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

Best of the 'Burgh 2017

Best of the 'Burgh 2017

Host an event in Pittsburgh’s urban sustainable homestead. Join a club for mushroom hunters. Tour a coal mine. Listen to some banjo music. We list our new favorite experiences, food, drink, personalities, stores, items and activities in the ’Burgh.
Daytripping: The ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’

Daytripping: The ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’

Fourteen years ago this month, the mighty Kinzua Viaduct met its match.
Restaurant Review: The Café Carnegie

Restaurant Review: The Café Carnegie

The restaurant, run by Dinette’s Sonja J. Finn, boosts the dining experience at the Carnegie museums in Oakland.
Thrive: Smooth Moves While Getting Lost in the Music

Thrive: Smooth Moves While Getting Lost in the Music

FASTER Pittsburghʼs Hip Hop Cardio promises to get your workout into a groove.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Watch: Pittsburgh Penguins Video Tribute to Marc-André Fleury

Watch: Pittsburgh Penguins Video Tribute to Marc-André Fleury

With a tear in our eye, we bid the “Flower” Au Revoir.
Finally, a Faster Way From Pittsburgh to Oakland and Beyond

Finally, a Faster Way From Pittsburgh to Oakland and Beyond

A proposed route for new electric buses will connect 30,000 people throughout 24 neighborhoods.
Extras Wanted: Cate Blanchett Shooting Movie in Pittsburgh

Extras Wanted: Cate Blanchett Shooting Movie in Pittsburgh

“Where’d You Go, Bernadette,” a movie based on the best-selling comedic novel, will begin filming in the ‘Burgh next month.
What We Know about Anthony Bourdain’s Visit to Pittsburgh

What We Know about Anthony Bourdain’s Visit to Pittsburgh

While Bourdain and his crew aren’t talking, they left plenty of hints about what’s likely to be in the Pittsburgh episode of “Parts Unknown.”
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Best of the 'Burgh 2017

Best of the 'Burgh 2017

Host an event in Pittsburgh’s urban sustainable homestead. Join a club for mushroom hunters. Tour a coal mine. Listen to some banjo music. We list our new favorite experiences, food, drink, personalities, stores, items and activities in the ’Burgh.
Daytripping: The ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’

Daytripping: The ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’

Fourteen years ago this month, the mighty Kinzua Viaduct met its match.
Restaurant Review: The Café Carnegie

Restaurant Review: The Café Carnegie

The restaurant, run by Dinette’s Sonja J. Finn, boosts the dining experience at the Carnegie museums in Oakland.
Thrive: Smooth Moves While Getting Lost in the Music

Thrive: Smooth Moves While Getting Lost in the Music

FASTER Pittsburghʼs Hip Hop Cardio promises to get your workout into a groove.
Curling in Pittsburgh: ‘It's Basically Golf and Chess on Ice’

Curling in Pittsburgh: ‘It's Basically Golf and Chess on Ice’

On the eve of its largest annual event, the Pittsburgh Curling Club has plans to increase Pittsburgh’s appreciation for its intricate sport.
Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in June

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in June

This month's best bets in the ’Burgh.
Edit Module
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Watch: Pittsburgh Penguins Video Tribute to Marc-André Fleury

Watch: Pittsburgh Penguins Video Tribute to Marc-André Fleury

With a tear in our eye, we bid the “Flower” Au Revoir.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Pusadee's Garden Will Close at End of Year (But Not Forever)

Pusadee's Garden Will Close at End of Year (But Not Forever)

Look for some big changes at the Upper Lawrenceville restaurant, which is expected to shutter for at least a year.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
Best Places for Kids on Rainy Days in Pittsburgh

Best Places for Kids on Rainy Days in Pittsburgh

Read on for some under-the-radar ideas on how you and the kids can survive a rainy day this summer.

Comments


High-Wire Acts at Carnegie Science Center

High-Wire Acts at Carnegie Science Center

The North Shore landmark's new ropes course is a draw for adults and youths alike.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
History Can Wait Until Penguins Are Done Making It

History Can Wait Until Penguins Are Done Making It

The desire for more a year ago helped fuel the Penguins’ quest to repeat this season. Should their thirst for yet another Cup prove as unquenchable next season, there’s no limit to what they might yet achieve. Even a Three-peat.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Make the Cut with Jonathan Moran Woodworks

Make the Cut with Jonathan Moran Woodworks

The Strip District-based woodworker's cutting boards can be custom made with the wood of your choice.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
Buckle Up ... Again, as Cars 3 Hits Theaters

Buckle Up ... Again, as Cars 3 Hits Theaters

Reviews of "Cars 3" and "47 Meters Down," plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Enchanting Summery Trends to Illuminate Your Wedding Palette

Enchanting Summery Trends to Illuminate Your Wedding Palette

You’ll definitely want to pin these new summer wedding trends to your Pinterest board.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Blooming: Pittsburgh Botanic Garden Hosts Town & Country Tour

Blooming: Pittsburgh Botanic Garden Hosts Town & Country Tour

From a forest of Japanese maples to a rocky urban sanctuary, the annual tour covers 14 very different gardens across the East End.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Visit Thiel College for a Summer BBQ

Visit Thiel College for a Summer BBQ

On three days this summer, the college will host visit days for prospective students.

Comments

Edit Module