Pittsburgh. Our town. A town owned, like no other, by its people. "Nowhere in America will you find a place more beloved by the locals, more arrogantly praised, and oddly enough….deserving most of it." (Chicago Tribune) Pittsburgh. A city whose best riches are hidden. And a city whose finest attributes most of us have trouble letting ourselves see. Or hear. Or believe. Or admit to. So why is a place; a conglomerate of land and water, concrete and steel, and the people who tied all that matter together, why is it actually worth loving. Like, "I'm in love" type loving. What's best about Pittsburgh can't be quantified, or sold, or added up. It's a city made for music and poetry, fighters and lovers, children and anyone who ever walked away from a perfect, high paying job because well, that's all it offered. Pittsburgh - every better business bureau's nightmare, the rock against which the spin doctors break their tag-lined will. A city that can't be summed up. Or capped. Or figured out.
So here we go. Again. Go to Monroeville. Yes, Monroeville. Preferably just after a good rain. Past Rodi Rd at the top of the hill on your left is a Sheetz. It's across 22 from Penn Center Mall. The mall that came before The Mall. It's in front of a Marriott. Or a "Residence Inn by Marriot". Park in the Sheetz lot facing the hotel's driveway. If you need a good cup of coffee, there are worse places than Sheetz. So grab one, kick your driver's side door open, lean back and right in front of you is a little waterfall. The shale hillside here must have been blown out to make way for development and for 30 yards alongside the entrance of The Residence Inn by Marriott is a sheer black cliff, about 40 feet high, hidden by junk trees and kudzu. Water trickles the length of its face, almost a stream in some places, over slate and through heaps of moss you'd be thrilled to find in Ireland, but what makes this hidden oasis special is that the architects of the Residence Inn by Marriott, or maybe some functionary in the planning division of the contracting firm that cleared the lot, decided this "water feature" deserved to stay. Somebody placed minor league boulders at intervals along the base of the cliff and water pools around them as the flow increases on its way to the culvert which keeps both the Marriott and Sheetz from flooding. It's pathetic. It's beautiful. So next time you're on your way to...whatever it is people go to find in Monroeville....pop by the Sheetz and take a moment. You might even remember that this lot was where the first big box cinemas in Pittsburgh were built. "Cinema 1,2,3,4" which eventually became Cinemas 1-10 before they went the way of all technology. And if you're old enough you might remember your brother taking you there to see "Star Wars" for the first time, a week after he'd replayed the entire movie, sound effects included, laser blasts, Chewy's saxophone vocals, Darth Vader's basso breathing, all of it during dinner, while your mother laughed and your father told him he was ruining it for the rest of us. But he wasn't. He was showing you for the first time that the end of a story is nothing compared to the story itself. Kind of like a life. And he waited out there with his little brother in the two hour line which snaked around the parking lot you're sitting in now and kept him happy and fed him Junior Mints and said, "Oh just wait man, just wait, you're not gonna believe it."