What My Father Taught Me About Pittsburgh



Illustration by Patrick Neil

I spend a bit of time each Father’s Day reflecting on the things my father has given me throughout the years: A warm home, food on the table, religion, love, toys, his time, his curly hair and his deafness. Recently, I realized that he has given me more than a tangible list of nouns; he taught me from a very early age some things about Pittsburgh:


There’s always a back way.

Driving with my father is an adventure because he never seems to take the same path to a destination twice. He always knows “a back way,” and in the Pittsburgh region, where traffic and orange cones can make a route maddening enough to give road rage to a church lady, those back ways come in handy.

Oftentimes, my four sisters and I referred to “the back way” as “the long way,” but as our father would explain, “At least we’re moving.” I recall trips to downtown via “the back way” in which we would literally SPIRAL our way to the city, circling it and circling it, but never seeming to get any closer.

But hey, we were moving.


Appreciate the skyline.

One way to learn to appreciate the beauty of the Pittsburgh skyline is to spiral your way to it, but our father taught us to appreciate the skyline by having us sit up and look at it as we shot out of the Fort Pitt Tunnels on our way home from Grandma’s house every Saturday night. It did not matter if we were sound asleep in the car; he would have our mother wake us up to see what we had seen probably a hundred times before. We were thankful he woke us to see the way the view explodes with lights, water and brilliance as we exited the staid tube. We would rub the sleep from our eyes and say, “Ooooh, looky!” It never got old. It never will.


If you look to the U.S. Steel Tower, you’ll never get lost downtown.

Look at a map of pretty much any U.S. city, and the pattern of streets resembles a checkerboard—nice square blocks resting against other square blocks. Take a look at a street map of Pittsburgh, and it looks as if a drunken spider spun a web of streets creating blocks of various shapes and sizes, some so irregular that “block” really just doesn’t do it justice.

Dad spent many years working in what is now the U.S. Steel Tower, and he taught us that if you use that skyscraper as your focal point, your beacon and your invisible homing device, then you will never get lost. He taught us to see every street, every store and every trapezoid-shaped block in relation to the building, and for some reason, it works.

It wasn’t unusual for my mother, in trying to reach Kaufmann’s department store, to find herself desperately lost in an unfamiliar parallelogram, and we girls would be able to guide her to the store because we knew where we were in relation to “Dad’s building.”

“Mom, you want to go two triangles up, make a left and then it will be three trapezoids on your right.”


Stick it to The Man:

Don’t pay for parking. If there is anything in Pittsburgh that frustrates my father more than the fact that the Parkway East is really just a fancy name for a giant parking lot, it is the expensive parking. Ten years before he retired, he decided he was never going to pay more than $5 to park within walking distance of the U.S. Steel Tower.

He began at the lower reaches of the Hill District, where he could pay $5 and walk a little under a mile to work. Then he decided $5 was too much and began arriving at the crack of dawn to snag a meter near the Mellon Arena. HE WAS WINNING.

Then he decided $3 was too much, especially when there were people parking in the Hill District for free. Free was the magic number he had been reaching for.

He began parking in deserted alleys in the Hill, not caring a flip about the broken window glass often littering the curb. This resulted in his car being stolen more than a half-dozen times, and we would watch my mother hang up the kitchen phone with a sigh, turn off the stove over which she had been making dinner and say, “Get in the car, girls. Your dad got his car stolen again.”


I realized how much he taught me about how I see Pittsburgh when recently I met my entire family up on Mount Washington at about 10 at night. As I walked from my car to the overlook, I cradled my sleeping daughter in my arms. I nudged her awake and pointed out the city lights. On my honor, she said, “Ooooh, looky!”

Thanks, Dad. Because of you, I know the back way to downtown, where I’ll park for free and never get lost as I walk through the oddly shaped blocks surrounded by the breathtaking skyline of the city you taught me to love.
 

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in May

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in May

This month's best bets in the ’Burgh.
Best Doctors in Pittsburgh 2017

Best Doctors in Pittsburgh 2017

Pittsburgh’s medical lifesavers rated by their peers, including anesthesiologists, cardiologists, dermatologists, neurologists, ophthalmologists, pediatricians, psychiatrists, surgeons, urologists & many more.
Health Care in Pittsburgh that Goes Beyond the Office

Health Care in Pittsburgh that Goes Beyond the Office

Innovations in Postpartum Depression Treatment, First-Aid Training and Food Security.
Looking Back: Dan Rooney, Remembered

Looking Back: Dan Rooney, Remembered

The builder of two stadiums, a billion-dollar football business, NFL labor harmony and racial sensitivity, and bridges between constituencies –– he was an everywhere man whose soft, steady hand was felt everywhere.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Why Hotel Rates are Dropping in Downtown Pittsburgh

