Monday, August 23, 2010

Steel City Discovery

Like Cincinnati's cut-in-the-hill view on North 75 in Kentucky, Pittsburgh features a dramatic entrance. Cars crowd through suburban countryside and into the Fort Pitt Tunnel (seen above) into a mess of traffic and yellow light before emerging into a striking view of the Pittsburgh skyline.

No one wants to be that guy who bores his friends with 35mm slides of his vacation photos, so as I write this on my last day of summer break, I'll be that guy who posts them on the internet.

Being from Cincinnati, my opinion of Pittsburgh was pretty low. That 2005 Bengals playoff loss to the Steelers reinforced my Steel City prejudice. However, despite the rivalries between the sports teams, Pittsburgh is remarkably similar to Cincinnati. This became clear to me once I came across the website of Mike Muder. In 2006, I was still in high school and shooting with my first digital camera. I wasn't sure what photography meant to me or what I wanted to do with it. Seeing Mike's work gave me a better sense of what I wanted to photograph, what I wanted to show, what I wanted to say and taught me to appreciate where I came from. The way he presented his work and his city became one of the inspirations to starting QC/D. As I prepared to embark for a baseball trip to Pittsburgh, I had hoped to maybe get the chance to finally meet Mike, but he had disappeared from Facebook, I lost his email and he hadn't updated his website/blog in quite some time.

I had come with my uncles and cousins to see the Reds take on the Pirates in a three game series. I had been to Pittsburgh's PNC Park before when I was 12 or 13, but that was nine or eight years ago and I hardly remembered it. Our hotel was directly across the street from the ballpark that had been voted one of the best in Major League Baseball, with windows overlooking it.

While the Steelers and Penguins have brought championships to Pittsburgh in recent years, the Pirates are like the odd men out in the Steel City's pro sports teams. They currently lead an ongoing record in Major League Baseball for number of consecutive losing seasons. In 1996 new owners saved the Pirates from an uncertain future and potential relocation by keeping the team in the city. A plan to build a new stadium was formed as the Pirates home at Three Rivers Stadium (a facility nearly identical in appearance and destruction to our own Riverfront Stadium) was becoming aged. The new stadium, dubbed PNC Park, provided a more baseball centric atmosphere, more amenities, better sightlines, real grass playing surface and a breathtaking view of the city skyline.

- PNC Park as viewed from behind home plate, upper deck.

At the time of our visit the Reds were in first, the Pirates in last. Aside from a few die-hard fans and a massive collection of out of town Reds fans, the stadium was vastly empty on Monday night's game. A sea of Red stuck out like a sore thumb amongst the dark blue seats behind the visitor's dugout on the first base line.

- A sea of Reds fans at PNC Park.

Despite being behind enemy lines, our seats were in friendly territory. While the conflicts both on and off the field at Bengals/Steelers games are known to be quite violent, the drunken fights of that rivalry shouldn't go to represent the people of either city. The environment of the hometown Pirates fans towards the out-of-town Reds fans was incredibly friendly. While I've traded some nasty words with Cubs fans (who rightfully deserved it, being a Cubs fan isn't really something to be proud of), I didn't meet one mean Pirates fan. There may not be many of them at the games, but the people who attend and the people who work there make a good impression on out-of-town visitors.

- "This vendor kept screaming the word "Lemonade" in the harshest, dryest voice I've ever heard in a stadium vendor. Lemonade vendors at Great American Ballpark would be a nice addition.

Much like the hometown Great American Ballpark, PNC Park offers a great view anywhere you sit. While I was lucky enough to have great seats not too far from the Reds dugout thanks to my uncles generosity, the upper deck type seats I normally frequent aren't bad either. The Pirates announcer read the Reds lineup as the theme song to WKRP Cincinnati played. The teams took the field and the Reds began an onslaught.

- Reds Left Fielder Jonny Gomes waits to go on deck.

While I'm a huge fan of Great American Ballpark, I must admit that PNC Park is nicer. The "rotundas" provide more efficient access for crowds to enter and leave games (in case there are ever any crowds), there are more food options and what food they have tastes better, and all the concession stands were open, no closed garage doors here.

- Rotunda walkways.

