Morgantown (West Virginia), Pittsburgh & Erie (Pennsylvania).
2009-2010 would be the last year that the Penguins would play in Pittsburgh's Civic Auditorium - commonly known as The Igloo. Whenever a team is abandoning an old arena, it becomes a priority of mine to catch a game in the old stadium before it is gone.
Therefore I worked on a plan to get to Pittsburgh during my Christmas holidays.
Plans fell through with a couple people and I was left with the only option of going by myself. Since my parents wouldn't let me take either of their cars for 6 hour drives from Southern Ontario to Pittsburgh; I was again left with only one option - Greyhound.
Already in Detroit that night, UJ & I grabbed some Foran's before going to the downtown Detroit Greyhound station. She had nowhere to go, so she decided to help me out and stand in line with me as we waited for my bus to return from Cleveland. We waited a good 1/2 hour and during that time I was getting a bit sketched out by the characters around me. My friend Chad had warned me about Greyhound after his own experience of taking one from Detroit to Spokane, WA; and these thoughts were filling my mind.
The bus eventually came; I thanked UJ and said goodbye. Once I was on the road, the bus was only 1/2 full and there weren't any annoying people milling about. I had an empty seat beside me and I took to relaxing in my own surprisingly comfy and spacious seat; gazing out at I-75, headed south on this cold January night.
I would fall in & out of sleep, mostly rousing whenever we'd brake at the pickup stations like Toledo & Elyria.
Soon enough I was in Cleveland (the 1 stopover of the trip) at 12:40 in the morning. I had a 65 minute layover and grabbed a sandwich and got yelled at for taking pictures of the Cleveland Greyhound Station (see above picture).
Forgetting about getting yelled at, I liked the Cleveland station as it was much larger than Detroit and had better signage for where all of the busses were going. In Cleveland there were 8 doors, each having about 6 destinations per door. It was intriguing to people watch and see which line/door they would follow. It was also exciting to read signs indicating places like Kansas City, Baltimore & Memphis; and fantasize about having the time and freedom to get up and go to these places.
The bus ride from Cleveland to Pittsburgh is another 2.5 hours, but I quickly fell asleep; therefore I was under the bright lights of Pittsburgh before I knew it.
It was quarter after four in the morning and plenty of people were holed up inside the warm Greyhound station, but I was determined to seize the moment and walk the streets of Pittsburgh. Living in Newfoundland, I definitely have a newfound drive to explore metropolises and the snow, cold and the early morning were no match for my drive.
At first I was concerned with growing too cold if I took out my tripod and carried it around. Also I had never walked around Pittsburgh, so I had no idea if it was actually a bad idea to simply carry my tripod around.
Therefore I tried to hold the camera steady or improvise with street signs. I walked about 7 or 8 blocks and noticed a total of 3 people. I was growing hungry, but the earliest hours for a restaurant appeared to be 6 a.m.
Other than the Greyhound station, it didn't seem like I was finding much else open during these early hours of the morning. According to the internet, it only got down to 24°F (-4°C) this night, so with little wind to be found, it really wasn't that bad outside once I got moving.
Seeing the 2°F, 3°F and 4°F lows on some of those Pittsburgh nights, I am now thankful for my 24°F.
My first goal was to find the Enterprise location where I had a rental car reservation. I achieved that quickly and it was within viewscape of the Allegheny River, so I decided to walk towards the river since it wasn't that cold outside.
There was a parking garage along the river, which gave me a fair view over the river and the nearby bridges. I was now growing comfortable with the outside temperature and it was actually pleasant. My heavy boots were tiring my legs and feet, but I was determined to rest them when I was done vacation.
Out of the parking garage onto Fort Duquesne Blvd, I approached the Roberto Clemente Suspension Bridge; which was particularly photogenic with PNC Baseball Park in the background and the snow falling into piles free from the molestation of car tires.
Eventually I would cross the bridge into Clemente Memorial Park and really set up shop. I loved these bridges last time I was in Pittsburgh and they lost no appeal at 5 in the morning. In the plaza of some museum, I pulled out the tripod and took the proper shot with the city in the background.
It took several exposures and some time to get something I was happy with. The snowfall was increasing and decreasing in volume quite often, so I was happy that the weather gave me enough of a break to take the above picture.
