Friday, September 28, 2012

Take a Walk: Octopus's Garden in Friendship

On Saturday I had an hour to kill before meeting up with a friend for some North Side adventures. So I took a walk. (As part of my effort to walk around my neighborhood more often.) My destination was something I had passed by and heard about in passing, the Octopus's Garden in Friendship on S. Aiken.  Earlier in the day I had been walking around running errands and buying hot beverages and donuts and had the feeling of "I'm in love with this place" hitting me pretty hard. Hidden gems in my neighborhood like the Octopus's Garden definitely add to the love. For where I am in my life now, I can't think of a better place to live than in Bloomfield and on the edge of Friendship, Garfield, and Lawrenceville. Here are some photos from the garden. If you ever find yourself with some time to kill after grabbing brunch at The Quiet Storm or coffee at Voluto, walk down S. Aiken and enjoy the garden for yourself. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

30 Before 30: Banjo Night

"Banjo Night" has been an event suggested to me many times in the past five or six years. Even before I moved back to Pittsburgh, friends were putting it on my to-do lists for visits back home. It took placement on the 30 Before 30 List to finally get myself to the Elks Lodge on the North Side to experience it, but it certainly won't take much to get me to go back.

Every Wednesday, the Pittsburgh Banjo Club holds an open rehearsal at the Elks Lodge on Cedar Avenue, just across the Allegheny River. Admission is free. Food and beer are cheap. And the entertainment is priceless.

If you've never gone, don't wait as long as I did to enjoy a few hours of banjo-playing and merry-making. It happens tonight. You may find me there, dragging along my dad and brother.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Ride Bikes All Night: The DC-PGH 24-hr Relay 2012

Over beers after the Carrie Furnace ride, my friend Mark mentioned that he was doing a 24-hour relay ride between DC and PGH. It didn't take much more than that simple explanation for me to be intrigued and want to participate. A couple Fridays ago I tried to stay up all night. I tried to sleep all day Saturday. (It didn't work; I was up by 11 a.m.) And by 8:30 p.m. I was setting off on my bike toward Edgewood, where I'd join my team for the second leg of the relay, from Cumberland to Pittsburgh. We didn't get to Cumberland until after 11:30 p.m., and once there we eagerly awaited the arrival of the first team, who had started in Georgetown at noon. They were tasked with riding the C&O Canal, much rougher and a bit longer than the Great Allegheny Passage. We saw the first set of headlights close to 1 a.m., and the first members of our team set off into the night. I didn't get my first go at the trail until the third leg (which was really fine with me, as the first two legs were the uphill journey that I didn't reeeeeallly want to undertake). So, at around a.m., with the temps in the 40s and darkness obviously surrounding us, my partner and I took off down the GAP. We had a series of lights on our bikes and helmets, but still could only see about 10-15 feet in front of us. When we entered into patches of fog, the visibility was cut to only a few feet. It was kind of terrifying, but also incredibly fun. We needed to keep going at a fairly quick pace to not fall behind a very tight schedule that would get our team into Pittsburgh before the 24-hour period was up. When we rolled into Rockwood, we were ahead of schedule. The next pair of riders took off, and I devoured a peanut butter sammich, several handfuls of Cheez-Its, and then I passed out in the back of the van until it was again my turn to ride, sometime around 7 a.m. As the miles counted down on my second leg, I felt myself slowing down. A combination of lack of sleep, the cold, and the race against the clock were wearing down my legs and my stamina, and any plans I had of joining the final leg into Pittsburgh were quickly fading away. I had mentioned so much when we got to the van when the leg was over, and a couple of my teammates scoffed and said I would do it. I just shook my head and started shoveling all food possible into my mouth. But they were right. By the time we got to the Boston Bridge, 22 miles away from the Point, I was ready to go. We had two hours to go 22 miles, so the pace wouldn't need to be killer to make it by noon. Three of us set off toward Pittsburgh, and - after a quick bathroom break at the Waterfront Eat N Park - we were on the Eliza Furnace Trail, quickly heading toward the end. My ride partners had me lead the charge into Point State Park, and it was an overwhelming feeling of awesome to get there and to finish the 24-hour relay with time to spare. It was an even awesomer feeling to get to Over The Bar and drink beer and eat food and sit around a huge table with both teams recounting stories and having some great laughs. After meeting my dad and brother for a beer (okay, a margarita and a beer) in Market Square, I was home, on the couch, and ready to watch the Steelers game. Of course, I slept through it, and through the next fifteen hours. 

I didn't take many photos. In fact, I don't think I took any until after my second leg ended. And then the ones I did take were while I was riding my third and last leg into Pittsburgh. But, enjoy.

Doug and Mark, my partners for the last leg of the relay.

