Kids, I’m gonna tell you the absolutely true story of how I went to Pittsburgh for dinner. But to get the whole story, we have to go back to the year 2004.
It was a night like any other. Back in those days, I was living in Bluefield. It was after I had graduated from college, but before I broke down and moved back in with my Dad. I was hanging out with Mark. At the time, he was my roommate in that old attic apartment that we referred to as “The Penthouse.” Sure, it wasn’t fancy and very well may have been haunted, but it was home.
We were spending the evening in the company of a coupe of young ladies, Kelly and Meghan. As it usually happened in those days, boredom overtook us. To be fair, there wasn’t a lot to do in Bluefield during the early part of the 21st century. After all, this was long before the town would see its first Taco Bell.
We were young and foolish. And since the sidewalks rolled up at 9pm, we were desperate for entertainment when 11 came along. We looked around at each other and decided to hop in the car, just to take a drive. After driving around town for a while, we decided that Bluefield wasn’t big enough for our traveling curiosities. Mark looked at me and said, “Let’s got to Pittsburgh!”
“YES!” was all I had to say in response. The girls seemed to be in favor of a spontaneous five hour drive. So we hit the road.
We made it as far as Princeton, WV before we decided to turn back and head home. That’s right, kids, we were in my car for a grand total of 20 minutes before we gave up on the spur-of-the-moment dream of visiting the home of the Steelers.
8 years later…
I met with Mark one day as he was passing through Radford (where I was living at the time) on his way to get to Richmond. I shared some of my stresses from work and let him know that I needed to get away from the real world and soon. I suggested a “bromance” weekend. It’s something that several of us had done in the past, where we would get together with the guys we went to school with to just hang out and catch up on each others’ lives. Like that time we went to Indianapolis to catch the Big 10 Championship game.
I called up Brandon and he was in. Mark invited Andy, but he wasn’t available for the weekend in question. So it would just be the three of us. Well, the weekend finally arrived. Honestly, it couldn’t have gotten to me soon enough. Brandon drove to Radford, then I drove us from there to Bluefield. Friday night wasn’t too crazy. Not that I expected the weekend to get crazy. We had a late dinner and caught the late showing of The Amazing Spider-Man.
Saturday, we really didn’t have anything planned. Remember, I said earlier, this weekend was mostly about getting away from real life and trying to relax without needing to think so much about work. And then, as we were sitting around Mark’s living room, Mark brought up the failed Pittsburgh road trip from 2004.
“You guys wanna go to Pittsburgh?” Mark asked as he looked back and forth from Brandon to myself. “We can finally close that chapter that started eight years ago.”
Brandon and I both agreed that this kind of trip would be kind of epic. A spontaneous trip to Pittsburgh would definitely be an opportunity to get away from the real world. So we hopped into my car and drove.
You know what the biggest difference between this trip and the past trip was? We were leaving about 12 hours earlier in the day. There was no plan for this trip. We just drove.
We definitely were not as young or impetuous as we once were, but even today, there are moments when we can still be impulsive.
On the way, we stopped at the New River Gorge. It’s the home of America’s second highest bridge. To give you an idea of how high about the river it is, you could fit the Washington Monument and two Statues of Liberty stacked on top of each other under the arch. Yeah, it’s that tall. I’d never been there to see it in person, so we snapped some pictures before getting back in the car.
We arrived in Pittsburgh around 4:30 in the afternoon. And yes, we got a little lost. None of us knew the area at all, even though Brandon and Mark had both been to Pittsburgh in the past. We drove into the downtown area and decided to try and find our way to Mount Washington, which we understood would have a pretty spectacular view of the city. But in trying to find our way to Mount Washington, we backtracked a bit too much.
We stopped at a mall that we figured would be helpful. At the very least, we may have been able to find a map of the city that could help us out. The signs that enticed us off the highway let us know that this mall had three stories. Sounded pretty good to us.
What those signs didn’t tell us, as we came to find out, was that the only store open in that mall was the K-Mart. The rest of the mall looked like it hadn’t been occupied since Robin Sparkles went on her mall tour in the mid-90s. And no, the K-Mart didn’t have a map.
So we drove some more. Thankfully, Brandon was able to get a signal on his phone. His GPS started pointing us in the direction of Mount Washington. And then his phone randomly rebooted, a problem that he had apparently been having for some time. Once again, we were lost.
At that point, we decided to forgo looking for Mount Washington and drove back into the city to find a place to have dinner. About an hour later, we finally got back to a decent parking spot and walked to Primanti Brothers. Mark had heard this was the place to go in Pittsburgh. After surviving the meal, I could only say, “Meh…”
It’s not that it was bad. But, you know how I’m a picky eater? Not a fan of the coleslaw. Not a fan of a tomato. These items, according to the menu, came standard on each of their sandwiches. I asked the waiter if I could get my sandwich without those things. He looked at me and said, “Really?” like it was the most ridiculous thing anyone had ever said to him.
“Yeah, really,” I said, “I’m that guy.”
From there, I assumed he would put in the order the way I ordered it. Though I kind of got the impression that they didn’t do special orders at Primanti Brothers. Sure enough, when I got my sandwich, there was a pile of coleslaw about an inch thick, accompanied by a thick, juicy slice of tomato. I may as well have answered the waiter with a “No, I was just kidding. Pile it on there!”
The only thing special about my sandwich was that it was probably spat upon by no less than three individuals before it reached the table.
After we ate, we walked around downtown for a few minutes, then made our way back to the car. Again, we hit the road. We made it back to Mark’s place in Bluefield around 12:30. Made pretty good time if you ask me.
Now, I must say, I wasn’t all that impressed by Pittsburgh. Don’t get me wrong, it looked beautiful when we came out of the tunnel and started crossing the bridge. There was a lot of amazing architecture downtown. But I think I had my fill after our few hours there. I will need to go back someday, though. I still need to cross PNC Park off my list of places to see a Major League Baseball game. But that’s another story for another time.