The Uphill Slide

There is always something.

A Day of Release in Pittsburgh

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Thursday was a day of hours wasted waiting for the sentencing hearing to be held in the Allegheny County Courthouse, a day of hope and disappointment, a day of hope and anger. There is always hope. I cling to hope and faith. The next day I was exhausted and filled with a nervous energy. I needed to get out and do something, so I decided to bike the South Side River Trail from Station Square further along the Monongahela River. I put the bike on my carrier in Jacob’s driveway forgetting that the hitch always scrapes as I back down the short steep angled hill of his driveway. Now it was not only the hitch but the bike that scraped as I backed down along the mailbox. Suddenly I came to a stop, stuck on the road.  I said to myself, “You stupid…….!”. I certainly hope I do not need to call my husband, plus I am partially blocking this one-way street with my bike and carrier sticking out from the back of the car. I guess these mistakes in judgement keep me humble, but as a 64-year-old I, as so many my age, worry about the onset of Alzheimer’s or dementia. My mother suffered from dementia but not until her late 80s. When I watched the film Still Alice, a film winning Julianne Moore a Best Actress Academy Award, the story struck me with fear as it would most people my age. We fear this disease and often worry those things we do or the things we forget are all signs of the onset of the disease. Then this little mishap in my driveway, if reported in the media, might describe me as an elderly woman. I have sometimes read a newspaper article or listened to news reports that names a mid to late 60-year old as an elderly person. When do I reach that mark of the elderly person? I do not view myself as elderly, and as all those 20 somethings will someday find out, at 60 you still feel 20 inside.

I digress though from my story of my explorations of this day. Life is full of digressions though, so it is natural that my writing takes this turn also.  I removed the bike from the carrier and then raised the carrier into the upright position against the trunk. I hit reverse and pushed back scraping the bike carrier’s bottom loudly against the pavement as my car became released. The bottom of this carrier always scrapes the pavement, but today it was stronger and louder than usual. I pulled along the fence of the abandoned house across from Jacob’s house. I got out of the car collecting those hitchhiking needles on my capri pants from the weeds in that overgrown yard.  I put the bike back on the carrier and drove down the street. Although I was heading to the South Side, I wanted to drive past the stores on Penn Avenue in East Liberty. I had posted photographs of murals along Penn Avenue in East Liberty business district on Instagram, and a response comment asked where these murals were located. I had not thought about the fact that these mural-covered metal security doors were raised during business hours completely hiding themselves from the shoppers and business hour passers-by. What a shame that such street beauty is only revealed after hours when many people are sitting in their homes.

As I was driving up Braddock Avenue towards Penn Avenue on my way to East Liberty, I suddenly needed a restroom. I decided to stop at the Construction Junction and Creative Reuse on Lexington right beside the Allegheny County Police station on Lexington. (I think this police station on Lexington is the same site of the bed-bugged 911 building.) I often stop at the Construction Junction to look around and envision how these old, discarded items and new, unused items might fit into a remodel. I have ideas but not the skills to see it through. Today I saw a round stoneware sink sitting atop a wrought iron stand. A woman and young man passing by me commented how nice it was. I replied that the pipes beneath would show, but yes, it was very nice. It needed just the right bathroom though and mine or Jacob’s was not it. As I walked out the door, I saw the leaded, multi-colored glass pieces that would add a unique touch as a stationary window or even as wall hangings. They were not old stained glass but new colorful versions of that feature. They were not encased in a wooden frame as stained glass windows are.  I took photographs as I usually do of the two items I liked. Sometimes I post them on Instagram. I walked around the corner to Creative Reuse, but I was too early for business hours. I would stop another day. At Creative Reuse I look around never knowing what I might find. I often buy photographs that families cleaning out houses discard. One day I bought a page from someone’s photo album taken on a visit to Germany in the 50s or 60s. It is sad for me to think that someday this will be the place my photographs end their life, or perhaps it will be on the burn pile. That is what happened to the carousels of slides from my parents’ trip to Europe in 1965. It was their one big hurrah adventure together. It was a People-to-People tour visiting farms in Russia, Hungary, Denmark and other stops. My father, a master’s-degreed farmer, often used those slides in talks he gave to groups about farming in these countries. Many years later my brother traveled the Orient Express with his wife across Russia from China. He said how sad and depressing the sights were in Russia as the rails crossed this land with abandoned and rusted machinery. He did not see the organized farms of the Communists. The year and months of my brother’s trip was August and September 2001. He was out of the country on September 11, 2001 crossing China and Russia. I buy the photographs here at this store because I find their subject interesting or their photography inspiring. Sometimes they are landscapes or buildings; sometimes they are people. I am a stranger wondering who this person is or was. I wonder what year the photo was taken. I wonder why they have ended up in a store for strangers to buy. I have bought other things here too. One day I bought small plastic Heinz ketchup-bottle-shaped whistles for my nieces and nephews. The sign on the basket said, ‘Please don’t blow these’. Yes, think of how many lips may have touched these whistles. They are still sitting forgotten until now in a basket on my dresser.

