After breakfast at my aunt’s house, we were on the road from Cleveland to Pittsburgh. We arrived around lunch time and went to Mad Mex, a Tex-Mex place in Oakland, the university neighborhood of Pittsburgh. The restaurant was as dark as a cave (literally, I could barely read my menu), but the food was good. We decided to skip National Tequila Day (Tequila Tastings only $3!) and headed for the University of Pittsburgh campus. Dominating the area is a giant tower they call “the cathedral of learning”. From the outside it looks more like the skyscraper of learning, but on the inside it’s genuinely cathedral-like! And the coolest part is that it’s full of classrooms all done up with genuine furnishings in the style of different foreign places. The Chinese Room, the Greek Room, the Scottish Room, the Lithuanian Room…you name it, they have it. Definitely a neat building to have classes in, and a cool view from the top.
As we walked through an edge of the Pittsburgh campus, we also passed the Heinz Chapel (really pretty!) and a random log cabin. This is the sort of thing that calls out for an explanatory plaque, but alas, no such luck.
Glimpsing the Carnegie natural history museum and the edge of Carnegie Mellon in the distance, we headed for Shenly Park, a giant green space on the edge of Oakland. Bill had been there when he went to University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon for grad student visits in the spring, and we’d seen a bunch of tents and cars from the top of the Cathedral of Learning, so we decided to investigate. We discovered that the park was hosting the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix, so we sat on a hillside and watched some old race cars whir past. Once they finished, we wandered over to the Phipps Conservatory, a giant indoor greenhouse, where a butterfly sat on Erin’s hat! And we saw lots of beautiful plants.
Driving down 5th Avenue, out of Oakland and across a bridge into downtown Pittsburgh, I finally felt like I was approaching home — so many low red-brick buildings! And then skyscrapers, of course, downtown. We went to Point State Park, where the rivers meet, and admired the city’s many bridges. They seem to have decided to throw them up just to show what steel could do — it’s honestly a bit gratuitous. But cool! Alas, the park’s fountain (which spouts 150 feet in the air) was closed for renovation, so we didn’t get to see it in action. Leaving the park, we soon drove over one of the aforementioned bridges and up into the hills of Pittsburgh to meet our hosts.
And I really mean “meet”. Our hosts — the fantastic Paul, Jordan, and Callie — are high school friends of my friend Ben. We were scrambling to find somewhere to stay in Pittsburgh and Ben was kind enough to reach out and ask if they would host us. They’re a couple years older and all working in Pittsburgh and sharing a place together. They turned out to be wonderful people, and to possess a very adorable new puppy named Tugger. After chatting for a little while, all six of us headed out to the Doublewide Grill, a great restaurant on Pittsburgh’s Southside. Getting dinner with them was really fun, and they were very kind to put us up!
The next morning, after saying farewell and getting excellent directional advice from Paul, we set our sights on Delaware. Rather than go directly to Bill’s house, however, we first stopped at Fallingwater, the famous house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. It’s buried in the middle of nowhere in Western Pennsylvania, but definitely worth the trip, even if most of the folks on the tour were a good forty to sixty years older than us. I grew up knowing that my grandfather loved Frank Lloyd Wright, but I never knew that he was such a pioneer in terms of building houses that connected with their natural surroundings, breaking the box, inventing open floor plans, etc. So I really learned a lot (from our very no-nonsense tour guide) and remembered how much I’d wanted to be able to design my own house when I was a kid. Not going to lie, living over a waterfall would be pretty awesome.
Our road back to Delaware took us through Amish country outside Lancaster, PA. I’d actually just been in Amish country when we were in Ohio — my cousin lives right in the middle of it, and I went to visit her and her kids while Bill & Erin were seeing the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame — so it was funny to hit both major Amish areas in the space of three days. We bought some Mennonite lemonade & root beer, at a stand that involved driving up through cornfields to the backyard of someone’s farm house, then also stopped at a fruit stand to buy berries. The fruit stand was plastered with inspirational quotes, most of which had the general gist of “stop complaining about the wonderful world you’ve been given and fix your attitude.” Many of them were intentionally silly, but my favorite one went: “Ten Ways to Make Your Life Better: Do something for someone else. Repeat nine times.”
At last, around 6pm, we pulled into Hockessin, DE! Emily, Bill’s sister, came out to greet us and to take our picture with the car — proof that we’d made it! The final mileage on the round trip was 11,820 miles. Not too shabby. Bill’s family had made us a delicious summer dinner, so we enjoyed that and then went for ice cream — apparently at one of the top ten places nationwide, a spot called Woodside Farm Creamery in Hockessin. After ice cream, we stayed up unpacking, sorting out all our spreadsheets, and repacking for the next day’s train ride (in my case), while Bill played some Billy Joel and folk music on the piano. It was nice to unwind, to know that we had finally closed the loop, and to see Bill’s always-welcoming family.
* * * * *
The Simon & Garfunkel song “Homeward Bound” was definitely playing in my head for the last 24 hours of our journey. The trip had been great, but now that it was so close to over, I was missing Boston. Fortunately the train ride from Wilmington didn’t take too long, and I got to see both my parents as soon as I pulled into the station.
A number of people have asked me if I would change anything about the trip, particularly our pace. I admit that we moved pretty fast — mostly two nights in each place, sometimes one. There were definitely a few times when I wished I could pause the trip and stay somewhere for a while longer, just to have that different kind of traveling experience where you’re savoring a location rather than trying to “see it all” as quickly as possible. I’m looking forward to digging in like that in England, and there are honestly few things I enjoy more than really getting to know a new place. But I don’t regret the way we planned this particular adventure, because it allowed us to see so much. I’m still processing it all, but I really feel that I have a better sense of the expanse of America now, and a long list of places I’d like to return to for a more extended stay.
It was also so wonderful to see many, many people I love along the way, and to meet the hosts I didn’t already know! Honestly, I was a bit overwhelmed by the blessing of living in such a large and varied country and still finding a welcome waiting for us in dozens of homes across its vastness. Thank you so much to all our hosts; I will need to be hospitable for the rest of my life to begin to pay your generosity forward.
Right now the debt crisis is looming, and so the general outlook on whether Americans can talk to each other reasonably anymore seems fairly gloomy. But I think one thing that cheered me a bit on this trip is the reminder of how mobile the country is, how many people are originally from somewhere else, and what an opportunity that gives us to find connections to one another and welcome one another into community, rather than just draw sharp lines of division. For real Americans — and no, I don’t mean some subset of more authentic Americans, I mean real as opposed to two-dimensional caricatures — a lot of identity lines are honestly pretty fuzzy, and almost everyone has a cousin or a former roommate or a friend’s friend or a neighbor whose life is pretty different from theirs. So my trip has left me thinking that this country affords a pretty great canvas for empathy, even if we don’t always take full advantage of it.
Anyways, this post has gone on long enough, so I’m signing off. Thank you for tolerating my over-long meandering, in this and other posts. I hope you enjoyed our updates and pictures; it was lovely to have all of you reading and encouraging us along the way! I’m sure I’ll be glad to have this written record of our adventures, although I also plan to liberally embellish our stories as time goes on, so hopefully Google will eventually bury this page. Have a wonderful summer!