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31 January 2009

With Much Fondness

Ok, so I've been thinking of something to write about for my first post about Pittsburgh. There are so many things to talk about, so I thought my first story would be a story about things that make me go...."Hmmm...this is why I love this city." This happens quite often to tell you the truth. It even happened when I was a small child.
Let's go back to the time when visiting Santa was, what some might say when they were a child, the most exciting part of the year. I think the most exciting thing about seeing Santa when I was younger was the fact that we used to go downtown to the downtown Kaufmann's (which is now Macy's.) This is a fun store, especially because it has many many shopping floors. If you really want to have some fun you can ride the elevator to the furniture gallery which I believe is on the 10th or 11th floor and ride the escalators ALL the way back down. The top floors still have the wooden escalator stuff. Anyway, back to the story. Once I put on my suit, which included a matching coat and shorts with knee high white socks and saddle shoes we got into the Mercury and headed (a short drive) downtown. Now to get to downtown from the south of Pittsburgh you must drive through the Liberty Tunnels which I have to say are creepin long. The best part is when you explode from the other end to cross the Liberty Bridge and the city jumps out at you. Nothing is more exciting for a kid than to see the dazzling lights shining from all of the tall buildings and reflecting on the rivers below. "The birthday cake building Mom and Dad" I would always say...referring to the PPG Building. I used to love seeing downtown like was up there with visiting the mall with your mother in one of the anchor department stores and peeking out into the mall to see the fountain with lights and palm trees and food stores and people. This of course always ended with the same response "we have bologna at home...we'll make sandwiches there so we won't need to go to the food court." This of course is another story altogether. So...seeing Santa downtown after seeing the city from the tunnel was one of my "Hmmmm...this is why I love this city" moments.
I think another one of those moments would have been just a little while back when I was visiting a small hole in the wall bar on Mt. Washington with some friends. We made our way up the mountain heading under the Monongahela incline as it crept to Station Square below and then slowed at the top of P J McArdle Roadway where it curves at the last second only to make it look like you will fly off the mountain into the rivers far below all the while staring at a beautiful view of Heinz Field. Anyway, we parked the car on the Shiloh Street parking deck and stepped out into the frigid night. While walking to the bar the bells of a nearby church start to chime. This combined with the small dense shopping district and people walking home from work after their incline ride with the City of Pittsburgh as the glittering backdrop made me say "Hmmm this is why I love this city."
Lastly, because I know people are tired of reading, would be similar to a comment from Amy from Cleveland. She mentioned her neighbors helping to un-stick her car from the snow. I looked out my dining room window the other night to see my elderly neighbor Pat who lives two doors down shoveling away at my 93 year old next door neighbor Mrs. Slezak's sidewalk and front stairs. Now...after thinking she should stop before she falls and breaks her hip I remembered a picture that I have from my mom and dad's wedding day. They didn't have a large reception following their wedding, just a small party at my grandparents' house, where I now live since they have both passed on. In the picture my mother is kissing my grandfather goodbye before she heads out of the house with my dad. The best part about the picture is that my neighbor Pat and my next door neighbor Mrs. Slezak are both sitting behind them in this loving scene. They have been neighbors and friends for such a long time and the fact that Pat risks falling in the snow for her Pittsburgh neighbor and friend for decades makes me go "Hmmm...this is why I love this city."

30 January 2009

Take a Peak at Erie....