I only had one complaint my whole time at this park and that was the one rude employee I met in the outfield. While walking around, snapping photos, I stopped by the overlook above the Reds bullpen. I snapped a few photos of Arthur Rhodes warming up before an employee in a yellow jacket approached me saying "Sir, since you took a photo I'm gonna have to ask you to leave." He didn't seem to mind anyone else snapping photos, maybe it was because my camera was a digital SLR and makes a noise when the shutter clicks? He didn't care to explain, every time I tried to say something I got told I had to leave. Eventually another employee came up and said I just had to move away from the outfield. I did, but had a third employee follow me all the way back to my seat. Overreact much? These guys made the clowns at Cincinnati's US Bank Arena look like professionals.

- The Reds' relief core in Pittsburgh.

- The Pittsburgh skyline as viewed from PNC Park.

As my younger cousins got ice cream for desert, my Uncle Bob treated me to a beer. I decided on trying a local one called "Iron City." From what I gathered, Iron City is to Pittsburgh as Hudepohl is to Cincinnati. It wasn't the best beer I've ever had, but it was local, it was refreshing and it wasn't Bud Light. While you can find Moerlin beers at some stands of Great American Ballpark, you can't find Hudepohl. My dad used to hawk Hudy Delight and Hudy 14k as a vendor at Riverfront back in the day, but you can't find the local mainstay with the vendors anymore, another feature PNC Park has over Great American.

- Note: "Premium Lager."The Hudy 14k of Pittsburgh?

Sir Arthur Rhodes entered the game to a standing ovation of Reds fans, while Chris Heisey delivered an inside the park home run to help the Reds win game one of the three game series.

- Arthur Rhodes warming up while Scott Rolen looks on.

- Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo.

- Visiting Reds fans stand up in anticipation of a road victory.

- Rhodes after closing the game and sealing victory for the Reds. This man made it to the all-star game this season and should've been allowed to pitch.

- The Reds celebrate.

- Chris Heisey and Jeff Piecoro from FSN Ohio.

- Yell Jeff Piecoro's name and he'll throw up a peace sign at you.

The next day I planned for more baseball, but also decided I needed to take QC/D on the road and do some Steel City discovery. My family and I took the ballpark tour of PNC Park.

- The Pirates batting cages, complete with astro-turf from the former Three Rivers Stadium.

- Pirates dugout, complete with one of the best logos in all of pro sports.

- Home plate at PNC Park.

- PNC Park press box.

The ballpark tour is worth every penny. Our guide Seth was great and didn't mind taking jabs about the Pirates abysmal record from the numerous Reds fans in attendance. While I've been to the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum, I've never taken the ballpark tour, something I really want to do now.

After the tour I broke away from my family who wanted to go swimming in the hotel pool. My goal was to see Pittsburgh's downtown, its subway/light rail system and one of it's inclines. No public transit maps were available in the hotel lobby so I grabbed one of the tourist maps and my camera as I crossed the Allegheny River via the Roberto Clemente Bridge into downtown. I asked a passing police officer where the closest rail station was and he pointed me in the right direction. For out-of-town folks the Pittsburgh subway, better known as the "T," isn't really clearly marked.

- The entrance to the underground Wood St. station.

The entrance to the Wood St. station was gritty and modern with escalators leading down towards the waiting trains.

- Wood St. station.

I was able to figure out via a map on the wall which direction I needed to travel and which station I needed. The interiors of the trains were dated, but clean and nice. My train crossed over the Monongahela River and I departed at the above ground Station Square stop. Here, three forms of public transit come together; a tunnel through Mt. Washington that serves trains and buses, as well as an inclined plane.

- A "T" train.

- Station Square.

Pittsburgh still operates two inclined planes, unlike Cincinnati which lost all of its inclines. While the Duquesne incline is more of a tourist attraction and privately owned, the Monongahela incline is operated by the port authority as a form of public transit. I was able to take my ticket from the "T" and transfer onto the incline for free as I rode up Mt. Washington.

- The Monongahela Inclined Railway.

At the top I felt like I was walking into a "bizzaro world" of Cincinnati, a Queen City from another dimension, something out of the twighlight zone. The view of the city and the surrounding buildings and churches atop Mt. Washington are incredibly similar to the ones atop Mt. Adams back home.

- Mt. Washington overlook.

- The view from Mt. Washington.

- "T" cars crossing the mighty Monongahela.

- The Monongahela River.

