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