I walked around the Andy Warhol Bridge and over to beneath the Rachel Carson Bridge.
While I was taking pictures of the Roberto Clemente earlier, a couple walked by and looked at me like I escaped the asylum - then the ducks beneath the Rachel Carson looked at me with the same expression. I tip-toed close enough to get a picture, but stopped after the birds started to get ruffled and a few jumped into the frigid Allegheny.
If you're thinking these 3 bridges look really similar, it's because they are. The 3 bridges are known as The Three Sisters and the only example of 3 nearly identical bridges built in the United States. They are also significant because they were the first examples of self-anchored suspension bridges - meaning that the cables of the bridge are attached to the roadway of the bridge itself, instead of the ground.
After annoying the birds, I crossed the Rachel Carson and walked some more city blocks. I noticed a few more people but not much more activity before deciding that I needed to use the facilities. Instead of your standard boring McDonald's or Starbucks, I decided to pop into a nearby fancy skyscraper to warm up.
I happened upon Koppers Tower - a 34 story tower constructed in 1929 for the Koppers Chemical Company.
From their website:
"Koppers Inc. has its corporate headquarters in the historic Koppers Building in Pittsburgh, Pa. The 35-story building was competed in 1929, and for a brief time was the city's tallest. The outside is constructed of polished granite for the first three floors and Indiana limestone for the remaining floors. The three story lobby is finished in Italian Cremo, Spanish Rajo Alcante and Tennessee marbles. The elevator doors, clocks and fixtures are bronze. It has been referred to as one of the largest and best examples of Art Deco architecture of the 1920s and 1930s."
I definitely stumbled onto a great building and I was thankful.
Unfortunately I looked completely like a hobo, so I didn't push my luck with the security guard and avoided loitering. Then again, he didn't bat an eye at my wandering and gawking - so he must have been smart enough to realize I wasn't of any threat. I didn't see any weirdos about on the street during my walk, so Pittsburgh might have a limited supply, or they simply don't enjoy cold January nights.
I left Koppers and walked only a short distance before noticing an open Au Bon Pain. Even though there are Au Bon Pains in Detroit, I had never tried one and I have to give it a thumbs up. Not an enthusiastic thumbs up, but it was good after walking the Pittsburgh streets for a couple of hours. Put it this way, I would go to Au Bon Pain again.
Anyway, it was getting to about six thirty by now, so I decided to head west, back towards the Enterprise location. Traffic was really picking up with all of the young professionals headed to their downtown corporate jobs. I noticed one guy with a briefcase AND A PITTSBURGH PENGUINS STARTER JACKET! :O
I instantly took to an attempt to follow this man for a picture, but he was moving so damn fast that I couldn't even manage a picture where he wasn't a indistinguishable blur...before as I was looking at my camera, he crossed a street and the light changed - leaving me behind!
My brain doesn't work at full capacity in the early morning hours and I stood on the corner bewildered as the Starter Jacket wearing Yuppie weaved through pedestrians and speed-walked towards his job.
He sure showed me.
Anyway, going into this trip, I realized that I would have 15 hours in Pittsburgh before the hockey game, and that spending 15 hours in Pittsburgh might turn into wasting 15 hours. I tried to look into something in Pittsburgh, but instead decided on securing a rental car.
After learning the hard way that you need open space on your credit card for liability, I finally acquired the rental keys and was ready to attack I-79 south in my sweet Hyundai Accent.
Instead of hanging around Pittsburgh, I decided to return to Morgantown, West Virginia. Chad, UJ & I drove through here on our road trip to Baltimore & Philadelphia, and I was enamored with the city instantly. I wanted to return and with Morgantown only being 80 minutes from Pittsburgh, I figured it to be a good way to spend my Tuesday afternoon.
The snow picked up and it got slightly nastier as I reached Morgantown, but that wasn't going to stop me...
Parking at the police station, it wasn't long before I found attractive buildings.
The Wesley Methodist Church, built in 1904.
I wandered inside and found it wasn't as exciting on the inside. That's not to say it isn't appealing, it's just different than the grandeur you get used to from Roman Catholic churches.
Since it is home to a major university (WVU), you figure that Morgantown will have some tasty dining options.
I happened upon Chico's Fat and decided to give it a try...and boy was I happy that I did!
