Today is the last day I will be away from home. Tomorrow I will be back in NYC. Time is such a relative concept. I feel like I left yesterday yet I stare at the odometer of the Brick and almost 7000 miles have clicked by on the gauge. Einstein once said, “Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. That’s relativity.” Old Al hit the mark on that one. When we are enjoying ourselves the seconds pass so quickly. Pain on the other hand, hangs on forever – the hand on the stove. This trip has helped me to let go of a lot of accumulated pain. I never let myself heal from relationship missteps I took. My heart was broken and I in turn broke others. This was not a conscious effort, but the effect is one that is commonplace. We tend to inflict the pain on others that was inflicted on us. Only through hard work and self-examination can one interrupt this pattern. I tend to dive in to quickly. I’m a committer. I don’t think this is a bad technique regarding relationships as long as the other person is a committer as well. Truth is another piece of the formula. I’ve been lied to and mislead. I say what I mean, but I realize few other people do that.
I woke up not overly early and skyped with my boss. He was happy I was out on the road having a good time. Summers at my job are pretty slow, so he was in no rush for me to get back. He has always been an inspiration to me when it comes to dividing life and work. He does both very well. I’m great at work, but trying to get better at the life part. I am learning to let things go and trying to relax. My boss puts no pressure on me but my work ethic is such that I always want to be efficient and a good value to the college. I extended the trip a few days so I could attend Pittsburgh Banjo Club with Alyson again, so that was a little bit of relaxation and living life in action.
Alyson brought me coffee and banana pancakes that were delicious. We did the crossword puzzle together and had no problem knocking it out quickly. After breakfast I lazed around a bit and eventually showered and shaved. I G-chatted with my best friend Tylor and he was excited for me to return. He has been the most supportive friend in my lifetime. He has talked me down from many a ledge, and respects me as a musician and a creative. He is a true renaissance man and is a pure and authentic soul. I often wonder where I would be without him.
Once again, Alyson hopped into her Chrysler 300 and headed into town. Today was a day of sightseeing and relaxing. There was not a lot of pressure at this point because even though I was leaving for NYC tomorrow, I had no time frame to get there. I had no hotel to check into, no race to attend, a no specific time to meet anybody. I felt loose and not pressured. We parked the car and started to walk. We passed by many beautiful buildings landmarks. Pittsburgh is really is beautiful, and although I love NYC, I could see living here, which is more than I could say for many of the places I visited.
Alyson is more than slightly familiar with my love of hot dogs, so she made it a point to take me to most famous hot dog place in the city dubbed The Original Hot Dog Shop also known as the ‘0’ or to locals as The Dirty ‘0’ for it’s seedy appearance. The hot dogs were good. They had a nice snap but not the best ever. Libby’s in Paterson still ranks king of the hot dog hill for me. The fries were very good and the portion was huge. Some people say they are the best ever, but again, I’ve had better. The benchmark being the now defunct Bertrand Island Amusement Park in Lake Hopatcong, N.J. where my mom used to take me for cheap rides and amusements as a boy. She would get a paper plate full of ripple cut fries and we would share them with plenty of salt and ketchup. I believe the flavor of the food is derived directly from the joy we are experiencing as we consume it. Does anything taste better than a hot pretzel at Yankee Stadium? Or a cold beer on the boardwalk at Coney Island? The answer is obvious. No.
After the fried gut-busting feast we ventured over to the Grand Concourse and looked around. The structure is amazing with high ornate ceilings and expansive hallways. We had some beers and a half-dozen oysters. I felt decadent, but this was my last day in another city. I was living in caloric real-time.
We later rode up the Duquesne Incline which is a mountainside elevator originally used to haul cargo up and down the mountain. It was later used to carry people as well. The view of Pittsburgh was breathtaking. The history of industry is so deep here and riding a cargo elevator put that fact into perspective. The elevator that once hauled cargo is now used for hauling tourists.
We had a few Miller Lites at a place called Red Beards and decided to head home. We had dinner, rested, and then ventured out once again to the Pittsburgh Banjo Club. I felt like I was at a homecoming after World War II as I traversed threshold of the Elks Lodge #339. I saw familiar faces, and our friends Al and Pat from the first time around made a point to sit with us again. The air was filled with tunes of an era gone by. I wondered how long Banjo Club could last before people forgot the music. I guess no matter how long-in-the-tooth a certain kind of music gets, there will always be somebody that it speaks too. The shrill of 20 plus of banjos at full volume sure made a beautiful racket. I remember my father playing banjo when I was a boy. He seemed so happy when he played his Williams 5 string. I feel the same way when I have my guitar under my arm. No problems of the world matter much when a pick crosses strings. The proof of this was the gang of pickers onstage and the folks smiling and listening to them in the audience.
As the night wore on, more Miller Lite was consumed and everybody started to get loose. Al bought a strip of raffle tickets and started rubbing them on his nipples for good luck. Alyson and I could not stop laughing. We danced and enjoyed the sights and sounds of this rare time capsule. A blind clarinet player took the stage and blew out a slew of amazing solos. The band burst into a military medley featuring the theme songs of every branch the armed forces. I welled up a little as men stood proudly as their respective theme played, some saluting as the notes fell into the warm night air. More beautiful moments came as guests sang along with songs long forgotten by the internet generation. I was having a beautiful time. Al kept up his pranks and mentioned that his friend Pat’s cleavage was like a change machine and that he lost a roll of quarters in it never to be recovered.
The night was such a beautiful end to my journey. Hanging out with an old friend, dancing and joking with the new friends we made three weeks ago. Listening to beautiful acoustic music played well by talented people. Cold cheap beer that never stopped flowing. Perfect. Tomorrow I had a short 6-hour drive home and then it would all be over. I’ve lived a lifetime in these three weeks.
Alyson and I headed home with the joyful glow of the night still hanging about us. There are few feelings that compare to seeing an old friend. No matter how many years have passed, time just picks up where it left off. Knowing that makes the time between visits more bearable.
I laid my head down to sleep thinking of my journey. I have done what few people get to do. I am lucky. I have the gift of so many great friends. I am gainfully employed by people who think I am incredible. I play music in a band. I build things that make noise. I fell asleep for once truly happy.
Click Images for larger versions: