Cross Country Day 2 – Trout Run, PA to Pittsburgh, PA

I didn’t need to leave too early because my drive was only going to be 4 hours. I went to get dressed and I realized I only packed one extra T-shirt. My excitement got the best of me. The slip gave me a good excuse to pick up a new shirt in each city.

I decided to go for breakfast at the Steam Valley Restaurant, the local diner right up the street from Steve’s place. I sat at the bar and saw the menu offered a dish of liverwurst and pancakes. I never had such an odd combo for breakfast, and ordered away. The waitress actually tried to talk me out of it by informing me that the ham slice and eggs were on special, but I was too headstrong. I was channeling Anthony Bourdain. When the meal came the liverwurst was not the pinkish Pâté my father used to cut into think slices and put on rye bread. This was a bowl of what looked like ground beef in a milky sauce. I sniffed it and there was certainly something wrong in Trout Run.

I wasn’t one to question the locals. Somebody eats this stuff so I took a huge spoonful and dolloped it on the griddlecake. I carved out a neat triangle and shoved it in my mouth. I could not believe how my sense of taste was violated. It was like some sort of rancid greasy rotting flesh. I would rather starve to death that ingest this for survival. I would say that it tasted like dog or horse, but I have never had those meats, and this substance would slight both of their already dubious reputations.

I scooped the vileness away from my plate and tried to eat just the pancakes with syrup, but the damage was done. My palate had been raped by the worst flavor I have ever tasted, and I’ve eaten a lot of strange food. I believe the waitress saw this coming as she had Rolaids standing by at the ready. When I said the food did not agree with me, she knowingly produced the roll and peeled two off. Their chalky flavor was a welcome replacement for what I had eaten. I paid for the food and took off for Pittsburgh.

The ride west on 80 was nothing short of spectacular. The weather was perfect. I was actually shivering in the morning air. The fog was just starting to lift but there were a few bridges that I had to slow down on because of visibility issues from the soup. As the day wore on, the kaleidoscope of lights filtered through the trees and provided a trippy stroboscopic backdrop for the ride. The Brick hummed along like a sewing machine.

At one point I had to pull over in the emergency lane to take a panorama shot. The air was instantly sucked out of my lungs when I gazed at the valley below. Unbastardized land – America’s shrinking resource. There were no strip malls or convenience stores in my field of vision, just farms with slow roving tractors tilling the crops. I am glad I stopped for a time even though traffic was whizzing dangerously by my bike.

I continued on and eventually made my way to Pittsburgh. My first stop was The Warhol, the Andy Warhol Museum. If you read my Storm King post, you know I am not a big fan of conceptual art. Andy is a great fine artist in his own right, but his fame was established by the pop art movement. He even refused to touch some of his later creations leaving the silk-screening up to assistants. Art in this form does not seem real to me. The artist must touch it at the very least. One thing Andy did notice was the fact that the richest and the poorest in our country consume many of the same products. For instance, the president will drink Coke just the same as poor person will. There is no delineation in income for certain goods. I admire his insight into this concept which makes me a partial fan. I owed the place a visit.

The Warhol is a beautiful establishment and the largest museum dedicated to a single artist. If for nothing else the hay-headed Andy was prolific. I walked though the rooms of the museum spending time with each piece, but when I left the gallery I felt unaffected. The vibe was cool but I didn’t feel a connection with the art as I did when I was in Storm King. The art didn’t knock me out in the same manner that The Dali did when I walked the halls of his museum in St. Petersburg, FL some months ago. Exiting through the gift shop I went to purchase my first replacement T-shirt but I looked at the price tag – $27. My mother’s voice boomed in my head, “For a T-shirt?” I put it back. So much for the rich and poor consuming the same goods.

