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 Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Best of the 'Burgh 2016

Best of the 'Burgh 2016

We scoured the region to bring you 53 items we’ve deemed this year’s “Best of the ’Burgh,” as well as 8 stellar local Instagram accounts you don’t want to miss.
See Yinz: PittGirl Says Goodbye

See Yinz: PittGirl Says Goodbye

After writing for seven years about the city for Pittsburgh Magazine and pittsburghmagazine.com, Virginia Montanez is discontinuing her blog and column.
Restaurant Review: Whitfield at Ace Hotel Pittsburgh

Restaurant Review: Whitfield at Ace Hotel Pittsburgh

The restaurant at Ace Hotel in East Liberty hits some high notes as it finds itself.
Pride of McKeesport: WNBA Star Swin Cash

Pride of McKeesport: WNBA Star Swin Cash

During her final season of professional basketball, Cash remains ferocious on the court and selfless everywhere else.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Our JazzLive International Festival Cheat-Sheet

Our JazzLive International Festival Cheat-Sheet

We break down each day of the festival so you don’t have to improv your way through it.
Avatar-inspired Cirque Du Soleil Show Takes Off in Pittsburgh

Avatar-inspired Cirque Du Soleil Show Takes Off in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh Magazine has a backstage view of “Toruk: The First Flight,” which runs this week at Consol Energy Center.
Mellon Square Restoration Wins Docomomo US Design of Excellence Award

Mellon Square Restoration Wins Docomomo US Design of Excellence Award

The Pittsburgh Park Conservancy and City of Pittsburgh, in partnership with Heritage Landscapes, are recognized with the distinguished national design award for their restoration of Mellon Square, Downtown.
Ice-Cream Alert: Graeter's Scoop Shop to Open in Wexford

Ice-Cream Alert: Graeter's Scoop Shop to Open in Wexford

The 145-year-old Cincinnati-based ice-cream business will open its first Pennsylvania scoop-shop in July.

Sign Up for the 412 e-Newsletter

 

Our new, daily e-newsletter is curated by the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine and is designed to give you the very best Pittsburgh has to offer -- delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign me up!
* Email
 First Name
 Last Name
  * = Required Field
 
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Best of the 'Burgh 2016

Best of the 'Burgh 2016

We scoured the region to bring you 53 items we’ve deemed this year’s “Best of the ’Burgh,” as well as 8 stellar local Instagram accounts you don’t want to miss.
See Yinz: PittGirl Says Goodbye

See Yinz: PittGirl Says Goodbye

After writing for seven years about the city for Pittsburgh Magazine and pittsburghmagazine.com, Virginia Montanez is discontinuing her blog and column.
Restaurant Review: Whitfield at Ace Hotel Pittsburgh

Restaurant Review: Whitfield at Ace Hotel Pittsburgh

The restaurant at Ace Hotel in East Liberty hits some high notes as it finds itself.
Pride of McKeesport: WNBA Star Swin Cash

Pride of McKeesport: WNBA Star Swin Cash

During her final season of professional basketball, Cash remains ferocious on the court and selfless everywhere else.
Idol Find: Pittsburgh Rapper Teams Up with Dad Jimmy McNichol for New Show

Idol Find: Pittsburgh Rapper Teams Up with Dad Jimmy McNichol for New Show

Research led Kellee Maize to discover she is the daughter of the former teen singing sensation. Now she and McNichol are teaming up to develop a television series to help other parents and children find each other.
Daytripping: Rating the Roller Coasters at Cedar Point

Daytripping: Rating the Roller Coasters at Cedar Point

One day, 18 roller coasters, four queasy stomachs, two cheeseburgers, one fried dough … whew.
Edit Module

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Our JazzLive International Festival Cheat-Sheet

Our JazzLive International Festival Cheat-Sheet

We break down each day of the festival so you don’t have to improv your way through it.

Comments


Pittsburgh, only cooler
PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

Kennywood Park opens soon and new this season is the return of the famed whale at the entrance of Noah’s Ark. In the name of science, PittGirl paid an early visit to test the squishiness quotient of the whale's all-important tongue.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
James Beard Foundation Celebrity Chef Tour Stops In Pittsburgh

James Beard Foundation Celebrity Chef Tour Stops In Pittsburgh

Justin Severino and Hilary Prescott Severino of Cure and Morcilla organized the event, which featured celebrated chefs from DC, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The Best 7 Spots in Pittsburgh to Watch the 2016 Euro Cup

The Best 7 Spots in Pittsburgh to Watch the 2016 Euro Cup

Grab your kits, scarfs and get ready to watch the Euro 2016 Pittsburgh-style. We'll show you where to go to get your fan on.

Comments


Beer Cults and Brick Ovens: An Evening at Fuel & Fuddle

Beer Cults and Brick Ovens: An Evening at Fuel & Fuddle

The restaurant and bar in Oakland welcomes college students and locals alike.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Perspective Accompanies Long-Awaited Second Crosby Cup

Perspective Accompanies Long-Awaited Second Crosby Cup

The Pittsburgh Penguins may be more poised to establish a dynasty in 2016 than they were in 2009.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Add a Bygone Beacon to Your Living Room

Add a Bygone Beacon to Your Living Room

Vintage signs can add a pop of personality to your decor.

Comments


Sean Collier's Popcorn for Dinner

The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
Demons, Orcs, Hipsters and More at the Multiplex

Demons, Orcs, Hipsters and More at the Multiplex

Reviews of "The Conjuring 2," "Warcraft," "Maggie's Plan," plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
True to Tradition: Incorporating Your Heritage at Your Wedding

True to Tradition: Incorporating Your Heritage at Your Wedding

Honoring tradition at weddings is important for many couples, whether that means including heirlooms and unique customs or hosting a full-blown second ceremony.

Comments


The latest tips and trends to refresh your home.
Decor Calling: Home Furnishings Go Mobile

Decor Calling: Home Furnishings Go Mobile

House15143 is Sewickley debuts “House Calls,” a mobile Airstream designed to bring the shopping experience to you (or an event near you).

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Summer Robotics Camp Offered to High-School Students

Summer Robotics Camp Offered to High-School Students

The camp is a collaboration between two area universities and is open to students entering grades 9-12.

Comments