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The Everyday Extraordinary

Here’s the thing. I can’t even be sure this memory is real. I called my mother and father and they said, “It’s plausible.” I called my sisters and they said, “I don’t recall,” and “That doesn’t ring a bell,” and “I can’t remember what I had for breakfast, let alone what happened 25 years ago, girl” and “THE BABY IS SLEEPING! I’M SO EXCITED. I’M GOING TO NAP NOW! BYE!”

But it’s there in my head. A memory of my father and mother in the driver and passenger seats, respectively. My four sisters and me in the back seat and the WAY back seat as we called it, of the station wagon. Kids, a station wagon is a short minivan without swiveling captain’s chairs, or DVD players that whoosh down from the ceiling, or backseat air temperature controls and without one single cup holder. I’m not making that up. We had, at most, a little indention in the armrest for us to put chewed gum and pennies. And we had a hump on the floor in the middle.

Wow. Have I lost track of my topic.

My memory is that my father stopped at an intersection in Pittsburgh and I saw a policeman directing traffic. Frantically. Comically. With white gloves. A policeman’s hat. A whistle that I could hear through the rolled-up windows. Kids, station wagons had windows that you had to manually crank up and down via a rolling or winding kind of motion. I’m also not making that up.

The man was older than my dad, I remember.  He used his legs a bit, too. I kept my nose to the cool window and watched him until our car pulled away and he was out of sight.

It wasn’t until many years later that I learned that he was a fixture in Pittsburgh. An icon. I saw him in the movie Flashdance when I was a bit older and I was all, “I totally know that guy.”

His name was Vic Cianca and he died last weekend at the age of 92.

A few months ago while trying to decide what I wanted to write my magazine column about, I went to Facebook and asked my family and friends what they thought would be a good topic. My cousin asked, “Are there any ordinary Pittsburghers doing extraordinary things?” and I was all, “[shrug].”

Hearing of Mr. Cianca‘s death opened my eyes. Yes. Pittsburgh is full of ordinary people doing ordinary things in extraordinary ways. He directed traffic.  An ordinary thing that he did in an extraordinary way and it brought him and us joy.

Randy Gilson—Waiting tables. An ordinary thing that he does in an extraordinary way. TC Congdon—Selling food and drink at PNC Park.The running lady—Running. Mike Lange—Informing us that a goal was just scored.

Ordinary people. Ordinary things. Somehow extraordinary and memorable.

You know, I really hope my memory of Mr. Cianca is real and not imagined. I want to be able to say I saw him once when I was little. I want to be able to say I appreciated what he was doing while he was doing it, even if I was just a child with my nose pressed against the car window watching the funny old man be silly.

If my memory isn’t real, that’s okay. I still learn from Mr. Cianca and other unorthodoxly iconic ‘Burghers. I learn to keep my eyes open to regular folks who are spending their lives doing seemingly ordinary things, and to look for the extraordinary hidden therein. And when I find it, acknowledge it. Applaud it. Celebrate it.

Rest in peace, Mr. Cianca.

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