I was staying with my friend Alyson whom I have know for many years. She studied film and did a band video for my group dogs on ice back in the early 90’s. She invited me to stay both to and from New York in my travels. When I arrived I was met with big hugs that felt nice after a bunch of miles going under my tires. Her mom cooked a great dinner of steak, shrimp, and cheese potatoes. I enjoyed the home cooked flavors after the liverwurst debacle. Alyson said she had a surprise and she loaded me into her Chrysler 300 with a roadie beer in a plastic cup. We talked about the old days. Who was doing what and who stayed in touch with whom. Catching up felt natural. I thought of the old cliché of when old friends get together they just pick up where they left off and this held true tonight. I had not seen her in about 10 years when I was living in Williamsburg. I remember on our last meeting we went to a bar and I was heckling a singer/songwriter and he shouted, “Well if you think you can do better than get up here!” I grabbed the guitar away from him and wrote an improvised song about his clothes and music. The tone of this sounds mean, but everybody was laughing and having a good time including the performer.

We wound through the mountain roads and tunnels from Russleton to Pittsburgh proper, and arrived at the Elks Lodge #339. Alyson pointed and said, “That’s it, that’s where we are going!” I laughed and replied, “No? Really?” She steered me into the classic establishment.

Entering the room seemed so much like post World War II. There were large picnic tables with mixed ages of people there to see the band. I looked at the stage and noticed that every single member of the 20 plus orchestra had some form of banjo. The group is the Pittsburgh Banjo Club and it was their rehearsal night at the large venue. We introduced ourselves to the other people sitting near us. Al and Pat. Pat was Al’s boss and they have been coming to see the Banjo Club for many years.

When the band kicked in it was like another era. I could almost see kids painting white fences and pushing hoops with sticks in their knickers as the tunes from the twenties filled my ears. All that was missing was a gazebo. I talked Alyson into getting light beer. I like light beer because you can drink it all night and not get overly inebriated. Some of the beers out today have ABV ratings in the double digits. I want to hang out and socialize, so the light beer keeps the party rolling. As the night carried on, I relaxed more and more. A great band, great hard working people enjoying music in a non-ironic way, and an old friend there to remind me that I am a great person with interesting qualities. It felt good. It felt like home. I grew up in a working class family. Neither of my parents went to college and both worked hard to give us the very best they could. I love them for this – true selflessness. I was among my kind.

The evening marched on and we eventually made it back to Alyson’s house after probably two pitchers too many of the light stuff. She has a pool table so we removed the ping-pong cover and shot pool well into the night, having still more local craft brews she had in surplus. Night morphed into 2a.m. I had my first long drive to Chicago in the morning. I didn’t worry about the miles though. I’ll take the hangover drive to have more time with an old friend. I can sleep anytime, nights like tonight are far too rare and I am going to take them when the come.

Alyson went upstairs to bed, and I stayed on a lower floor on a futon next to the pool table, her cat Sandy climbing and nuzzling me throughout the night. I miss owning a pet so it was nice to have that connection along with all of the other great events that occurred tonight.

It was close to a perfect day if it wasn’t for that liverwurst. Damn that liverwurst. I will never pass up a ham slice again.

I lost a lot of pictures and video from this day due to a computer glitch but here are some photos.

Click for larger versions:


The valleys of PA

Starting mileage Liver”worst” Andy’s house
The man himself Pittsburgh Banjo Club Sing it
Al and Pat A local TV cook Youngins
Alyson and me Happy man


Trout Run, PA  to Pittsburgh, PA – 205 Miles

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5 Responses to Cross Country Day 2 – Trout Run, PA to Pittsburgh, PA

  1. Observations of a Perpetual Motorcyclist says:

    Boo to weird food, hooray for banjos, and old friends.

  2. toadmama says:

    “Rancid, greasy, rotting flesh?” Oh my.
    Sounds like fun times with Alyson and the banjo club. Hopefully your culinary luck will improve.

  3. John Popp says:

    I damn that liverwurst! I do admire your willingness to ingest the unknown. I’m too chicken and stay with what I know. My approach also has it’s drawbacks but doesn’t hit like a hammer.
    Thanks for sharing the Banjo Club with us…Very cool!

  4. When I was a kid I loved liverwurst too, how weird is that? No one loves that stuff! But the mess you ate sounds horrific! Have fun and listen to lots of live music along the way! Buy cool t-shirts too. xo H&Bub

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