do so in the mid 1890s. On bike with a camera and very little else, Lenz cycled across the United States to the West Coast, took a ship to Asia and went through Japan and China. Others had attempted these kinds of extreme tours before Lenz, but they had started in Europe and crossed a lot of terrain by train. Lenz was a fervent believer in biking across all terrains when possible, so his mileage was considerably greater and his trip considerably more dangerous. He also attempted his tour of the world alone, while many others had partners along for the ride. Long story short: he disappears in Turkey. The book then goes into the crazy search that followed.

Even though our poor hero doesn't make it out alive (not a spoiler; it's revealed early on that things don't go Lenz's way), the descriptions of his travels on two wheels made me incredibly jealous. It's nothing I could set out to do in the very near future, but I'm starting to work things out in the back of my mind to one day tackle some sort of cross-country (preferably Canada, but I'd also consider the United States) bike tour. Frank Lenz may have just become my favorite Pittsburgher. 

Monday, July 30, 2012

Gotham City = Pittsburgh: The Dark Knight Rises

By now we have mostly all seen The Dark Knight Rises? Yes? Ok!

Bat signal at the Carnegie Science Center.

Pittsburgh, aka GOTHAM CITY, from the Carnegie Science Center.

Midnight IMAX showing made for a rough Friday at work, but it was worth  it.
This won't be a lengthy post. I've always been a horrible reviewer of things. It's either I love it, I was amused by it, or I didn't care for it. With The Dark Knight Rises I was amused and I loved it. Seriously. I know the movie has its logistical flaws and a lot of people had issues with Bane's voice or the big problem that needs to be solved before the end of the movie, but I enjoyed every second of it. Most all of the recognizable Pittsburgh scenes are in the second half of the film, starting with the Heinz Field scenes, which my brother, friends and I were lucky enough to be VIPs at the day of filming. I saw my office building (not for long though; we're moving to PPG Place in a week) and watched orphans run out of what would be Franktuary. I saw the Saks Fifth Avenue sign as well as the sign for Wiener World. It was a little disorienting during the chase scene when they kept circling around Kaufmann's (Macy's - whatever). It was totally fun, and I'm expecting to schedule a second viewing soon. Going to the Science Center and seeing it on that crazy IMAX scene was great, but I'd like to see it normally too. I think I missed a lot of stuff around the periphery of each scene.

Anyways. Great movie. Great fun when they were in town filming. Even though I wasn't in the movie, it feels like a small part of me can be because those are my streets. I walk down them every day. Just like Batman.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Everyone: Be Safe. Pay Attention. Be Respectful.

On Wednesday morning, on a stretch of Penn in Point Breeze that I often travel by bike during football season to watch Steelers games at my friend's place in Regent Square, a cyclist was hit and killed. The crash occurred around 5 a.m. The driver took off after and has not been identified as of my writing this.

The death of James Price, 46-years-old, father of an 11-year-old daughter, was completely and utterly senseless. He lived in Homewood and started biking as a way to improve his health and diabetes. At 5 a.m. there is not enough traffic on Penn Ave on that stretch to make it impossible for cars and bikes to share the road. The speed limit there is 35 MPH, and I doubt the driver was adhering to that limit, as most drivers (MOST, not all) similarly do not. Mr. Price was wearing a helmet, and he had lights on his bike. It's hard to believe that he was not visible at the time of the crash.

I understand that I exist as a minority in Pittsburgh. Though I see more and more cyclists on the road every day, biking is still not the first (car) or second (public transportation) choice for most Pittsburghers. Some comments from the Post-Gazette story are hard to swallow. There is definitely animosity in this city when it comes to cyclists and motorists. Look: I don't want to be in your way, cars. But, without bike lanes on all major roads (I'm thinking Penn, Forbes, Fifth, etc.) the only thing I can do is try to bike as close to the curb as possible. When there is street parking, I try to bike as close to the parked cars as possible, but one day that is going to get me doored.

I hope that one day those bike lanes do exist. I hope that helps ease the frustration felt by both cyclists and motorists. I hope that those bike lanes encourage more people to ditch their cars because biking immediately becomes much safer. I hope that nothing like this happens in Pittsburgh again.

BikePGH is a tremendous organization, and they are doing everything in their power to make cycling in Pittsburgh a more common thing. Here is their post on the story.

Cyclists: Wear a helmet. Use lights. Be cautious. Be aware.

Motorists: OBEY THE SPEED LIMIT. Stop texting (please, seriously, stop texting). If you pass, leave plenty of room on our left (the law requires you give us four feet). Be patient.

Everyone: Be safe. Pay Attention. Be Respectful.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Next Time Wear Pants: Volunteering with GrowPGH

In an effort to get myself closer to reaching 50 volunteer hours in 2012 (of which I had only notched two), I spent a Saturday morning and afternoon in Braddock at the GrowPGH farm. This urban farm sits in the shadow of the steel industry, and what they've got going on in these once-vacant lots is very impressive.

