Monday, May 22, 2017

To the City of Bridges and Back - Chapter 1: To this Place God Has Brought Me

The first day on a road trip to Pittsburgh and back. Seeking out a ship in Zanesville, some decent food, and a singing roadside statue.

- Mini golf castle/mountain outside of Columbus, OH.

Zanesville hadn’t been part of the plan, but here I was. I wasn’t able to get out of Cincinnati and through Columbus by the time I wanted, and I had gotten distracted a few times along the way when I stopped to make some photographs.

- Buckeye Lake, Ohio landscape.

The original plan had been to take back roads only from Zanesville to Wheeling, West Virginia, crossing the river there, and then to move onwards to Pennsylvania, with Pittsburgh being the final destination. By the time I made it to Zanesville, though, the light was not on my side. I hadn’t really considered this eastern Ohio town, but I was glad I stopped.

- Zanesville, Ohio

The rain held off as I went driving around the quiet downtown on a Thursday evening. The seat of Muskingum County, the city was once the second state capital. It took the title from Chillicothe before ceding it to Columbus.

I went looking for the Lorena Sternwheeler, which is moored at Zane’s Landing Park. A local tourist attraction, the ship provides public rides as well as private excursions. It was closed when I stopped by. The park featured a few people running through and a couple more sitting on the benches lining the Muskingum River. A homeless woman eyed me suspiciously as she arranged a makeshift camp in the concrete shelter overlooking the Lorena.

- The Lorena Sternwheeler.

The ship’s red and white colors stood in stark contrast to the gray skies of a cold afternoon; it was no longer winter but still not yet spring. The Lorena is named in honor of another ship by the same name. The original vessel ferried passengers and freight between Zanesville and Pittsburgh, but it was made obsolete by vehicles such as the one ferrying me between those two cities. The original ship is long gone, but in 1972, the local chamber of commerce looked to create a direct acknowledgment of the area’s history. To that end, they needed a boat. They found one in Arkansas: the “Bryce M," a towboat in Pine Bluff built in 1949.

After being renovated to look like a historic sternwheeler, the former Bryce M. began making its trip up inland waterways to Zanesville, hopefully in time for their local celebrations of the nation’s bicentennial. Despite some delays in traveling (one of them being the removal of the wheelhouse so the boat could pass under a bridge while the river was high, only to have it fastened back to the boat on the other side of the bridge), the boat made it to Zanesville only a day late, and since then, it has been a local icon.

The smell of exhaust from large pickup trucks was prevalent as I made my way through the city’s streets, but it didn’t detract from the sculptures and architecture of a quaint and quiet downtown.

The only people I passed were a family who inquired about my camera, asked me for change, then told me to “go to hell” when I claimed I didn’t have any, all three of their kids plodding along behind them, sharing a bottle of Pepsi.

- Water tower, Zanesville.

I swung by the sculpture studio of Alan Cottrill. Although it was closed for the day, there was still plenty to see outside.

- Sculpture atop the studio of Alan Cottrill.

Hailing from Appalachia, Cottrill first started sculpting in 1990. A successful entrepreneur, he sold off all of his business interests to pursue art. Now based out of his Zanesville studio, he has created hundreds of sculptures and casted them into bronze at his own facility, along with several other artists’ work. You can find his pieces all over Zanesville, especially in front of the studio, where they line the sidewalk with several interesting scenes and historical caricatures.

With rain on the horizon and the sun setting, I opted not to take the back roads to Wheeling, somewhat negating the main point of leaving early on this trip. I hadn’t really adhered to my own self-prescribed rules. I felt Zanesville still held some potential, though. There had to be a little hole-in-the-wall place to grab a bite to eat, some relatively unknown diner that offered up something better than the monotony of interstate chains—the kind of place where you can eat some artery-clogging burger but not feel guilty, because it was worth the experience.

- Zanesville streetscape.

Then I found Koky’s Pizza. The lights outside were reminiscent of gas station convenience stores that are known for peddling lottery tickets. With most businesses closed for the day, the fluorescent lights illuminating the inside of Koky’s, as well as the lottery lights outside, stood out as a beacon. I walked into a small shop with wood panel lined walls; the woman at the counter was friendly, and she recommended the Stromboli. Unfortunately, that was going to take 50 minutes. I needed to make it Pittsburgh eventually, so I opted for her second recommendation: a steak sandwich with jalapeƱos. 

- Steak sandwich with jalapeƱos, Koky's Pizza.  

If the sandwich had been bad, I probably still would’ve been polite and said “Yeah, that was great!” when the owner asked me if I enjoyed it. But in this case, that statement was very true; that sandwich was great, and on a day of traveling, during which I couldn't quite put a finger on how I was feeling, stumbling into Koky’s was a nice respite—a good meal and a few faces to talk to. 