After I left Construction Junction, I drove past the businesses along Penn Avenue in East Liberty. I was right; no hint of these murals was visible as I drove by the stores.  I continued down Penn Avenue past the Allegheny Cemetery that I have visited several times. I passed Children’s Hospital and eventually turned onto Main Street. I did not know where I was exactly, but that is the fun of traveling for me. Exploring and finding something I would not see if I was not lost. I crossed the Bloomfield Bridge that carries the love, peace and happiness graffiti visible from the trails and roads beneath it. I posted that graffiti on Instagram. I thought this crossing would take me to the South Side, but I was, after a turn here and there, on Polish Hill. I had been here one other evening when I was lost. I had stopped that evening and photographed The Immaculate Heart of Mary Roman Catholic Church, a Pittsburgh Landmark. I parked on the street above this church and photographed graffiti on the abandoned church school. I drove down to the street below with the wide steps leading to the doors of this church. I photographed graffiti above the stone wall along the sidewalk. I took photographs of several angles of this church. I walked up the steps and photographed the sign listing the services. I think that I will attend a service here one day to see the inside of this church. I wonder what language the priest uses in the service. There are so many beautiful churches in Pittsburgh, but many of them now are closed to worshipers and sightseers. I drove down a street and crossed a bridge. When I came to the light at the end of that street, I realized exactly where I was, heading straight into The Strip. I pulled into the business sitting to the left of this light and turned around heading back the way I came. I cannot tell you exactly where I came from except that I was eventually on Arlington and sitting at the light at PJ McArdle Roadway.

I turned left, passed by the Liberty Tunnels and headed up the hill to Mt. Washington. I had wanted to return to this vista to take a video of a copper lawn ornament with colored balls on curved arms that twirled and turned with the wind. This ornament was sitting in the yard of a home along Grandview Avenue. I passed this copper dancer traveling along this street to Grandview Point. I drove a little farther and parked along a residential side street. There were no meters to feed here. Last time I was in Mt. Washington, my meter expired and I returned to my car to find that dreaded $25.00 Pittsburgh parking ticket. This time I would be sure to overfeed the meters. I got out of my car feeling a couple drops of rain. The sky was a little dark. I got an umbrella that I always keep in my door side pockets and walked up the street to the statue of George Washington with Guyasuta, a Seneca leader. This statue depicts a meeting between these two men in October 1770. This was Grandview Point. By the time I reached that statue, it was pouring and the bottom of my capri pants was wet and my shoes were squishing. I was wet, my hair plastered to my head despite the umbrella. I tried to hold the umbrella while focusing my phone camera to take photographs. I snapped a few, and then crossed the street to stand under a portico of an apartment building where I was protected from the downpour. As I stood there with the umbrella pinned under my arm viewing the photographs I had taken, the umbrella dropped from under my arm and started skipping across the street. I started to run out to retrieve it, but a truck was coming in my direction.  I was not sure I could beat that truck to the umbrella, so I stopped. The driver, a female I think, stopped for me to retrieve the umbrella. It was starting another skip as I grabbed it before it hopped down the hillside to disappear below in Station Square. Now I was wetter than before, but there was no reason to admit defeat to this rain. I am not the Wicked Witch of the West. I walked farther towards the Duquesne Incline clearly in view. I stopped again under a building canopy. My umbrella by this point had turned inside out a couple of times. I had slammed it against the sidewalk to turn it back to its shape, but now the spokes were bent and the umbrella would not lock into upright position. I had to hold it up. I reached the building for the incline, water drops dripping into my eyes from my hair. I shut the umbrella and walked around. I had been here just over a year ago on Labor Day weekend 2014 with Roy, Jacob, Cary, Caleb, and Tyler, Cary’s boyfriend. We had ridden the Incline up from Station Square and stood on these very spots viewing the city below and looking at the photographs of the beginning of this Pittsburgh landmark. That was destined to be a lifetime-remembered weekend. Today it was still pouring as I stood alone on the observation deck. I find it paramount to view sights in all types of weather. With each change in time, season or weather, you are seeing a new sight. In the building I ducked into the room with a vantage point almost directly over the incline rails. I took a couple of photographs through the dirty, cobwebbed window. I decided to return to my car and check the trail by the Washington and Guyasuta statue. I planned to walk the trail if the rain stopped. It was still raining when I reached it, although the intensity had lessened. I walked a few hundred feet down the trail but decided this hike could wait for a drier day. I returned to my car and got in to move it. I drove down the street and ready to turn up a cobble-stone hill to turn around. I changed my mind when I saw those cobble stones. I made a mistake of going up one of these streets in Homestead. My tires spun, and I could smell the rubber burning. I was not sure I would even reach the top. It was best to take a paved street to turn around. I did get turned around and drove back to the copper ornament. I parked along this house and stood in the rain taking a couple of videos as the arms turned in the rain and wind. It was slow turning and only the top arm was turning. I thought the bottom arm must be stationary, but then it also began to turn. I wished for a strong wind to come and turn it like a dancing dervish. No luck today on that wish. It was a gentle wind forcing it to move. I turned my car around again and parked at the meters on the opposite side of the street. I put the quarter in the slot, and it stuck. I pushed the quarter with another quarter then and succeeded in getting it to drop. I wiped off the scratched, rain-covered window of the meter. I was not sure if it was showing minutes, but I fed the meter another quarter. I think there were minutes showing, but I decided to take the chance. If I was issued a ticket this time, I would protest it. I walked down the street toward the last overlook nearest the Monongahela Incline which is closed for repairs or restoration. As I walked I noticed a young man on what appeared to be a skateboard. I stopped walking to take a photograph. A PAT bus was parked beside the overlook, something I had seen before when I was up here. The driver was also watching this young man dressed in shorts, sneakers and a Rasta beanie. I walked to the overlook and watched him while taking a couple of videos. He stopped, and I asked him if this was an adjustable skateboard. He said no; this is a ripstik. He told me he had bought it on Amazon for about $60. He said this was only his second day with this equipment. I took his photograph and told him that he was my picture for Mt. Washington today, not the city. I told him my 40-year-old stepson is a die hard skateboarder, and I was going to send him this picture. He finished his practice and boarded the bus. I took more pictures and walked back to my car. I did send that photograph to my stepson who commented that he used a real skateboard. That equipment was for kids he said. That is right. Neither this ripstik, the skateboard, the snowboard, nor the surfboard is for novices my age. My days of such adventures are gone. My stepson has suffered many broken bones in pursuit of his passion, but I am not ready to deal with broken bones now.