It's not that I'm starved for Mexican in Newfoundland, it's just that Chico's Fat was damn good. I would highly recommend it if you're in Northern West Virginia.
Walking out of Chico's Fat, I was moving even slower because of my American-sized quesadilla. Of course the fact that my helpless ass ate the whole thing didn't help.
Still though I was moving. I continued down new streets and past the new-to-me buildings of Morgantown. I even found this parking garage with a digital counter of parking spaces!
I also snuck into a pseudo abandoned factory turned parking garage of some sort. It wasn't anything worthwhile, and it was even more of a waste of time when I found the entry to the roof sealed off.
Not the least bit defeated, I continued on my way. On a day where people were looking grim because of the wet snow showers, I had a smile wider than the Nile; joy flowing through my heart at being able to walk around a fantastic hilly city of old buildings.
Alas, all things must come to an end. I had another destination in mind on the way back, so it was time to leave West Virginia and return north.
The destination I had in mind was this town with some abandoned buildings, but it turned out more shady than abandoned - so that plan was mostly abandoned. I actually popped into a building for 2 seconds, which isn't worth mentioning, but I have to explain what the hell I did with the rest of my afternoon.
Anywayyy, by now it was late afternoon I was running out of time before the game started. It was actually so tight with time that I was speeding into Pittsburgh trying to make decisions on where to go to avoid the stop & go traffic, while somehow trying to figure how to get to The Igloo - one would think it would be easy, no?
Eventually I did reach downtown and parked the Accent in some parking garage. I changed my pants quickly hoping other patrons of the garage wouldn't see me...then European showered (put on lots of deodorant) before heading down to street level.
Grimy life in Pittsburgh I tell you.
The Igloo (Civic Auditorium) was constructed in 1961 and was the oldest NHL arena during the 2010 season. Another undesirable attribute was the fact that it was also the third smallest - and this is after they made seating additions in 1991.
That's the main reason behind replacing The Igloo, it's just not an NHL-class arena, and walking around this was quite evident. I've never been to an OHL game (i.e. Windsor Spitfires, Cornwall Royals, etc.), but The Igloo is what I imagine OHL arenas to be like. This is fine with me because I love the old barns; but some delicate flower from the suburbs would definitely feel pain after going to any fancier arena and then wondering why his Pens don't have a more quality home.
Walking to the arena, I was amazed at the volume of people out on a downright cold Tuesday to see their Pens take on the sad, sad, sad Atlanta Thrashers. I actually chose this game because I figured it might be a little more low-key, but it looked like I was walking to a friggin' playoff game. For that reason, I only spent about 10 minutes in the concourse before taking my seat - enough time to discover a wall of Penguin signatures and Sir Crosby's...where I became sick because I'd rather look at Josef Melichar's or Konstantin Koltsov's.
God I hate Sidney Crosby1.
Anyway, I guess maybe I should have known the stadium would be filled to capacity when my seat was the cheapest available and it was $66.60...
1 - It's because he's a whiner and I wish he was Russian and Ovechkin was Canadian instead.
...to sit right against the tip-top of The Igloo! I seriously would have touched the walls of the arena if I stretched my arms upward.
Thankfully, we were so cramped that I didn't do too much besides sit quietly and scrunch down into my seat.
The view from my seat.
I ended up seated amongst a gaggle of Pittsburgh fans, but I was pleasantly surprised by their knowledge and energy. It would have definitely been a tremendously enjoyable experience if I were a Pens fan.
On the other hand, I did not see ONE Thrashers jersey during all three hours inside The Igloo - and this fact occurred to me fairly early in the game, so I spent a good amount of time scanning the seats for any hint of that Thrasher burgundy or sea blue...but nope, there wasn't a Thrashers jersey to be found.
Not a Thrashers hat, shirt or neckerchief either...
Pittsburgh ended up winning a truly uninspiring and boring game. I witnessed Luca Caputi score his first NHL goal, so that was sort of nice and touching.
Plus Sidney Crosby didn't get one point in the game :) I was hoping for a Thrashers blowout, but I should be happy with what I got.
After the game, it was frosty cold and the same packs hurriedly rushed towards their cars. There were a fair number of attractive girls, but they were ruined by the wrong yellow & black on their backs.
