Discovering America, Part Four: Pittsburgh, PA

Two weeks into our trip, we find ourselves in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I find myself wanting to write things down journalistically, recording the who where why when how of every single day on the road, the names of funny roads and the ingredients to family recipes, and yet, at the end of the day it's hard to narrow down just what made each day so extraordinary.

We left off in Durham, North Carolina, home to Duke University, deserted tobacco factories now renovated as hip bars and music venues, and the wonderful and fun Vilgalys family. Rim went to school with us in Santa Barbara, and was happy to show us around his hometown, where we discovered the wonders of cigar bars and "the taqueria with the cow on top of it." We were put up in the amazing Vilgalys home with his parents Rytas and Liz, their dogs Mona and Lulu, and a small harem of wonderful cats. Walking outside their house was akin to wandering straight into the forest. Bullfrogs, chickens, hawks; it was amazing.

My favorite part of our stay in Durham was the hike down the Eno River to a stone quarry which had since been converted into a small lake. There were salamanders, frogs of all sizes, birds, and an amazing diversity of mushrooms. Ryan's highlight was probably our late night trip to Bo Jangles, one of Durham's many fried food joints, and the subsequent revelry with Rim, his brother Gabe, and some of their friends.

After Durham we made our way northward through Virginia and suffered through Washington D.C. traffic at rush hour in time to arrive at Allie and LaToya's apartment in Baltimore. Allie was the first friend I made in college (at summer orientation), an amazing writer, jazz musician and educator. LaToya also lived in Santa Barbara for a year and is one hell of a fine artist--we're talking paintings, sculpture, and she has just started work on her first commissioned mural. So basically their apartment just south of Patterson Park is a homage to good art, books, and happy pets. While in Baltimore, we checked out the Baltimore Museum of Art and took a small detour to the Apple Store because (um) Ryan's computer has decided it needs its own vacation.

From Baltimore we drove through the first of several turnpikes (ask us later how much we love paying for them, state by state--ick) en route to visit Jes Consiglio in South Jersey. Jes and I lived together for five months in Granada, and as anyone who has lived abroad can tell you, the people you meet traveling are the kind of people to whom you are intimately connected thereafter. Jes now teaches Spanish in New Jersey, and so she was happy to give us a tour of Philadelphia, where we saw the Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, and LOVE park, before heading to a Phillies baseball game. Our stay in Philly was a very culinary experience, too: first there were the AMAZING soft pretzels and water ice from the South Jersey Pretzel and Water Ice Company, (where Jes' fabulous mother works), then there were the famous Philly Cheese Steak Sandwiches from Tony Luke's, and finally there were the crab fries from Chickie's that we bought at the ball game right when the Phillies started really kicking the Toronto Blue Jays' collective ass. And then, of course, more soft pretzels.

Oh, soft pretzels. Jes gave us 12 more when we left on Saturday morning, but they were gone by late that evening, when we had arrived at Cleveland Motley IV's house in beautiful Pittsburgh, PA. Cleve is also a former Gaucho and one of Ryan's good friends (when they both lived in San Francisco, they spent the better half of a year building a playground that generated electricity). We were treated to a pretty special barbeque dinner out on their porch, which is draped in hanging green vines and frequented by fireflies. Pittsburgh is divided by a few rivers and is home to a few major universities, but more than anything I've been amazed at how beautiful and leafy it is. This feels like the kind of place that Raymond Carver wrote about. A place where, in the stillness of late afternoon, characters come and go, and things happen. Thanks, Cleve. :)

We've reached our halfway mark of the trip in remarkable time and with no major hiccups. More than anything, we've soaked up a tiny bit of local culture in each place we've driven through, whether it be Lithuanian liqueur (thanks Rim), to free art in Baltimore, to greens sandwiches in Philly, to Vietnamese sandwiches at the Pittsburgh Strip. From here we will eventually make it to New York before turning our wheels homeward.

Thank you to all our friends and hosts who have been so kind as to let us drive in and out of your daily lives. It has been one hell of a trip.