"Excuse me sir, can I have a moment of your time?" said a voice to me on the overlook. I looked up from the camera bag I was crouching over to find a man asking me to take his photograph with the Pittsburgh skyline in the background. He introduced himself as Clarence and said he was moving to Albuquerque soon after living in the Steel City all his life. He had come up to the overlook to take a few final photographs. As he handed me his camera, I asked him if he didn't mind me taking a photo of him with mine.

- Clarence.

For about a half hour I talked with Clarence on the overlook as he pointed out all kind of things on the skyline. From the position of the downtown, to the stadiums on their riverfront, to their university atop the hill, Pittsburgh seemed more and more like a sister city to Cincinnati than ever before. Clarence told me about how he regularly used the "T" to commute to work, avoiding the highway automobile traffic, an option not available in my city. The overlook had been a place for him to come and clear his thoughts as a kid, just as the Mt. Adams Immaculata overlook has been for me. As I said goodbye to Clarence, he told me about how he had once inscribed his name on the Roebling Bridge while hitch-hiking through Cincinnati in the late 80's. I told him I'd go look for it and write to him once/if I find it. I still plan to do it soon, its a promise I want to keep.

I hopped back onto the incline as rain loomed overhead and a family on vacation bickered to each other in the seats in front of me. They all turned around and gave me an odd look after I snapped a photograph of them gazing out the incline window. I smiled and nodded. Rain began to pour as I transferred once again at Station Square, bound for downtown.

- Inside the Monongahela Incline.

- A train inbound for downtown Pittsburgh at Station Square.

Riding the "T" back into downtown made me envious of Pittsburgh. In a city with similar population, demographics and topography to Cincinnati, light rail works great. A similar system could work wonders in Cincinnati and don't you think a return of the Mt. Adams incline would be great?

Despite the rain, downtown was hopping as people made a mad rush around the city. Pedestrians crowded every sidewalk, while ticket scalpers stood on lamp posts asking "who needs tickets?"

Walking back across the Clemente bridge to the hotel and stadium I realized one thing that Great American has over PNC Park, The Banks Project. Aside from our hotel and the river, PNC Park is surrounded by a collection of ugly surface parking lots. Once completed, The Banks is going to make the area surrounding Great American Ballpark feel like its own neighborhood.

The Reds went on to lose the second game of the series, but ended their stay in Pittsburgh in dramatic fashion, knocking the wind out of the Bucs in front of hundreds of kids on their day camp field trips. All in all, as we pulled away back towards the Queen City, I left Pittsburgh with a greater respect for the city and its people. Despite what your inner-Bengal fan may be telling you, Pittsburgh is a great city that is incredibly similar to our own. Its gritty appearance and tall buildings along the river make for an urban refuge outside of my own.

One of these days I'm going to go look for Clarence's signature and to Mike, in case you ever happen to read this: I hope these photos of your city do it justice - from one river city to another.

Update | Oct. 18, 2017


  1. Love the photos! Sure wish Cincinnati had a subway boondoggle of our very own. Oh wait...

  2. COAST, glad you like the photos.

    In regards to the Cincinnati Subway, its only been a waste because shortsighted morons such as yourselves have kept it that way. Luckily, as we saw with Issue 9 and your multiple other defeats, people have stopped caring for your opinions and views. While you guys may not have to deal with traffic on a regular basis, considering most of your members don't have real jobs, people here are getting sick at our lack of transit options.

    Pittsburgh has a great system, easy to use, quick and all the outbound trains were packed during rush hour while the highways sat stagnant. You guys probably wouldn't understand how other cities work though, hell you can't even tell the difference between a streetcar or trolley. Integrity isn't really your group's stron suit though.

  3. Nice to see that you met the famous Pittsburgh cotton candy guy! That guy is classic and apparently works for both the Pens and the Bucks. Seeing as you're a hockey fan, I'd highly recommend a pilgrimage up to see the Pens some time. Definitely worth the trip.

  4. Patrick, that dude was awesome. I think my family bought $20 worth of Lemonade from him simply because his yell was so cool. I'd love to go see a Pens game, wish I couldn've seen the igloo before the team moved out or do they have one more season there?

  5. I completely agree with you that Pittsburgh feels like Cincinnati in an alternate universe. You notice similarities all over the city. I need to get back there some time.

