We'll Always Have Pittsburgh in February
February 03, 2018
Those of you who know me (and that’s most of the people who read this column) will already know I have an aversion to cold. I didn’t take it well during my five years in Boston, or my year in Hartford, or even during the occasional ice storm in Portland. So, if someone told you I was going to see Groundhog Day in Punxsatawney, PA, you would no doubt have scoffed, particularly if you were looking at the weather prediction for Feb. 2, 2018.
I feel certain none of you were looking at that prediction, but I can tell you the temperature was around 12, with a sub-zero wind chill. The story of how I got there, in the context of my love for the movie and my indoctrination by decades of media coverage, follows. But first, the literal story of how I got there.
My daughter Marlow and I flew from SF to Chicago on American, then changed planes for Pittsburgh. Ten months of the year, United flies to Pittsburgh non-stop from San Francisco, but not in January and February. The plane change was tight but uneventful.
Upon arrival at SFO, I realized I had left our parking pass and VIP enclosure passes in my filing cabinet. My wife was kind enough to FedEx them to our hotel in Pittsburgh, so no harm, no foul. If she hadn’t done so, we’d have been taking a shuttle bus to stand with the hoi polloi, and the stage would have been a distant implication instead of a close-up.
We arrived Wednesday night, and had Thursday to go around Pittsburgh. We were still on Pacific Time, so we didn’t have breakfast until 10 (7 pacific) nor get going until 11.
Paul, paying strict attention to the streetcar's progress
I insisted on riding the T, Pittsburgh’s subway, through the 140-year old tunnel to the Heinz Stadium station. It’s a beautiful system, with lovely up-to-date cars, and clean, well-lit subway stations. We used the same day-pass to ride the Monongahela Incline, which gave us a beautiful view of the city.
Marlow gets wacky in front of one of the big Deutsch Town murals
We had lunch in the Germantown neighborhood (or Deutsch Town, if you will), at a restaurant which served pierogi. Marlow had never had them, and I hadn’t had them in years. Still good.
We knew we were going to have to be in bed by 9 p.m. (6pm pacific!) and up at 2:30 a.m. Working backwards from dinner and a viewing of Groundhog Day, we knew we had to be back at our hotel, an hour away from downtown (in rush hour), by 4:30 p.m.
Paul pays homage to the opening scene of Groundhog Day at the Warhol Museum
Thus, we decided to limit our sightseeing to one more attraction; the Andy Warhol museum. It is quite something; allow more than 90 minutes to see it. I knew I hated his movies; the exhibits reminded me why. I knew I loved his art; ditto. He was older than I realized (8 years older than my dad). He presented as younger. He had a quite successful but relatively ordinary career as a commercial illustrator until he reverted to his college roots and became an artist. He lived with his mother and never married; infer what you will, but I’ll infer he was given a tough time while growing up in a Catholic neighborhood of Pittsburgh. His Brillo Boxes (I’d only seen pictures; they are more impressive in person), his silk-screened works and his appropriation of pop culture images made him an artistic pioneer. I still think he was a bit over the top.
Marlow and I watched Groundhog Day. I have seen it at least 25 times; Marlow maybe a half-dozen. There are still parts where I cry, especially after my instruction in the Buddhist themes of the film. Dinner, 9 p.m. bedtime, 2:30 a.m. wakeup,
Saturday was taken up with a visit to Amish country, an item Marlow wanted to cross off her bucket list. Lancaster County is the Pennsylvania center of Amish culture, but it is four hours by car from Pittsburgh. As it happens, T, a woman Marlow’s age who was in the next village over from her when she was in the Peace Corps in Mali (and whose initial has previously appeared in this column, back in 2011), lives near Middlefield in Geauga County, Ohio, the fourth largest Amish area in the United States—and a mere 90 minutes by car from Pittsburgh. Thus, we combined a reunion with T and a tour of Middlefield and environs.
It began with lunch at Mary Yoder's, a fine Amish restaurant. The food was simple, well-prepared and beyond ample. Amazingly, I couldn't finish mine. One side dish I ordered was noodles on mashed potatoes. T said it was a common dish, and that the Amish like their carbs.
We didn’t see any good Amish quilts (in winter, they are making them more than selling them), but we did see a number of Amish people, on the road, in the stores, and at the computer terminals in the library. I will never understand how the Amish make the rules that state in which parts of modernity they can partake. Middlefield’s no Lancaster, and many Amish related tourist attractions and enterprises are closed for the winter, but as Marlow said, as we made our second purchase from an Amish sales clerk, “I’ve met my quota of Amish.”
It was a balmy 31 degrees, with a wind-chill of 21. As T put it, “you don’t spend a lot of time thinking about wind chill in San Francisco, do you.” No, we don’t.
I must comment on a fortuitous happenstance. As American Airlines blanketed the Internet on Saturday with warnings to book away from Chicago because of harsh weather, I admired the sheer dumb luck that I had booked our return through Charlotte, N.C., presently unencumbered by weather warnings.