Our departure from Cleveland was hastened ever so slightly by yours truly, as I hurried the group along to Pittsburgh on Friday night to meet our lovely featured guest, my girlfriend Bernadette. This is her second appearance during the trip and her first time meeting us on the road, and man was I happy to see her. The only thing that would make our trip better would be bringing Bern for the whole time.
We all stayed at the Pittsburgh SpringHill Suites courtesy of Joey’s dad, and awoke cheerily on Saturday morning with a heavy itinerary for the day. The first move was to the car, bound for the Duquesne Incline on Grandview Avenue. This thing has been through a lot, built in 1887 as probably the main source of entertainment for a pre-broadcasting society. I can imagine people standing around all day, just doing the incline over and over.
Here’s the gist. This rickety old car takes down the slope of Mt. Washington at a whopping four miles per hour or so, displaying some fantastic views of Pittsburgh and the three rivers on the way down. Upon reaching the bottom, you pay the guy for the trip down and the trip back up – assumedly because only an idiot would ride down for free and walk all the way back up to save the money. Once you’re paid up, you can hop back on and ride back up. It was probably like a roller coaster back in 1887.
All this excitement built up our appetites something fierce, so it was on to what Bern called the only reason she was visiting us – Primanti Brothers. This is as iconic a restaurant as you’ll be able to find in Pittsburgh, with a dozen locations around the city and an endless string of national television appearances on the Food Network and Travel Channel. We, of course, traveled to the original location, situated in the Strip District at Smallman and 18th. As we expected, the line stretched out the door – always a sign of good things to come. A table for the four of us took about 20 minutes to procure, but our food and beverages took far less. Our waiter, a nice guy who looked like he’d been working there since they opened, brought us four Iron City lagers and took our order, and we were eating within ten minutes.
What makes Primanti’s sandwiches so special is their abundance of ingredients. Originally intended for truckers getting lunch on the go, the sandwich includes everything a lunch should consist of – meat and cheese with a handful of French fries and a heavy helping of vinegar-based coleslaw, with a fried egg for good measure if you’d like – all sandwiched together between two thick slices of bread. As if it were necessary, the menu listed an option of extra meat for $2, which in retrospect sounds far less crazy than I thought at the time.
Now, I read some ridiculous list of the best cheesesteaks in the country, in which the Primanti cheesesteak ranked at #1. Bern went that route, which included thick cuts of steak instead of sliced or chopped steak, as we do in Philly. As it turns out, that list I read was a load of crap – a D’alessandro’s cheesesteak would destroy this one in a fight, no doubt. But it still made a terrific sandwich, and I stole more than one bite off Bern’s plate. We all ended up sharing our meals; I had corned beef, Joey had pastrami and Sarah had Capicola, and each and every one of them was off the charts. Between here and Slyman’s from yesterday, I don’t know which busted my gut better.
As we all know, the best way to work off a meal like that is inside a museum. And at this stage in our travels, we’ve done our share of museum-hopping, to the point that we’re getting tired of just your regular old art museum. We’re trying to see it all, which means we want to get a little more specialized.
Enter the Warhol. One of the four Carnegie museums is one devoted to the life and works of one Andy Warhol, the world-renowned pioneer of pop art, whose hometown was none other than Pittsburgh. A chronological rundown of the major events in his life began the museum tour on the first floor, and a quick elevator flight up to the seventh began the main exhibit space.
Photo courtesy the Warhol
My knowledge of contemporary art is only so vast as to recognize Mr. Warhol’s most famous works, like his Campbell’s Soup series and the cow wallpaper. But hundreds of works and artifacts showed me otherwise, that Warhol’s influence had reached deeper into American culture than I’d ever realized. Instances of Warhol's work pop up in places I'd never been aware of before, and spanned from wildly original to just plain unusual at times.
Photo courtesy the Warhol
After Warhol helped to bring pop art to the forefront of American culture, he attained a celebrity status like no artist before or since. His range of different media included painting, photography, writing, performance art and broadcasting, giving the museum’s curators an unbelievable array of works to draw upon (enough to fill seven floors and leave us wanting more). He was commissioned to make portraits of a slew of different celebrities, such as Liza Minelli, Aretha Franklin, Truman Capote and dozens more, and was responsible for several, very recognizable Rolling Stones album covers – all on prominent display here in the building. By his death, his estate was worth nearly a quarter billion dollars. Work hard, you starving artists, and perhaps someday you’ll have your own museum. Mine will hopefully be a lot like this one.
Next up was the Carnegie Science Center, Joey’s old stomping grounds from his childhood. He regaled us with stories about his great times here as a kid, akin to my youthful experiences back home at the Franklin Institute. Sure enough, the place was alive with kids and families zigzagging from one exhibit to the next, but with plenty of space to move around and explore. Going in, I knew that a brand new permanent exhibit had just been opened a month prior, called Roboworld. The museum spent a lot of money putting the exhibit together, and man, did it show. The entrance was manned by a real, moving, talking robot named Andy, whose appearance and motions reminded me of the antagonists in I, Robot… but much friendlier.
He seemed an impressive lead-in to the following collection of robotic models from various points in entertainment history, dating back to the early 1900’s and featuring some of the more notable specimens in my mind – this little guy included.
The space was brimming with interesting displays and mechanisms, many of which were interactive in one way or another. One machine shots basketballs into a regulation sized net with spot-on accuracy; across the room, another contraption schooled challenger after challenger on an air hockey table. We tinkered with different items and got our fill before we explored the museum.
Eventually, we found our way downstairs to the line for the museum’s Rangos Omnimax Theater, a breathtaking, stadium-seated arrangement with a screen that starts at the floor and circulates over the audience’s heads. A few different shows were playing throughout the day, and we timed our arrival to coincide with “Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk,” which explored one of our future destinations and featured music by Dave Matthews, whom we’ll be seeing twice this summer. Quite appropriate, and quite a magnificent filmgoing experience. It puts your regular ol’ Imax theater to shame.
After a walk through a retired submarine behind the museum, we saddled up and ventured over to Joey’s dad’s house for dinner. A round of hors d’oeuvres gave way to one of the better dinners of our trip thus far, highlighted by filet mignon and some of Joey’s stepmom Rita’s signature twice-baked potatoes. We toasted with a round of Manhattans, or as Joey’s dad calls them, accelerators.
The neighbors came by and played around in the backyard with Joey’s sister Isabella, and I had some time with little Clark here. Before we knew it, night had fallen and it was time to retire to the hotel.
Fun city, that Pittsburgh. More from the next day, coming as soon as we can post it.