I wanted to stop at Grandview Park near or in Allentown that I had visited another day when my phone was dead. I was not able to get photographs that day of that vantage point of the city, so today was a good day to stop when I was so close. As usual, I ended up on the wrong street and slightly lost. I finally decided to go back down from Mt. Washington and then up Arlington into Allentown. Then I knew exactly how to get to Grandview Park by turning right onto Belzhoover from Warrington. I reached the park once again in the rain. I took my damaged umbrella and walked to this overlook. There was a roofed overlook where I stood protected from the rain. I took photographs of the city with its crisscrossing roads. From a point above, these roads and expressways look like fancy intricate designs that would seem to collide at some point. I took a photograph of the Allegheny County Jail where my son is incarcerated. In the forefront of that photograph, you can see a circular muddy spot in the Monongahela River as if the rain was falling on only that spot. I wonder what causes that muddy spot. Perhaps it is a shallow spot or a spot of an undercurrent causing this effect. I have no knowledge of the river or it mysteries. That is perhaps strange for someone who is living near so many rivers. There were a couple of canopied overgrown paths descending on each side of the hillside in Grandview Park.  I wish often that I had a companion to walk some of these places with me. I walked along a paved path through the park not knowing how far it went. It was short and ended at a playground and parking area. I walked farther and reached Belzhoover again and returned to the park steps. This park has a grand entrance featuring a small alcove water feature and steps on both sides of a stone wall. Above this entrance I photographed an untitled sculpture by James Myford originally at the Carnegie Library in Squirrel Hill, but moved in 2010 to this park. I returned to my car; I decided I needed a coffee. I had not eaten lunch and a coffee is always welcome to me. I am a coffeeholic. I thought about going to Black Forge Coffee House in Allentown that I had visited another day, but then I decided to try someplace new. I researched again the best coffee spots in Pittsburgh. There it was in my search–Espresso a Mano in Lawrenceville. I entered the address into my GPS. I remember how my stomach used to churn when I had to navigate the city only months ago. It never churns now. I turned a couple of times following the GPS and found myself on a street descending from My. Washington. At the beginning of this street were some newer modern homes. I stopped to photograph some more lawn ornaments, or perhaps I should call them sculptures. They stood in houses side by side. One had the shape of a ribbon swirling in the wind, and the other was a winged woodland fairy or nymph. I photographed both and continued down this street which while quite smooth near those homes became narrower and rutted like my country roads. I passed more houses and hoped I met no other vehicles on this narrow two-lane street that should have been one-way. I guessed that it was seldom used by anyone who did not live on the street, but then again, maybe it is a well-known shortcut over the hill. I stopped for a couple of photographs from the different vantage points along the drive. Fortunately, I met no other cars on this street; at the stop sign I had arrived at Arlington Street. I turned left heading to the intersection with P J McArdle Roadway and the Liberty Tunnels. I realized that the homes that I had just passed on that descending street were sitting on the hillside atop the Liberty Tunnels. At the light now I was within walking distance of that trail, and the rain had stopped. It was now afternoon though, and I wanted that coffee; so I continued following the GPS to Lawrenceville.

Jacob called after I parked along Butler Street and was walking to Espresso a Mano. I turned down a side street to get away from the noise of passing cars and trucks on Butler Street. We talked about my decision to deactivate my Facebook account for a few weeks because of the commandeering of one of my photographs for a vicious comment. After we hung up, I took a few photographs of street art and graffiti before reaching the coffee spot. I ordered a latte and a pastry and sat at a table on the sidewalk enjoying my drink; texting a friend and watching people come and go. My time was almost expired on the meter, so I left to return to my car. I passed a doorway where a man sat tying his shoe and saw more graffiti. I stopped for a photograph, and he asked if I wanted him to move. I laughed and said I could cut him out. He smiled and posed. I told him I love to photograph graffiti and street art and post on Instagram. (I have only 48 followers on Instagram, but I get those transient followers who try to sell their services to boost my followers. Why should I feign a following I do not have? I am not selling anything; I use this application to share the people and things that surround me. I only want the people who appreciate my work to follow me, as I follow the people whose photographs interest me.) He told me to check out on the other side of the street farther down. He said there is graffiti on some of the old buildings. I like the beauty of this graffiti art visible for all who stop to look and try to divine the mystery of the taggings and intricate designs that are often indecipherable messages. This graffiti is criminal, yet I am drawn to it. Someone is speaking to us.

On the way back to Swissvale, I stopped at Hanini’s in Wilkinsburg for a corned beef sandwich. This was my second visit to this convenience store selling subs and sandwiches alongside glass pipes and smoking paraphernalia. I like the mixture of such displays. How do the owners of these stores decide what they will sell? Their first sub was excellent as was this corned beef sandwich I ordered now. I asked the deli person if they had potato salad. In the 70s when I lived in Butler, I stopped at the Burger Hut on Main Street many times for the corned beef sandwich and potato salad. They were one of those food items that have become a phantom never to be duplicated. Yet Hanini’s has duplicated my corned beef sandwich. Now they need to add that potato salad.  My day was not what I had planned, yet I had enjoyed the adventure of new sights and the release of trying to lose myself to my surroundings and not my thoughts.

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