I would try and sum up what GrowPGH's Braddock farm is all about, but they do it best on their site

Our task for the day was to clear out a long patch along the outer border of one of the lots. Then we covered the whole section with wood chips. It felt good to do some manual labor, and it was rewarding to see a debris-covered section of the lot end up closer to being a productive section of the farm.

One day I will have a backyard, and in that backyard I will have some chicken friends.
View of the lot we were tasked with cleaning up .

This is the opposite of what my tomatos look like. I think I need to stick with houseplants.

The fruits of our labor: Soon this area will be as productive as the rest of the  urban farm.
Now, to explain the title of this post. On Sunday morning, my legs started to itch. I thought maybe I had just gotten some bug bites, but what I have actually got is a serious case of poison ivy legs (and arm). Apparently my sensitive skin and poison ivy DO NOT MIX. I should have paid more attention to what I was clearing away, especially when one of the guys who works for GrowPGH warned us there might be poison ivy. But I'm on some medication (steroids! time to rage!) and have been carrying around a bottle of calamine lotion on my person at all times. I hope to volunteer with GrowPGH again at the Braddock farm, but next time, I'm wearing pants.

But hey! Four more hours logged. Only 44 more to go.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Let's All Go to the Movies!

I have always loved going to the movies. I love buttery popcorn. I love trailers. I love sitting in the dark and watching something I've never seen before, and wondering whether or not it's something I'm about to fall in love with. I also love when a theater like The Oaks in Oakmont plays classics like E.T. or Ghostbusters, which I went to see with my friend Zack a couple Fridays ago.

We drove up to The Oaks and, to our pleasant surprise, the Steel City Ghostbusters were there in full force with their very authentic Ecto1.

Zack and I were moviegoing partners the next week when we took in Shut Up and Play the Hits at the Manor in Squirrel Hill.

I hadn't been to the Manor in a long time. It was another pleasant surprise to find that they had renovated the inside to add a bar/lounge area. PBRs were $2.50 and you could take them into the theater. Genius. All movies that I want to see that are playing at the Manor will now be seen there.

The Oaks, The Manor, and other independent theaters (like The Harris in Downtown or The Hollywood in Dormont) around Pittsburgh are great options when you're tired of the multiplexes.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

I'm a Really Terrible Driver: Here Are Some Cool Cars

I think it's safe to say that cars aren't my thing. When I turned sixteen, I couldn't wait to drive. I got my permit so soon after my birthday and took and passed my driver's test one the first possible day it was available to me. I was lucky to have a dad who worked for Chrysler, so I was presented with a pretty sweet and new Jeep Cherokee in "patriot blue" as my first car. 

Crashed it. Totaled it.

Then there was the red Jeep Cherokee. Then there was the orange Jeep Wrangler. There might have been another Wrangler after that that I'm forgetting.

I'm really a terrible driver. 

But I can appreciate a good-looking car, which is why I wanted to go to the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix. We didn't see any of the race, but we did check out the cars.

In the future, should I need a car (I hope that is NEVER the case, for my own and for everyone else's safety), I want this old orange Fiat. It's adorable. And orange.

But, I have to admit to myself that I'm going to need to be a little more practical. So I think this orange old Scout would be an excellent choice. I could fit my bike in there, camp gear in there, all sorts of stuff in there. And it's orange.

We stopped by some Chrysler cars, so I could tell my dad that I did. The pentastar logo is so emblazoned on my childhood brain. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

"LIVE" Blogging Sebak: Things That Are Still Here

Last time I sat down to watch a Rick Sebak doc, it was about things that no longer exist. This time, I sat down to watch one about things that are still around.

Here are the thoughts I had while watching. Enjoy!

- I'm excited to see things that are still here. I already can't wait to see them for myself. I am a nerd like that.

- Starting with dinos. OKAY! (This goes along perfectly with the PGH Book I am reading right now.) The dinosaur collection at the Carnegie is the best on the planet, and it's such a thrill to be able to go see them whenever I want. I can still remember being a kid and walking into the dinosaur hall and feeling so small and so in awe. Also: There used to be a LIGHT SHOW on the dino bones? Bring that back, ASAP. Nominee for best quote of doc: "Her office is in the 'Big Bone Room.'"

- Mmmmmm. Donuts. This is just cruel right now, Sebak. I love it when people say things like "I just have to take a box of Orem's donuts with me when I go out of town." (I'm going to have to make a Paddy Cake trip soon.)

- Nicholas Coffee & Tea is one of my favorite places Downtown, especially when it's cold out. There's something about a Nicholas latte on a really cold day.

- I need to go explore these coke ovens outside of Connellsville. They look pretty rad.

- Watching these clay jugs being made is honestly fascinating. HOLY CRAP. It looks like it is someone's job in the factory to smash the imperfect plates. I am envious. The Fiestaware plant might be my favorite segment of this documentary. It's really enjoyable. I absolutely love these people waiting to get into the factory sale. Heartwarming times a million.

- Officially putting the Braddock Carnegie Library on the list of things to see this summer. What an absolutely beautiful building.

- Ahh, Ligonier Beach. An interesting place, to say the least. A bar and a diving board in the same location? Perfection.

- Lots of interesting facts about the mobile hanging in the Pittsburgh International Airport. Can't wait to share those.

- Oh! The Belts! I love the belts. When I was learning how to drive to Oakland, I had to remember to turn at the one Blue Belt sign going up that hill. (How you know you're a Pittsburgh: you could never give directions with street names.) I love how no one knows what the belts are or what they do. It's seriously one of my favorite weird Pittsburgh things. "It's a unique system, and it works well." Another good nominee for best quote of doc.

(Someone please find a way to get an Orange Belt sign in to my possession. Thanks!)

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Happy (Belated!) Birthday, Blog!

Holy crap! The heat has definitely infected my brain, because I totally missed EverythingBetterPGH's birthday! I am not one to forget an anniversary (seriously, I celebrate the weirdest things every year because I can't forget the dates), so I feel kind of bad about this. Sorry, blog.

Let's celebrate!

I can't believe I've been doing this for a year now. It's been a very strange year for me personally. Only a handful of posts were published before my mom passed away, which means this blog exists in the shadow of that life-altering event. This was one of the hardest years of my life. For a long time there, nothing was going right. Every morning I woke up and wondered what horrible thing would happen that day. That's dramatic, I know. But seriously: In the span of a few weeks the following things happened to me: got in a bike accident with another biker and totally messed up my knee, was nearly assaulted (i.e., hit with an umbrella) when someone tried to steal my cellphone at a trolley stop in BETHEL PARK, and was the unfortunate person sitting next to the guy in the theater whose ladyfriend gave him a handy during Crazy Stupid Love.

I digress.

In order to survive the past year, I've had to live with a very "full throttle" attitude toward getting through the day to the next day to the next day until the day when I would stop being sad. I still don't know if I'm there yet, but I'm starting to really appreciate the present, which means I'm starting to slow down a bit. Living in the moment, and all other such sayings.

When I look back at these things I've written about or taken pictures of throughout the past year, I'm so so so glad I made myself keep this blog going. I have this awesome collection of memories now, and I can look at them and realize that through all the sad stuff, there was a heck of a lot of fun. In celebration of EverythingBetterPGH's first birthday, here are ten of those fun moments, ones that I would go back and relive in a heartbeat.

(In no particular order.)

Tonight, at midnight, I'm going to go see The Dark Knight Rises. I promised myself I would keep this blog going until I could write a post about seeing the movie that I watched being filmed on my streets.

I can't wait to write that post. And so many more after that.

Thank you for reading!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

PGH T-Shirt Collection: July 2012, Vol. 2

More t-shirts! More t-shirts!

T016: Girl Talk Zombie
Where Bought: This was a gift from Eric.
I like this shirt because Girl Talk + Pittsburgh + Zombies.

T017: The Burg
Where Bought: Pittsburgh International Airport
This was one of the first t-shirts I picked up at the Pittsburgh International Airport on one of many trips visiting home while I lived in Boston. I still obsessively check out the various t-shirt vendors around the airport whenever I'm flying out. I can't be stopped. Also, "BURG" should have an "H"; perhaps I should add one.

T018: East Liberty Drawing
Where Bought: Cotton Factory, with gift certificate from Kate.
It took me a long time to decide between this or the Oakland t-shirt. Oakland is kind of my past, and East Liberty is a bit more of the present/future (lately I've been pondering the possibility of settling into a home or condo there...).

T019: Iron City Steelers Gear
Where Bought: Cotton Factory, with gift certificate from Kate.
It's always good to add another t-shirt to my options for Sunday afternoons in football season.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

PGH T-Shirt Collection: July 2012

Of all the chores I wish I could do away with forever, laundry is at the top of the list. If I had a car, I would probably take my laundry home to my dad's house, and he would lovingly do it for me (because he knows how much I hate it and how bad I am at it (seriously: I'm really terrible at it)). But I don't have a car (I think that's been made clear by now, right?), so I must take care of my laundry myself. I typically wait until my clean clothes situation has become dire (that is, no more clean underwear), which it did the other day. As I was folding and putting away, I set aside some PGH t-shirts I hadn't yet shared. Enjoy them, and the glimpse into my apartment; I was tired of showing you my dirty floor.

T013: Reverse Keg Ride 2011
Where Bought: At the BikePGH/East End Brewery Keg Ride 2012. 
Confession: I was registered to ride this, and intended to do so in costume. But then it snowed and my friends and I all kind of backed out. But, offer me an orange t-shirt with a mummy riding a bike pulling a keg and I will find it impossible to say no. (Regardless of whether that shirt has anything to do with Pittsburgh.)

T014: Three Rivers Stadium
Where Bought: Steel City Cotton Works, with Groupon
I have so many good memories of THree Rivers Stadium from when I was a kid. This t-shirt had to be in my drawer.

T015: Pirates: Rebuilding Since 1992
Where Bought: Steel City Cotton Works, with Groupon
It's been twenty years. Could this possibly be our winning season? We're past the All-Star Break, so all bets are off. (Win or lose, just stay affordable, Pirates.)

Some more t-shirts coming at you tomorrow. That's how much laundry I had to do.