Supposedly, the trail is going to be done by Spring 2013. I hope so. Jumping the fence after Sandcastle and then traversing the makeshift "trail" by the railroad tracks was annoying.

Oh, hey! I'm doing it!

Bikes in the back of the van.

Cumberland--Pittsburgh team: Doug, Chris, Mark, Me, Mark, Mary, and Mike. No one warned me that bright-colored jerseys were required. But, now I know for next year.

This was very honestly one of the best things I have done since moving back to Pittsburgh. I'm sure everyone has tired of hearing me espouse the joys of biking, but it really has given me something I can be proud of. This ride - moreso than either of the solo treks I've done on the same trail - showed me how strong I've become and how much I can accomplish when I'm determined. It was a total blast.

Things have been a little slow on EvBetPGH lately. I hope that changes soon. I'm almost over the cold that sidelined me post-relay. And it's fall. As much as I enjoy summer in Pittsburgh, the can't be beat.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

That Ain't Pittsburgh: Toronto's Graffiti Alleys

I love graffiti. Good graffiti. When it is done like the graffiti in these pictures, it's an artform I'm totally jealous of. I love the chaos of graffiti and the explosiveness of it. While we were wandering around Queen Street West, we ventured down an alley that led to another alley that was full of amazing and colorful graffitied walls and garages. Here's what we found.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

That Ain't Pittsburgh: A Bit of Everything from Toronto

I love Pittsburgh with all my heart. I don't ever intend to leave it. But, in the event that things go epically bad in Pittsburgh, my first choice for relocation will be Toronto. I used to think it would be Vancouver, but I don't think I'm ready to fully commit to living on the West Coast. Toronto is like New York, but more manageable. It's not overwhelming. It's not hectic. It's just right.

We were only there for 24 hours, but we had a blast biking and walking around the city. We had ourselves a night on the town. And we did some pretty excellent shopping. In this post, the bits of everything we did during our day-long trip to Toronto will be recapped in photos. Enjoy. We totally did.

Ahhhh the Poutinerie. This is becoming a standard stop on Toronto trips. 

Poutine = fries, gravy, and cheese curds. Though places outside of Canada have tried, I have never been satisfied with an order of poutine like I am when I am up in The Hat. It's probably good to not have easy access to poutine in Pittsburgh. My health would be in serious jeopardy.

While enjoying our poutine, we scoped out the evening's happenings in the Toronto city papers. We were not the only Pittsburghers heading to the city in September.

Upon arriving in Toronto, we immediately spotted some furries. And that, as a Pittsburgher, kinda made me feel at home.

One of my objectives on this trip was to find a Toronto Raptors t-shirt with a raptor on it. We spent a lot of time on our evening in Toronto in search of one downtown. Guess what. No one in Toronto feels like supporting such an awesome team with an awesome mascot. It was a fruitless search. But it was a beautiful evening to be wandering around the city.

So, to deal with this goal of acquiring a Toronto Raptors tee, I took matters in my own hands. Well, I put them in the hands of the lovely guy below, who helped me make the awesome t-shirt above. It's nowhere near an official tee, but it suits my needs PERFECTLY.

Rob also made a t-shirt, but that will be revealed later this week.

Back at our "hotel," we caught the second half of This Movie Is Broken. This is a movie that I had to wait patiently to watch in the United States. In Canada, it's just on normal television. This is a reason I wouldn't mind a life up in The Hat.

On our night out in Toronto, we bar-hopped around Queen Street West. We started at Squirly's for beers, whiskey and foods. We then headed across the street for more beer and more whiskey at a bar across the street, the name of which I cannot remember. And then it was onto our last destination of the night: The Bovine Sex Club. 

Sadly, we got there just after live-band punk-rock karaoke was ending. But we spent the rest of our night drinking at the bar and flipping through a medical dictionary trying to find the grossest pictures.

Pictures like this. There were grosser ones, trust me.

After our boozing was over, I needed pizza. (No matter what country I am in, I always need pizza late at night when alcohol is in my belly.)

I did not try the poutine at Pizza Pizza, but this guy gave me a chuckle while I waited for my pie.

The next morning we went shopping and browsing along Queen Street West. We stopped at Type, where I picked up a book about yarnbombing and a Canadian magazine called Uppercase. I haven't had a chance to dive into either, but I'm excited about the creative possibilities each seems to promise.

After winning the lottery and spending a good chunk on the tourist attractions at Niagara Falls, my second stop will be all of the home decorating stores on Queen Street West. The name of this one escapes me now, and my searching on Yelp is coming up entirely fruitless, but this place has so many awesome things. I wanted them all. 

Toronto, like Pittsburgh, has covered itself with murals. Whenever I'm in a city without a multitude of murals, I feel a little disengaged. There's something about these murals that makes me feel welcomed as an outsider. It's so much better than stark blankness. I couldn't ever live in a city without them.