Saturday, July 17, 2010

Eat, Play, Love


In 2007, Marissa was keeping a vegan diet.  I imagine individuals who have dealt with eating disorders cringing a little when reading that.  Specialized diets like that tend to allow the individual to ritualize his or her food.  But, remember, that's not what caused her to be in Alldredge.  After everything she had been through, trying to cleanse her body was not a huge surprise, but it could be a challenge.  And winging it with a vegan daughter in a city like Pittsburgh was not that easy.  One thing that is unique about that city from most others I have experienced is, even though it is a relatively major metropolitan area, it rolls up the sidewalks at night.  A true commuter city, almost everybody travels in during the day and disperses back out at night.  As a result, most of the downtown restaurants close.  And even those that don't are NOT vegan friendly.  That's different than what we're used to in the "Weird" city of Austin, where vegetarian and vegan diets are recognized and not that unusual.  Not so in Pittsburgh, at least the areas we covered.  Our searches to reach out into the neighborhoods around the downtown are when I got us into areas I was pretty sure we shouldn't have been in without an Uzi to protect us, and we still didn't find the kinds of eating establishments I was hoping for.  I'm sure they're out there, but I was too used to the hippie-dippy lifestyle of Austin and didn't anticipate the issue we would have elsewhere.  That's one thing my future travel book would include:  if you have to follow a specialty diet, do some homework first.  We didn't.  As a result, searching out food took on a sometimes uncomfortable emphasis on the time there.  Finding some place that was open was the first order of business, then worrying over its menu came next, and finally, cost came into play. Marissa ate a lot of salads.  At least in the city we could find salads without bacon in them.  Trust me, on the road in some of the smaller towns we stopped at, that was even a challenge.  (For my part, I don't eat pork or beef, and I can no longer even digest it, but I can almost always find something I can eat on any menu, but even I struggled a few times in the tiny little towns we stopped in - bacon as a garnish is just not my idea of appetizing.)

On the first night there, we found the Primanti Brothers near the PPG Tower and Marissa ordered the usual salad, only to discover it is served over a bed of french fries!  I thought that was splendid fun, but I don't think she was as amused.  We definitely did better with Leslie as our guide when we returned this past December, but by then Marissa had learned that cheese is just too good to give up, and the strict confines of a vegan diet were behind us.  The good news is Primanti Brothers serves up a mean order of cheese fries!


I got to experience those cheese fries at an actual Pirates game.  I figured why not.  I saw they were playing a series against the then defending World Champion St. Louis Cardinals.  They were so famous that I actually knew the name of one of their players, Albert Pujols.  Not that I would recognize him if he assaulted me on the street, but I figured it would be interesting to go.  People watching at a baseball game is great fun if nothing else.  Besides we were within walking distance of the ballpark, so it was no big whoop.  Being so close to the venue meant there were a lot of St. Louis fans in the hotel with us, which was sort of fun to see.  They were awfully upbeat as a rule, basking in the glow of being the current champions.  I knew that glow, the sparkle in the eye, the bounce in the walk, and the air of optimism that a repeat could be yours, despite the odds always being against it.  I had been that way not that long before with my football team, so I was amused by them.  The hotel was right next to the conference center as well, so it sure seemed crowded.  The night before, as we got back from Primanti Brothers, it took forever to get up to our room because a hoard of men in suits were making their way up to rooms in the hotel.  There were six elevators, and these men were still taking a long time to travel upstairs in shifts, filling up all the available elevators, waiting for the cars to return back down, filling them up again, and so on.  I wondered why the two policemen were there, standing around, hands folded in front of them, patiently and seriously watching this procession of men all dressed in grey or dark colored suits shuffle into the elevators.  Whatever company they were with must be pretty important to have armed escorts.  Finally, the crowd of serious young men trickled down to a handful, and we managed to squeeze into an elevator with a few of them, two of them getting off on our floor with us.  Geesh, I thought to myself, that was a pain!  I saw a couple of our young floor mates the next day, dressed more casually, but still serious faced and intent.  Clearly they were here for work, not to play.  Well, that was sort of true.  It took me a while to figure out that their work was to play.  They were the St. Louis Cardinals!  They were staying in our hotel!  Baseball celebrity is totally wasted on me, I completely confess it.  I can't remember how I figured it out, I think because the fans would line up in a gauntlet like we always do on Steeler road trips and wait for the team to come in or out, hoping for a close look at their heroes.  Looking back on it, the fact that it took me so long is pretty embarrassing.  For all I knew, I rode up the elevator with Albert Pujols at some point.  I to this day wouldn't know him if he assaulted me in the street.  I watched him play a real, live game though.  I even have a picture of him at bat.  Here it is:

Just not my sport, I'm afraid.  But, even in the heat of the summer (and it was horrendously hot the entire time we were there with oppressive humidty to boot), football rules the day in the City of Steel.  One could say you can't get away from it, but of course, we'd come a long way to get right into it.  Coach Tomlin was conducting his first training camp, so I was desperate to check him out.  I have been devastated when Coach Cowher left, although  I respected his reasons more than most probably did.  When people would ask me about it, my response always was the same, "There are only two men I want to coach my team:  Coach Cowher or Coach Dungy."  Well, the Rooneys brought in a protege of Tony Dungy, and I was cautiously optimistic, but I wanted to see for myself.  So we took a day trip to Latrobe, long time home of Steeler training camp.  I had been there twice before, but not since the team had added the coveted One for the Thumb.  Trust me, even after missing the playoffs the season before, this is not your father's training camp.  It's a spectacle.  A crowded, hot circus.  But a lot of fun.  The players must hate it.  But, for some of us, this is as close as we can get to seeing the team live.  It's free.  Western Pennsylvania, even three years ago, is not a robust economy.  There are a lot of working class families who love the team, but can't even imagine paying the cost of one ticket to a game, let alone taking the whole family.  I hope they never change allowing us the kind of access that they do.  And, I hope the players understand and are patient with the hoopla, even though their agenda is to gel and train as a team, not hobnob with the masses.  Lawrence Timmons, a rookie that year, did get it.  Somebody coached him well.  He had been injured before we got there, so he wasn't participating in drills, but he was out there, patiently and humbly signing autograph after autograph until he had to go in with the team.  I became impressed with him that day.

But, he wasn't the show for me.  His young, new coach, the one who looks like Omar Epps, was.  I kept the binoculars trained on him, as sweat rolled down my face, the back of my knees, my armpits, any place I had a pore, and I wondered why I couldn't follow a team with lighter colored uniforms because, of course, most of us were dressed in black and gold.  I liked what I saw.  I liked how he carried himself.  I like the sense of command he had on the field.  The mixture of intensity and calm.  He smoldered, not burned.  I liked it.  I would really take his measure in a few days when I saw him in Canton, but we headed back into town that late afternoon, sticky with sweat, feeling pretty good about our future.

Then there the was The Stadium.  Heinz Field.  They allow tours, smart business people that "They" are.  For a modest price, you get to see places you've only dreamed of going.  It's like setting me loose in a chocolate factory.  Awesome doesn't quite describe it.  Luxury boxes, press box, press meeting room, into the stands, onto the field, around the concourse, including their main hall where they house memorabilia from famous players and coaches.  And, the grandest vision of all, the locker room.  The place where men like Hines Ward and Troy Polamalu strip out of their dirty jockstraps eight times a year, plus pre-season.  It's like Christmas in July.  I truly felt like I was 12 again, getting to go on a great adventure.  A lovely young woman conducted us around, teaching us the rules journalists have to follow when in the press box (no rooting for either team, they have to maintain a quiet control throughout - no way I could do that job), to parceling out little tidbits of trivia (the first actual event at Heinz Field was an InSync concert that she happened to be at).  I kept thinking I could totally rock a job like hers, even though she probably gets paid peanuts.  People dress up to go on these tours, I was mildly amused to see.  I don't mean in business attire, but in Steeler attire as though they are going to a game.  Of course, I was dressed in a Hines Ward t-shirt and a Steeler purse, but that's how I'm always dressed when I'm not working, so...  Again, the thing the players and the NFL owners have to remember is that it's the little things that mean so much to us common fans.  Those moments where we feel special, those keep us loyal.  I love the management of Heinz Field for not making it pricey to meander around these hallowed grounds.  Unlike Jerry's World in Dallas where tour prices are four times as much.  Football is not inexpensive to follow, but it's a working man's game - or it should be.  Remember that when working on your collective bargaining agreements, contract negotiations and concession pricing, people.  Don't forget who really pays your salary:  people like me.  But, on that sunny, summer day, I felt like I was Queen of the World with my Princess by my side.  It was great fun, but I practically ached to come back there to see an actual game. 

Marissa in Casey Hampton's locker

The "Royal Family" in their Castle.  :)


I've decided there is too much to say on this subject, it has to get it's own post.

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