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Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Leaving Ohio for Pittsburgh in the early evening, I decided to drive along some local back roads rather than the Interstate to get an idea of what the locals in this part of the country are like. Stopping in a town called East Liverpool to grab something to eat, initially the place seemed to be very nice, with a street full of quaint little antique shops, but a closer look gradually revealed the truth. There are no places to get food in East Liverpool, unless you count a couple of drive-in dog burger places, but it looks like food is the last thing on the mind of the local residents. Every other building in the town is dedicated to either selling booze or is a rehab centre. Instead of advertising dirty bookshops and fireworks, all the billboards offer help with money troubles, drink and drug addiction, domestic violence shelters, and assistance for the homeless. So where do these antique shops get their customers from? Unless all they’re selling are antique tankards and bongs?

Apart from rehab in East Liverpool there wasn’t really much going on in Ohio, but my route took me across a small part of West Virginia. There was the usual sign that said ‘Welcome to West Virginia’, but you could tell you had crossed a state line because there was a sudden glut of casinos and strip clubs, offering a ton of fun stuff as long as you had enough dollar bills stuffed in your wallet. I considered stopping at one of these quality establishments to get something to eat, but decided to press on a bit longer instead. All of a sudden I was out of West Virginia and into Pennsylvania, and the string of brightly-lit bars dried up instantly. I seriously thought about turning around and visiting Naughty Nellie’s Passion Palace, but figured that there must be somewhere to get food eventually.

I finally got my wish and stopped at a dodgy looking place somewhere out in the countryside. The roof was an interesting design; sloping badly with a large dip in the middle, although from the inside you could see that the roof wasn’t designed that way and the first snowfall of the winter would collapse the entire thing. I grabbed a stool at the bar and ordered a pint and some food. Immediately a couple of people started a discussion as to whether I was from England or Ireland (as least they didn’t think I was from Australia!). It seems that they don’t get many strangers around here. The daughter taking part in this mother/daughter discussion asked me where I was from and so I told her, then we got chatting in lurid detail about her social life. It turns out that her current boyfriend is somebody she met while he was ‘best man’ at a wedding. But not any wedding: it was HER wedding. Her ex-husband was quite surprised one day when he called his best friend/best man and she answered the phone. One way of finding out, I suppose! One old-timer at the bar kept trying to tell me something about a ‘gherkin’ and ‘jerkin’ (I couldn’t understand a lot of what he was saying), and the other assortment of rednecks in there were occupied by an episode of ‘Fear Factor’ because there were a lot of women wearing bikinis in it. I can only imagine the scene when ‘Baywatch’ appears on the TV.

Eventually I disappeared into the night, found a place to park the Dream Machine where there wasn’t much chance of any locals discovering it, and abandoned my attempts to find Pittsburgh for the day. The next day I woke up, surprised to still be alive and intact, and stopped at a gas station to ask where I was. This amused the gas dude no end. “Stranger?” he asked. I thought it best to bite my tongue, and he pointed me in the right direction.

The only exposure I had previously had of Pittsburgh was as a grotty industrial town in the movie ‘The Deer Hunter’, where everybody seemed glad to get away and get shot at in the Vietnamese jungle instead. The city is built at the convergence of three rivers: the Ohio (easy to say, easy to spell), the Allegheny (not sure about this one) and the Monongahela (the what?). It’s taken me long enough to learn how to spell Mississippi, so what chance have I got with Monongahela? The other problem with a city built around rivers is that it’s very difficult to get around because you’re forever trying to find a bridge going in the right direction. I spent hours driving around trying to find out where I was, and there were no handy signs saying ‘Ballpark’ or ‘Dream Trip This Way’ to help me out: everything was ‘North Side” and “South Side”. I had just woken up and didn’t know what day it was, never mind what direction I was going in.

I finally discovered where I was and headed towards where I needed to go: the Andy Warhol museum. Yet more culture! It’s right next to the ballpark, so I asked the chappie at the car park booth about staying there all day, and he said it was fine – I had to pay $6 to park for the museum anyway, but I could stay there as long as I wanted. This was made even better by the fact that the car park across the street was charging $18 – another ridiculous amount just to park. On the way to the museum I discovered what the ‘money zone’ was. Waiting patiently for a ‘WALK’ sign to cross the road, it appeared and I set off. A bus, who had stopped for his red light, then decided that he was going to go anyway. Maybe he was late for lunch? He saw me crossing and slammed on his brakes, then for some reason decided that he was still going to carry on, and charged through the intersection. Then some guy who was also trying to cross the road shouted at me “Maaaan, you shoulda let him hit you, you was in the money zone”, after you, chummie!

Inside the Andy Warhol museum, there are plenty of weird and wonderful exhibits. There’s a room full of floating silver cushions, an exhibition of letters sent to dead celebrities all with ‘Return to Sender’ stamped on them, and a special ‘porn’ exhibit. As well as the standard display of bits and bottoms, this exhibit has (clothed) pictures of O.J. Simpson and Adolf Hitler & Eva Braun. Obviously a very disturbed individual! The toilets inside the museum are also very artistic: all smoked glass and mirrors, and at times I wondered if I was taking part in an exhibition. Maybe mine could be called ‘Binoculars Available Upon Request’???

Warwick's Roadtrip Photo Pennsylvania

Pittsburgh also has a couple of ‘inclines’, where you can take a cable car up to the top of the surrounding hills and get a great view of the city. The cable cars are a bit rickety (as are the crumblies collecting your money as you get on them), but they are infinitely preferable to walking up to the top.

The Pittsburgh Pirates have a new stadium so everything is shiny and clean, but because they’re a relatively small market team everything is still fairly compact. The cheapest tickets available cost $9, but today there was a special ‘shoppers discount’ going on, so they were being sold for $5. So instead of a ‘Prime’ or ‘Premier’ game, this must count as a ‘Crappy’ game! Chicago White Sox take note!

Warwick's Roadtrip Photo Pennsylvania

The national anthem was performed by a school band from Punxsutawney. The town is famous for ‘Groundhog Day’; it’s certainly not famous for tuning musical instruments before performing national anthems! And what kind of people bury an oversized hamster (Punxsutawney Phil) for six months before digging it up again and basing their weather forecast on whether it’s dead or alive? And to make it even worse, they bury him in a hill in a place called ‘Gobbler’s Knob. He can’t have much luck with the lady groundhogs with a name like that, an address of ‘The Hill, Gobbler’s Knob’ and an occupation of being buried alive every year.

The Pirates mascot is … a parrot. And we know this because he has got ‘Parrot’ across the back of his shirt, despite him looking suspiciously like a dodo. Perhaps the people making the costume misheard when they were asked to make a ‘pirate’ mascot and refused to refund the money when they delivered the wrong thing? I’m waiting to get to Los Angeles to discover if the Dodgers mascot is in fact a todger.

At least the mascot kept out of the player’s way during the game, but it must be difficult for the Pirates when their face is plastered on the huge electronic scoreboard with a badly superimposed eye patch and skull & crossbones. This comes complete with a fake pirate accent that sounds as authentic as Dick Van Dyke in ‘Mary Poppins’, and even some of the die-hard fans in the bleachers find it all acutely embarrassing.

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