Why Hotel Rates are Dropping in Downtown Pittsburgh

Rents for Downtown apartments also are declining.
New Study: Pittsburgh Drivers are The Worst of the Worst

New Study: Pittsburgh Drivers are The Worst of the Worst

Pittsburgh ties with one other city for having the worst drivers in the nation.
HGTV Series Pilot Focuses on Renovation of Pittsburgh Home

HGTV Series Pilot Focuses on Renovation of Pittsburgh Home

The pilot episode of “Steel City Rehab” follows a Pittsburgh couple as they flip a home in the city’s East End.
‘The Good Wife’s’ Zach Grenier Appears on the Pittsburgh Stage

‘The Good Wife’s’ Zach Grenier Appears on the Pittsburgh Stage

Grenier on playing the dream role of Willy Loman, coming to Pittsburgh and performing at the renowned Pittsburgh Public Theater.
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in May

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in May

This month's best bets in the ’Burgh.
Best Doctors in Pittsburgh 2017

Best Doctors in Pittsburgh 2017

Pittsburgh’s medical lifesavers rated by their peers, including anesthesiologists, cardiologists, dermatologists, neurologists, ophthalmologists, pediatricians, psychiatrists, surgeons, urologists & many more.
Health Care in Pittsburgh that Goes Beyond the Office

Health Care in Pittsburgh that Goes Beyond the Office

Innovations in Postpartum Depression Treatment, First-Aid Training and Food Security.
Restaurant Review: DiAnoia's Eatery Bridges the Gap

Restaurant Review: DiAnoia's Eatery Bridges the Gap

With a little work, the Strip District restaurant could become a Pittsburgh classic.
Looking Back: Dan Rooney, Remembered

Looking Back: Dan Rooney, Remembered

The builder of two stadiums, a billion-dollar football business, NFL labor harmony and racial sensitivity, and bridges between constituencies –– he was an everywhere man whose soft, steady hand was felt everywhere.
Pittsburgh at the Forefront of The Brain Revolution

Pittsburgh at the Forefront of The Brain Revolution

Alzheimer’s disease is the most expensive ailment to treat and the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States. Pittsburgh has become a battleground in the fight against the devastating illness, thanks to the decade-long quest of two Pittsburgh researchers whose work is on track to change the face of medicine and affect millions worldwide.
Edit Module
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Why Hotel Rates are Dropping in Downtown Pittsburgh

Why Hotel Rates are Dropping in Downtown Pittsburgh

Rents for Downtown apartments also are declining.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Steven Soderbergh Brings Bolivian Spirit to Pittsburgh

Steven Soderbergh Brings Bolivian Spirit to Pittsburgh

The award-winning director/producer returns to the city where he spent part of his childhood with Singani 63.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
Five Inexpensive But Memorable Date Spots in Pittsburgh

Five Inexpensive But Memorable Date Spots in Pittsburgh

These spots are tailored for couples who are looking for a simple, chill night out on Valentine’s Day (or any other day). If your significant other isn’t the type to be wooed by expensive wines and chocolates, this is the list for you.

Comments


Five Essential May Events

Five Essential May Events

Comics (the kind on paper), comics (the kind with microphones), cats and more upcoming delights.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
‘Use Him Like ‘Troy Polamalu’ – Steelers Should Jump on This Pick

‘Use Him Like ‘Troy Polamalu’ – Steelers Should Jump on This Pick

If Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers is still available, the Pittsburgh Steelers would be wise to make him their first-round pick in the NFL draft.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Pittsburgh on a Plate

Pittsburgh on a Plate

The way to a beer lover’s heart is mapped out on notNeutral’s plate, which highlights Pittsburgh breweries (and other points of interest) across the city.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
Sink Into a Trippy High School at Row House Cinema

Sink Into a Trippy High School at Row House Cinema

The Pittsburgh premiere of offbeat cartoon "My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea" is the local film event of the week.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Beautiful Blooms: Twists on the Traditional Bouquet

Beautiful Blooms: Twists on the Traditional Bouquet

You’ll definitely want the story behind these stunning wedding flowers.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Rare Plants, Accessories, Up for Grabs at 2017 Garden Marketplace

Rare Plants, Accessories, Up for Grabs at 2017 Garden Marketplace

Hosted by the Penn State Master Gardeners, the free event, which includes the local daffodil society’s annual show, features exclusive and hard-to-find flowers, shrubs, fruit and vegetable plants and other garden accessories from a variety of vendors.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
A-Rod to Talk Baseball and Steroids at Slippery Rock

A-Rod to Talk Baseball and Steroids at Slippery Rock

Considered one of the greatest baseball players of all time, Alex Rodriguez also is one of the league's more controversial stars.

Comments