Let me tell you a little bit about one of my FAVORITE cities: ERIE PENNSYLVANIA. If you've ever had the pleasure of visiting this city on the bay, I would bet that you share my feelings of fondness for it. Recently, a few friends and I ventured to Erie for a yearly ski trip at Peek N Peak Ski Resort. Peek N Peak is technically in Western New York, but it's within a 25 minute drive of Erie. It is just one of the several adventurous activities one can enjoy in greater Erie. Yes it was January and YES there were about 13 inches of snow on the ground...but that's just part of the excitement of the snow belt areas of the rust belt. My boyfriend thought he would be impaled by a 5 foot long (and growing) icicle, yet thought nothing about standing below them and taking about 15,000 pictures. I guess we just don't grow'em like that in Cincinnati...
A few summers back I had the pleasure of renting a bike (albeit, bright yellow) and riding with friends and family along Presque Isle, the state park located on a peninsula that shields the city from harsh Lake Erie wind and waves, creating a large sheltered bay. The park is spectacular and is hopping with life on a warm summer day. Fishermen, boaters, sun bathers, houseboaters, volleyball enthusiasts all juxtaposed and enjoying the outdoors. After the bike ride we just HAD to eat at Sally's Diner, which is a Presque Isle has DELICIOUS burgers and ice cream treats. And it is soo cute and retro...seriously, check out the pic.

At the entrance to the state park and across the street from Sally's Diner is Waldameer Water World. It has over 75 rides, slides and attractions according to its website...and let me tell you, the site of the Ravine Flyer II rollercoaster crossing over the entrance to Presque Isle makes my stomach churn with excitement. And...nearly brand new is the Tom Ridge Environmental Center which is a certified LEED silver education center focusing on the preservation of Presque Isle.

Erie boasts a nice downtown core which includes Gannon University, a convention center...several banks, pubs, restaurants and a museum on Lake Erie history...mostly focused upon Oliver Hazard Perry's naval battle which occured near Sandusky...but Oliver docked his fleet in Erie. Also downtown is a Children's museum and a maritime studies center. History and maritime enthusiasts alike can surely spend an entire weekend here buffing up on Lake Erie facts. Oh and out-of-staters make sure you enjoy some the much-covitted Yuengling while in Erie. Supporting Great Lakes brewery will also fair well with the Erie crowd.

Erie has a collection of BEAUTIFUL homes and neighborhoods. Many different churches and places of worship dot the community. There seems to be a school/university on every corner. One thing to note are the small neighborhood parks and the mature neighborhoods with character...many of which have tree-lined boulevards.

Here's a rundown of activities:

Art Galleries
Many Museums
Perry Monument
Skiing (Snow and Ski)
Local Restaurants
Building sandcastles
Take a Class at Mercyhurst, Edinboro, Gannon or Penn State Erie

I can go on and on about Erie...and plan on visiting again and learning something new. Feel free to check it out for yourself on the internet superhighway or with a short road trip. There are multitudes of exciting things to do in Erie...from tasting local wines to enjoying local music...just make sure you plan on spending some time most activities seem to be outdoors...just be prepared for Erie's notoriously extreme weather changes.

Check out this site before your trip:

29 January 2009

Toledo and the MOAD

I've been asked/targeted by a friend to write my thoughts on the Rust Belt cities of Northwest Ohio (affectionately known as Table-Flat) since I've had the pleasure of growing up here. I won't pretend to know everything about the region...but I'll try my best to show its hidden treasures. Which brings me to the first. Tony Packo's in Toledo, Ohio. If you've never had the distinct pleasure of visiting a Tony Packo's restaurant I urge you to take the Ohio turnpike to Toledo..immediately (don't forget to bring your heart burn medicine of choice).

Tony Packo was the son of Hungarian immigrants who lived in East Toledo. He started his Hungarian hot dog stand in 1932 during the Great Depression and the restaurant exploded from there. Currently Tony's has five locations (two are express stands) in the Toledo area.They also sell their products in grocery stores all over the United States. Now onto the good stuff.

Tony's is famous for it's MOAD (the Mother of All Dogs) or the Bunker Buster...which my aunt famously shouted upon our order arriving "That's the biggest weiner I've ever seen." No joke, I couldn't make that up if I tried. They also have some intensely epic chili, not to mention peppers and pickles. The actual restaurants have really awesome interiors and they have a tradition of asking famous patrons to sign hot dog buns which they then showcase on their walls. And where did Ohio State University president Gordon Gee ask NW Ohio students to meet him for dinner and a "pep rally" of sorts? Yes. Tony Packo's.