  6. Great Pics! Went to Pittsburgh once, loved the historical atmosphere. Mt Washington seemed to be way higher than Mt. Adams to me. One of my faves was the many churches downtown that have been restored & used for other purposes. Had brunch at one that was turned into a brewery & resturant, great beer! Would be great if along with street cars we could also get back to some inclines. Beth

  7. Unfortunately, the igloo closed this year. I actually got to go to the final game by happenstance. It was a great venue.... very dirty, very cramped... it was a lot like the Gardens in a way. I'm sure the CEC will be great, but I like watching sports in gross places. I really miss Riverfront Stadium...

  8. @Travis, I was really impressed and I'll be much as I love Cincinnati, Pittsburgh will be one of the places I will eventually look for work in, even if temporary. If only the Pirates were decent...

    @Beth, thanks for checking out the pictures. I think you're right that Mt. Washington is higher than Mt. Adams. A return of an incline to Cincinnati would be amazing. Maybe from the new casino up to the hilltop? :)

    @Patrick, sad to hear that it was the igloo's last season, I hear there are a few attempts to keep it around, it would be nice to hang on to it. I agree with you about the gritty stadiums of that era. As much as I love GABP, so many great memories from Riverfront. I need to find the video my dad shot from Mt. Adams of when they imploded it.

  9. Very good pics, as usual! I've made my first and only Pittsburgh visit (so far) in Feb. 2006, mainly to see a Pens game at the now closed "Igloo," which the hotel I stayed in overlooked. It also happened to be the same weekend the Steelers were in Detroit for Super Bowl XL. The Pens lost that game to the Isles in a shootout, but the fans were still in high spirits for that other black and gold team of theirs.

    Anyhow, one thing I was amazed with in Pittsburgh was the presence of a large, historic department store, Kaufmann's (now part of Macy's) - 11 stories and more, still in business. Cincinnati's last big store (Shillito's/Lazarus on 7th) closed in the mid 90s, and the original Lazarus of Columbus closed up in '04.

    I'd love to make it back to Pittsburgh sometime, maybe Kennywood, or PNC Park, or even the new Penguins arena. The new place doesn't come off as an architectural landmark like the old Arena has been, but it'll be a boon to the city and one of hockey's great teams!

    I'll probably get some heat saying this, Pittsburgh makes me think of Cincinnati, but run by thinking people.

  10. Tom, good to hear from you buddy.

    Your last statement is spot on. In many ways, Pittsburgh is like a "Cincinnati done right." Pittsburgh didn't have dissatisfaction of crack pots like Tom Luken and the first commenters to try and ruin it.

  11. Pittsburgh also went through many hardships with the semi-collapse of the steel industry over the past 40 years and has managed reinvent itself into a modern city, rather than sit stagnant while the world moved on without it. It is critical for the future success of Cincinnati to follow suit, rather than remain a city that's "10 years behind." Urban decay isn't going to wait on bureaucracy...

  12. Ronnie, your pictures and posts are never boring. And it pains me to say it but I kind of miss Pittsburgh.
    When we lived on the south side of Youngstown we were an hour out of downtown Pittsburgh and went often.
    There is nothing like shooting out of the Fort Pitt Tunnel and having downtown Pittsburgh and the the three rivers explode into view.

  13. I've only been through Pittsburgh one time, and it was litteraly a drive-through trip. But, one of my first thoughts upon moving to Cincinnati was that it was an awful lot like Pittsburgh. I'm glad I didn't imagine that!

  14. Ronny, you still owe a photo trip lol. But yet again I hate you for your amazing pictures. I haven't been back in PA for an extended time for 15 or so years. I feel the need to take another road trip now.

    And I completely agree with 1. the incline. that would just be... amazing! and 2. Cincy is slowing becoming more and more behind on the times. I mean the Brent Spence bridge fiasco is a prime example... Cincy seems to wait until its too late to do something about a problem... :-/

  15. I am tyler blume i just wanted to say your site really inspired me to get into photography i recently moved from indianapolis to a rural community in south alabama called Slocomb there is a haunted abandone house next to mine i got the courage to go in at night with a freind and take really great photos witha disposable camera i bought at the dollar store thank you and continue the good work

  16. Tyler, thanks for the kind words. Keep exploring and be safe. =

  17. Replies
    1. Good to hear man, hope you're doing well!