Through the woods to Pittsburgh and beyond

I took a lightning fast trip to Pittsburgh last weekend on The Pennsylvanian, an Amtrak daily between New York and Pittsburgh that becomes a milk run after it hits Philadelphia and stops 12 times before it gets to the city of Warhol, plate glass and big steel. The train chugs along with due speed until the Pennsylvania mountains when it’s best to rev your motor down a notch to jibe with the pace of the train negotiating non-stop hairpin turns for miles and miles. Brent told me to say hi to Horseshoe Curve but it all seemed like horseshoe curve to me. At times it felt like I could have jogged faster.

Coming home from Pittsburgh on the Pennsylvanian train. Mountains and rivers and trees galore (and snow)
Coming home from Pittsburgh on the Pennsylvanian. Mountains, trees, rivers and snow everywhere

Industry along the river

But the views out the window, well they are pretty special. From the old fashioned train stations to the river vistas that stay with the train almost the whole time it’s nature’s eye candy all the way, although the leaden skies and heavy hand of winter imparted a somberness to the view that made it bittersweet, not sweet.

Coal mining country right next to the pretty little (polluted probably) river
Coal mining next to a sweet little (probably polluted) river
Coal pile under that snow
Coal pile under the snow

Of course the surprise appearance of two coal mines — and other evidence of industrial incursions into the land — make you sit and think.

Anywhere USA in Pennsylvania

There is evidence of poverty around every bend in empty industrial buildings, ramshackle houses and towns that time and prosperity left behind long ago. And occasionally there was a glimpse of what looked like anytown USA with boxy utilitarian high rise apartments, probably the tallest buildings in town.

Latrobe, PA, former home of Rolling Rock

Take Latrobe, PA, for example, founding home of Rolling Rock beer. The RR brewery (now called Latrobe Brewery) was bought and then sold and bought and sold again and then idled and put back to work — it’s a head spin to read about it. Meanwhile, this is the town Mr. Rogers had his first neighborhood–he grew up here.

The couple across from me had his and hers neck pillows.

The train (4 cars going to Pittsburgh, 5 coming back to Philly/NY) was filled both coming and going on the Valentine’s Day weekend. There were teary embraces on the platform on Sunday as people separated after being with their sweethearts.

When I got in I needed a cab to get up to Oakland where Stella lives. No cab line at the train station. No cabs anywhere in sight. Greyhound Bus is across the street and looked like a better option to catch one. As for that, I found out later that you can order a cab at Yellow Cab’s website, and for my return trip from Oakland to Amtrak’s station that worked perfectly!

The Waterfront, a huge outdoor mall on one of the rivers in Homestead

The weather was in a constant state of flurrying. It was cold and raw, more like Milwaukee weather than Philadelphia. But Stella and I had a plan. We did what mothers who visit their daughters at college do–we went shopping for stuff the kid needs. We went to The Waterfront–one of those sprawling mega-mall enterprises that are trying to be the new town center — 70+ shops and restaurants and a movie theatre. Stella needed snow boots (didn’t find any–the town was sold out. Many rain boot options, however, and we saw tons of young women wearing jaunty rain boots–including Stella whose comment was they keep her feet dry at least).  And we ate dinner with my good friend Madelyn at our favorite restaurant, Ali Baba.  Madelyn, who’s working on a massive Andy Warhol-based project, Conversations with Andy, reports that things are moving along.  Her video is in editing; there will be a book (!) and she may be doing an installation in Union Square near where the Factory was.

target art
Target art department


Wall art for $79.99 at Target

While in Target looking for an electric tea kettle we happened upon the Target art department. Amid the flowers, cars and atmospheric abstracts was one piece that was actually interesting–a very low relief carving of a branchy tree — wall art for $79.99. I assume they are not hand cut because there were a bunch of them on the rack.

Stella in the Giant Eagle cafe that sells beer

Also notable at the Waterfront is the Giant Eagle cafe (inside the Giant Eagle grocery store) that sells beer! You could drink a beer with your slice of pizza or fried chicken (2 beer max) or you could buy it for take out. And how did Giant Eagle get to sell beer in this state where liquor is only sold in state liquor stores and beer is consigned to beer depots or some quickie marts? Read about it here.  I think I heard that beer sales in grocery stores is coming to Philadelphia too. Maybe it’s here already but I haven’t seen it.

We card everyone. 2 beer maximum for eat-ins.

Anyway, this was meant to be a short post so I’ll end it here. Pittsburgh is great and  I love the train.  We all need winter to be over.  More photos at flickr.