Because I am quite possibly the luckiest gal in Table Flat, I will have the pleasure of eating at Tony's this weekend for my sister's birthday. Like a steward of hotdog goodwill, I will bring back more stories and pictures of Packo's (and Toledo in general as the restaurant is part of a revitalization plan for the downtown). I think there is nothing more heroic than sacrificing oneself to save a Rust Belt city by eating hotdogs, chili, and deep-fried pickles.

It snowed. Observations:

If you are reading this from a warm, far-off place...just to let you know: It snowed here in the Rust Belt. A lot. And it iced. And rained. And slushed. This storm is not that different from others...other than hey! We're coming up on a record here in Cleveland! Records are fun! Only a little more than 2 inches in the next few days and January 09 will be the snowiest January on record around here. So, I give you my observations and thoughts on this record-breaking January:

1. Slighty-wet snow mixed with dirt and footprints sometimes looks like chocolate chip cookie dough, sans the chips.
2. Recycling collectors in Lakewood, Ohio will climb atop 6' high snow mountains to collect their prizes. They are serious about recycling.
3. Helpful neighbors will help you get your car unstuck on the way to work in the morning. This is annoying...because deep down (OK, really more on the surface) you are really hoping for an excuse to not get to work.
4. OMG...the weather forecasters have been ridiculously correct with their forecasting this month.
5. People in Florida, and Washington D.C., are pansies.
6. Shout out to those drivers on I-90 east driving with me from 8:00-9:00 yesterday morning! I did not even see ONE jackass trying to pass me on the left shoulder.
7. The Innerbelt Bridge is terrifying no matter what the weather conditions...but the snow that is currently sitting on the bridge will ensure I will not be crossing it until least. (Can we get an infrastructure stimulus up in here?!?!?!)
8. I still don't want to ski.
9. Every child should experience the delight that is a snow day.
10. Winter in Cleveland is part of what makes us suck it up, bitches!

Rebranding OR Debranding?

The Rust Belt is a region of extremes when it comes to economic success, weather and everything in between. Diversity also lies in the opinions of its inhabitants. Why is it that the "grass is always greener" mentality is stronger amongst the inhabitants of the Rust Belt? Cities such as Cleveland and Pittsburgh have been rated as some of the most livable cities in the US by The Economist and Places Rated Almanac. Yet as recently as today there was a report on about which cities people most want to move to. At the bottom of the list, you guessed it: Detroit and Cleveland (Pittsburgh and Cincinnati were also near the bottom).

Report after report seems to be deliberately attacking our beloved Rust Belt cities. I, for one, do not usually agree with these findings. Why do people want to leave our cities? Perhaps it's more about bad media and branding than the cities themselves. If weather affects people's happiness, then perhaps they have reason to feel such disdain for the cloudy and precipitation-friendly Rust Belt. I, for one, love rain and snow and am happy to be living somewhere in which life can sustain itself...unlike places such as Phoenix, Vegas and Southern California where the cost of having so much sunshine is that of not having enough water for the population.

Perhaps people feel that there aren't enough jobs in the Rust Belt. Well it has been shedding jobs for decades now, but there is hope: Pittsburgh has recently seen an increase in jobs in 2008...YES 2008! While America has seen more job losses in 2008 than it has seen in decades, Pittsburgh is gaining jobs.

So I ask this of you, fellow Rust Belt Friend: help Debrand the negative stereotypes of our beloved region. Every time you hear one "That place is the armpit of America" reply with a "Well, actually it is swarming with cultural institutions" and another "When is the last time you've been to Akron? It's actually fairing pretty well these days." Albeit, try to back up your opinions with facts...and keep them updated. We love our beautiful industrial cities of the past that have so much to gain in the future.