I also snickered at two guys having an obvious bromance with matching home-and-away 87 Crosby sweaters.
Anyway, I made it back to the car and since I couldn't find something cheap & historical in downtown Pittsburgh; I drove about 20 minutes east to a Motel 6 or Holiday Inn or some other crap hotel chain - simply a place to rest my head for the night on the cheap.
Once in my room, that was one of the greatest showers I've ever taken. A couple of days in Detroit straight into walking around Pittsburgh and West Virginia for hours on end?
Yeah, it was nice to be clean.
The next day I returned west to downtown Pittsburgh.
The Igloo is actually a far walk from where I was exploring on the first night, so I never got any exteriors of the place. I figured that if I came to Pittsburgh solely to see The Igloo, that I might as well get exteriors. I hoped that downtown Pittsburgh wouldn't be that much of an inconvenience, before hoping right back on the highway towards downtown.
Where I had seen numerous people heading to their job on Tuesday morning, I think I showed up today at that time of day where everyone is working and all is convenient in terms of flowing traffic movement.
I'm sure the fact that there was even more snow coming down helped.
Across the street from The Igloo, they're building the new Consol Energy Center (next Pens arena).
Although I somehow missed it last night, I now noticed a church standing prominently between The Igloo and Consol Energy Center. Normally developers will use new buildings as an excuse to tear down antiquated eyesores, but this place seemed to be surviving.
Walking up, some good signs included a healthy sized congregation outside on this Wednesday and the church looking well maintained.
The Epiphany Catholic Church was built in 1902. Originally, the main Catholic church in Pittsburgh was built opposite the Allegheny County Courthouse; but a fire in 1851 ruined that structure and another was built without the proper means to pay it off. That church survived for a long time, but never escaped its debt. Eventually, the church gave up and was sold for $1.3 million (in 1901) and the Epiphany Catholic Church was constructed on another site still downtown, but not with such a prime location.
This church would do well with the nearby Uptown neighbourhood all the way up until the 1950s; when the city thought urban renewal was a good idea - displacing thousands of people from their homes and flattening the surrounding lands and neighbourhoods. Epiphany Catholic Church and only a couple other neighbourhood structures survived this. As a result of the neighbourhood demolitions, the congregation fell from 2200 families to 350 families. A portion of this cleared land was used as a home for the Civic Auditorium (The Igloo).
Epiphany Catholic Church continued surviving and even got a boost recently as developers were looking to grab land to build Consol Energy Center (the new Pens arena). They wanted the church, but Epiphany was only willing to give up their girl's school and rectory. The developers accepted this and bought the two buildings; and with the resulting money, the Church constructed a new rectory in their parking lot and you would think saved a few extra dollars for church upkeep.
I wandered inside and the interior was well lit at the bottom and dark at the top - positioning itself outside of my photographic ability.
Back outside, I wanted to continue walking the streets of Pittsburgh, but I had to get back to the rental.
The other reason for the rental car was Erie Pennsylvania. Only 2 hours away from Pittsburgh, I figured why not Erie? I always wanted to visit Erie but it has proven to always be an out-of-the-way place...until today!
Accommodating for Erie, I booked my Greyhound ticket to leave at 8:50p.m. from Erie instead of Pittsburgh and for my rental car point of return to be Erie International Airport.
Luckily, a lovely snowstorm watch was issued for my afternoon drive from Pittsburgh up to Erie. I learned that Erie actually gets 89" of annual snowfall and I was getting my ration of it today. I pulled off for gas and remembered what it was like to drive in snow without studs in the tires - as I slid through a stop sign into a (thankfully) empty intersection.
Although I may have not been driving the smartest, I thought I was being smart with my order at Wendy's. You see, America always has huge portions...so I figured if I ordered a small coffee, that the portion would be reasonable and equal to a Canadian large.
Wrong. I got about 8oz. of coffee to go with my snowstorm. Grrrrr.
Also, why did I go to Wendy's of all places? Well, you wouldn't believe how empty the highway is between Pittsburgh & Erie, with boring fast food choices everywhere! I enjoyed the farmland, but not the dining options, that's for sure.
Anyway, soon enough Erie would arise from the horizon with the initial suburbs and a few factories.
