What’s a leisurely Sunday in Pittsburgh? An opportunity for something new. Pittsburgh was an hour’s drive or less from my hometown, but we only visited the biggies—the Carnegie Museum, the Pittsburgh Zoo, Kennywood, the ballparks, the Civic Arena, the hospitals. For years, I didn’t take the time to explore the world around me savoring only the favorites and ignoring the possibilities. I live in the city for now, so here is my chance to really find what’s in the nooks and crannies before I leave it—find the steepest street, climb the thousands of steps for the somewhat secret views, and eat my way through neighborhoods and cuisines.
But on Sunday, the nationality rooms in the Cathedral of Learning was the option that won my time. I decided to walk from the apartment. Time to reclaim neglected passions and embrace new ones. So I started in pursuit of my 20,000 step goal, a target not reached in months and months. I had just turned onto Friendship Avenue when I passed a man going the opposite direction. We greeted each other, and then he stopped me. “I’m the Bumper Bike Dude,” he said. OK? He told me a bit of his story, medical problems, 30 days homeless and counting while he waits for help from a preacher. And later a YouTube video played for me Bumper Bike Dude from six years ago, a man who had dreams and ideas.
Walking quickly, I weaved my way on the streets keeping the building piercing the sky in sight, the landmark of Pitt and Oakland. It’s a building seen from many neighborhoods and hilltops in the city like a beacon calling you in. It’s probably one of the most recognizable buildings of the city and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Entering the doors feels like stepping to another world, church like and European, a place where you should be quiet and restrained or risk shushing and disapproving looks. It has a feeling of old age, yet not yet celebrating its centenary.
I paid the very affordable $4.00 admission and swapped my ID for the audio player of my self-guided tour. I hung the lanyard around my neck and climbed the steps to the third floor. I had always thought the themed rooms were scattered through the building. But they were confined to a rectangle around the third and first floors. There were some very cool rooms and some not very interesting, some light and some dark. You’ll have to find your favorites on your own visit to this salute to the melting pot of Pittsburgh. But these Lilliputian rooms of a nationality or ethnicity will probably leave you wanting a whole lot more.