I got back in my car and made great time on I-70. I didn't get around to any back roads that day, disappointed in myself that I hadn’t stuck to my original plan: leave early enough so that I’d never have to touch an interstate on the way to Pittsburgh. But the trip was going decently so far. At a rest stop just across the Pennsylvania border, I cruised the internet looking for any interesting roadside attractions that would be coming up. I found one: a singing statue of Perry Como. 

I had no idea who Perry Como was. I bought his top-rated song from the iTunes Store and resumed my drive as “Magic Moments” played. It's the kind of song you’ve heard a thousand times, but you never really knew who was singing it. Well after the nostalgia-laden, feel-good song finished, I finally made my way to Cannonsburg, Pennsylvania, birthplace of an easy listening legend. 

In the middle of downtown, right in front of the courthouse, stood an illuminated statue of Como. This isn’t just any ordinary statue, though; it apparently sings one of his songs every hour, on the hour. In lieu of church bells, Cannonsburg offers recorded serenades bellowed from a bust. I set up a tripod and snapped a few photos, ready to take a video of this quirky piece of the American roadside. Some folks at a bar stood outside nearby, smoking cigarettes and laughing when I told them what I was doing. They seemed entertained by the fact that I came to see the statue despite not knowing anything about the man it memorialized. 

- Perry Como statue, Cannonsburg, Pennsylvania. The inscription at the bottom reads: "To this place God has brought me."

You might ask if this was worth stopping to see. To be quite honest, I asked myself that repeatedly while trying to navigate Cannonsburg’s hills and interesting streets. I questioned it again when one of the bargoers laughed at my diverting from my destination to see it. At the bottom of the statue, these words are inscribed: “To this place God has brought me"—apparently a favorite saying of Perry’s. I don’t know who God is, if he is, or if he brought me here to stand at the statue, but I do know that at 10:00 p.m. on March 30, 2017, Perry Como’s singing statue did not sing. 

I waited a few minutes to see if maybe it was just off a bit. Then I got in the car, lowered the windows, and listened. I drove around the block and back again just to make sure. 

Nope. No singing statue. 

Nevertheless, Perry Como’s likeness lives on in front of the Cannonsburg court house and on iTunes. 

I listened to “Magic Moments” a few more times, not necessarily because I enjoyed it, but because it was fitting to the trip. It’s playing on my car stereo in this video I made while finally entering Pittsburgh. The City of Bridges has one of the most dramatic entrances. As soon as you’re through the Ft. Pitt Tunnel, boom: welcome to Pittsburgh. 

Was it the kind of “magic moment” that Perry used to sing about it? Not really, but it felt good to finally make it back for the first time in seven years and get started on another exploration in the Midwest. 

I found a 24-hour Walmart near the airport and got ready to sleep in the car. It was nearing 1 a.m., and I just needed somewhere to lay my head (atop a pillow in the back seat) for the night—not really needing accommodations for a full stay since I’d be getting up early. Then I saw that the local Red Roof Inn was only $49 for the night. 

Advice for you: a car is nicer than the Red Roof Inn by the Pittsburgh airport. 

I was finally in Pittsburgh and done traveling for the day. To this place, had God brought me? 

No. It was soccer and curiosity about a city I wanted to see.

Chapter 2: here


  1. 1) I hope you're planning on returning to Zanesville and getting inside Alan Cottrill's studio (which is really a museum) and that when you do you'll include a stop at Tom's Ice Cream Bowl.
    2) I didn't know about the (former?) singing statue but I sure knew who Perry Como was. In fact, your post was the second Como reference I've seen in as many days. Yesterday I was digging into the "Fifty nifty United States..." ditty and learned it was originally written for Perry Como’s Kraft Music Hall in 1961. Hot diggity, dog ziggity!

    1. 1) Next time I'm out that way I definitely plan to check out the inside of the studio, glad to hear it's worth seeing! I've heard great things about Tom's, unfortunately after I was gone.

      2) Shout 'em! Count 'em! Tell all about 'em!

  2. Ronny I just learned about your blogposts about your Pittsburgh trip from checking my Instagram app that I hadn't opened in months, very cool series you did. You will have to hit me up before your next trip up here. I am hoping I can give you a river tour of Pittsburgh and we can drink some beers together and you can discover our riverscape. The photos you could take by boat of everything in and around downtown would be enough for 10 chapters. Shoot me an email sometime. Our boat stays in the water until the marina closes October 31st. It is docked just a half mile down the bank from the casino and Heinz Field. Hope to see you sometime.