As I was entering Erie, I stopped at their mall for some new kicks and found it interesting as the entire, ginormous mall was one single level! So instead of different levels, it seemed like you walked halfway to New York City just to buy some sneakers. Definitely antiquated and definitely unsure how it is surviving and appearing to excel.
I picked up a Lighthouses of Wisconsin book at the Mall of Erie as well! UJ would ultimately be confused when I returned home from a trip to PA & WV with a book of lighthouses in Wisconsin in hand.
Anyway, speaking of lighthouses, it didn't take very long in Erie to notice 'lighthouse st.' and find the Erie Land Light in the park at the end of the road. The first Erie Land Light was constructed in 1818 and was the first lighthouse on the Great Lakes built by the United States government. This lighthouse would eventually start to sink and a second lighthouse replaced the first in 1857. This lighthouse also started to sink and engineers discovered there was actually a thin layer of quicksand beneath the site. Eventually a mixture of Portland Cement and timbers were set on the site and the current 49ft. lighthouse was built atop in 1866.
Although I had already went through downtown and drove the freeways and saw the waterfront, I wanted to make sure to make it to Presque Isle State Park and see the other Erie lighthouses before actually walking around downtown.
Presque Isle is a sandy, pork chop shaped, piece of land which juts out into Lake Erie and is connected to Pennsylvania about 6 miles west of downtown Erie. There is a 21km (13mi) loop road through the state park and driving it, I was enamored enough with the place even during the height of winter. There were opportunities for everyone everywhere, as a large collection of men were ice fishing and there were several picnic pavilions throughout the park. According to the internet, the state park is also home to 13 beaches and is commonly referred to as one of the best birding places in America with over 320 species using the 7 ecosystems in the park. It is also the most popular Pennsylvania state park, with over 4 million visitors annually.
The state park road was well maintained and it made for a really pleasant drive.
I was under the impression that there were 4 lighthouses in Pennsylvania; with 3 in Erie and 1 in Philadelphia. In Erie, there is the Erie Land Light (see previous) and two within Presque Isle State Park.
Therefore to my surprise, I looked to my right while driving and noticed this guy above. I still can't find the name of this light, but it was constructed in 1906 by the Erie Waterworks.
Hell, I trudged through foot-high snow for this picture, so you're getting it even if it's not on the UNC lighthouse list I use.
The main lighthouse at this state park is the Presque Isle Light.
Driving along, I was instructed where to go to take the same picture as everyone else!
Ahhhhhhhh! Just like Peggy's Cove! Follow the signs and press the shutter!
Presque Isle Light was constructed in 1873 and was eventually raised to 63 feet.
Also, let me tell you that behind me Lake Erie looked inviting! Just look at it!
It wasn't windy, so therefore it simply looked cold, without being really that nasty outside. It reminded me of home and I actually enjoyed this wintry time on Lake Erie.
Anyway, there's another lighthouse in Presque Isle, but for some reason I didn't go to it! I can't remember if I saw it and pansied out, or if I just gave up on finding it? It beats me, but I don't know what I'm doing - the freaking state has only 4 lighthouses...you'd think I could manage to see all of them.
Back downtown, I walked the streets of Erie and took it all in.
I found that Erie does have some awesome buildings, along with some neat 60s/70s looking buildings. It was smaller than I imagined, but I enjoyed the experience. By this time, my limp was getting pretty bad from my steel toe boots2, but I pushed through.
2 - The only boots I own are steel toe.
The home of the Erie Otters of the OHL - Tullio Arena.
I didn't even think to check if the Otters were in town...and hell, I didn't even check before just right now...but they happened to be in town on this night! Damnit! I should have postponed my busride...or at least just went for the first period.
I'll be back though....and Tullio Arena is apparently anal about its 'no camera' policy...so I probably would have just grew angry anyway.
Up the street, I was reminded of my friend Arntz, who constantly hates on the Boston City Hall. Looking at the Erie City Hall before me, I was thinking Erie may give Boston some competition for that ugly city hall title, but in retrospect, I'm thinking Boston's is still worse.
Erie's city hall isn't all THAT bad actually...it's just that American cities usually house their city's leaders in some of their best buildings. This city hall, Erie's best building it is not.
There was plenty of Erie still to explore, but it was getting late and my feet were hurting like hell. I'm sure the coverage would be better in July, but I was happy to get any Erie in my life.
The fun had to end anyway, because I had to return my rental car to the airport 7 miles west and still make it back to the downtown Greyhound station for 8:50. This was my first time renting a car, so I thought that you washed them at a car wash prior to returning them, so that you're not stuck with cleaning charges - needless to say, the Enterprise guy found this pretty funny and informed me that you're only stuck with cleaning charges if you return the car absolutely filthy. Good to know.
After dropping off the car keys, I walked the 600 ft. to the other end of the tiny Erie airport & called the cab company to receive a 45 minute estimate to get a ride! The snowstorm must have really been hampering things as I sat down with about 10 other people all waiting on cabs. The fact that there was only 1 cab company in Erie probably didn't help.
I was suddenly thankful that I left enough time to ensure I would catch my bus. I pulled out Lighthouses of Wisconsin and kicked my feet up.
My cabbie made me sweat a bit by running late, but I ended up at the Greyhound station with a good 90 minutes to spare. His happy tales of personally demolishing the factories his father & grandfather worked at were a bit strange; but he was alright otherwise I suppose...he didn't give me that hard of time about being a tourist in Erie in January; so he does get some points from me.
Anyway, I was starving and had 90 minutes to spare, so I actually walked back into the downtown in search of food. I passed a few too many places with packs of 20 year olds who would eye me for being grimy & alone; until I eventually found Sullivan's Pub - Erie's Only Golf Themed Bar!
There was a drunk man and a cougar at the bar, but they were both too enamored with each other to even notice me. The waitress looked a bit confused at me (because I was alone? because I was eating at a dance bar? because I wasn't a local?) - but she was friendly and helpful anyway. I had a clubhouse and a pint of Yuengling - no better way to bid adieu to Pennsylvania...both were delicious.
Eventually a pack of hockey players came into the bar (one with a Russian jersey with Cyrillic characters on the back?) and I paid my cheque and got on my way.
It was 30 minutes of sitting near a cute ebony girl before boarding the bus - which was strangely packed to capacity...thankfully I found my way onboard. The guy next to me was alright as he was watching some sci-fi show on his computer. The guy sitting kitty corner from me definitely wasn't alright; as he rambled on about government conspiracy and aliens and space and other total bullshit quite loudly - I wondered if this was finally going to be my experience that turns me on Greyhound.
It wasn't. Eventually he didn't talk as much and I realized just how bad the snowstorm was outside of Erie - it was actually frightening to the point that I simply closed my eyes and let it be...no point in me gawking at the driver flying down the snowy & icy highway at breakneck speeds - better to just get some sleep.
It's 100 minutes from Erie to Cleveland, where I had a 5 hour layover before my 3:30a.m. bus ride to Detroit. I stayed up for a bit watching the Lakers and laughing at these teens scared of some threatening hobo just outside of the doors of the Cleveland station. They have security to keep hobos out of the building, but apparently whenever one of these teens would wander out, they would be yelled at with a "hey. boy!", by some man who learned the kids were from Philadelphia and claimed he was from East Philadelphia.
I couldn't help but laugh at the teens, who were totally over-the-top with their fear and mockery of the guy. "Oh c'mon. Look, look, he's laughing too. He knows dey aint no place as East Philadelphia. East Philadelphia? The fuck is that? Look, y'all hear what I'm saying. You know dey aint no East Philadelphia." The kid referring to me as his source of confirmation though laughter, that there is indeed no East Philadelphia.
Eventually those teens left and the basketball game ended. I gathered my sack of belongings and laid down on the ground in the line for Detroit. Without a watch or a cell phone, I awoke quite often to make sure I wasn't late - but I was pretty sure someone would wake me up as they shuffled around me and onto the Detroit bus.
3:30 eventually came and I went right back to sleep on the bus to Detroit. Awakening at 7:15 am, I had reached Detroit and UJ graciously volunteered to pick me back up that morning. After some breakfast it was right back to those Detroit buildings...
...but that's another story for another time.
(I've rambled enough).
1 - Wikipedia - The Three Sisters (Pittsburgh)
2 - Koppers - Corporate Headquarters
3 - Historical Timeline of Wesley Church, Morgantown, WV
4 - History of Epiphany Catholic Church
5 - Wikipedia - Erie Land Light
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