Monday, December 7, 2009

Trip To Pittsburgh


Deanna's cousin, Jerry, works for the Oakland Raiders. Both are only children. Makes them more like siblings, than merely kin. Jerry live in California. The two don't get to see each other often. Jerry tries to set Deanna up with tickets to games when he's going to be on this coast. For the Raiders v/ Steelers game, the timing worked out. And I was asked to tag along.

The problem for me started about a week prior to the weekend trip. Headed to Pittsburgh in December. I've watched football on TV since I was 18 years old. (Wasn't always a sports fan. Long story. Meant for a different blog, I suppose). I knew weather at games in Pittsburgh in December would be brutal.

Oddly enough, this game was going to be the first NFL game I ever attended. Never had a problem not going. Watching a game from home just seemed easier. Got to run to the bathroom, do it on a commercial. Make something to eat, commercial. Get a drink, commercial. Always heard at games if you have to go to the bathroom, plan on missing an entire quarter. (Which may still be true. Don't know. Didn't want to risk testing the theory. So didn't go. At all). Stopped at Burlington Coat Factory last week. Bought some Thinsolate gloves, a scarf and a Carthart hat. No one would ever mistake me for the outdoors-ie type. Never. However, last weekend my sister got my kids Dolphins v. Bills tickets. We went to Buffalo--as Dolphins fans. Again, meant for another blog. So this would be my second NFL game in as many weeks. Not bad. Getting to be a pro at this.

Felt good being armed with some winter wear. Parents bought me a ski jacket that Christmas before. It hung in the basement, waiting to be used. (Generally wear my long leather. It blocks wind. Retains heat. Looks good). Brought the suitcase to my room on Thursday. Thing was, what else do I pack? I knew there was a chance we'd dine with some of the Raiders team and staff. Found out bringing a set of dress clothes wouldn't be a bad idea. Slacks, dress shirt, shoes, belt. Ok. Also packed snowflake jammers that the kids bought me. Jeans for the game, socks, wool socks. Three T-shirts. Flannel shirt. NYPD hoodie. Couple movies. And bathroom stuff. Toothpaste, shaving cream, hair gel, razor, Dental floss picks, Q-tips ... you get the idea).

Deanna dropped her dog off for her parents to watch. Sammy's a good dog, if a bit hyper-active. She sent me a text. Sammy had gotton into a box of Chocolate chip cookies she'd packed for the road trip.  Ate four. Left three. We laughed. Kinda. Then she picked me up. From Rochester, NY to Pittsburg, PA is just over 300 miles. Roughly a 4 1/2 hour trip.

Halfway to Pitt, we grew hungry. Talked about pulling into a rest area to get a little something to eat. We were making good time. Kept driving past exits. The box of remaining cookies was in arms reach in the back seat. I fumbled with the box. Cookies looked good. Dry, at least. Untouched, for the most part. Did we eat them? Ah-yeah. We did. And renamed them. Chocolate Chip Retriever Cookies. Mmmm-mmm good!

Lucy came with us. Who's Lucy? The van's built-in GPS. She was in one of her moods. Insisted on showing us directions upside down. The arrow that represented us pointed down. Right was left. Left, right. It worked fine if you drove while sitting on your head and watching the GPS. She also insisted on picking a non-toll route. So the entire time we drove she called off every exit, letting us know we were not using her route, and in her way, letting us know we'd never make it if we refused to follow her directions. So, not a problem. For the most part.

Although while passing through southern New York we'd seen some areas where it had snowed, there was no clear sign of winter anywhere in PA.
Never been to Pittsburgh. Drove through once or twice on the way to Florida. Didn't realize just how beautiful the city is. Enveloped by rivers, it was littered with tall buildings both modern and full of old architecture. One building housed a giant bottle of ketchup that poured out and filled large block letters of it's name in red, HEINZ.

Lucy, still in her mood, seemed late out of spite in sharing information about exactly when and where to turn once in the heart of downtown. The Marriott had to be close, we realized, while stopped at a red light. I looked out the passenger window. Saw the hotel sign and said, "Isn't this what we're looking for?" It was literally right next to us.

We checked in. Called Jerry, to let him know we'd arrived. Left out Lucy's conspiracy to keep us in endless circles and trapped on one-way streets. Figured we'd deal with her appropriately on the way home. For now, we were here. Safe.

Jerry, who'd just walked back from having lunch, met us in the hotel lobby. Must have known we were hungry. We took the shuttle across one of the rivers to Station Square--a small shopping strip, just outside of downtown and decided to have an early dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe. Six hours later, or close to 1:00 AM, we made it back to the hotel.

Raiders needed to catch a bus from the hotel to the stadium the next morning. Last bus ran at 9:30 AM. Jerry wanted to meet with his cousin for coffee. The hotel lobby was roped off. Kept fans to one side. Team and staff on the other. Deanna met many of the players after a long elevator ride down to the lobby. From the 16th floor, they stopped on each and every floor on the way down. Ca-razy!

Sunday morning in Pittsburg is tough if you have breakfast on your mind. There is nowhere to go to eat. Only place we knew was Station Square. Only thing we didn't know was how to get there. Asking the parking attendant for directions was somewhat helpful. He gave me a bunch of lefts and rights to make, and what lanes to stay in. After about fifteen minutes of directions (to travel less than two miles), I knew I was in trouble, and wished I'd written things down. I thought I had the main lefts and rights memorized, thanked him and we were off.

Off to where, I'm still not sure. I guess off to sight see. Because, even though I got some of the turns correct, I messed up on which lanes to be in. Lots of expressways. Apparently, next to Venice, Italy, Pittsburg is home to the most bridges. Surrounded by rivers, under and over passes, I began to feel as if we were actually navagating through a convaluted system of water pipes.

Grant Street was key to finding the right bridge to get to the right road to make it to Station Square. Kinda. By 11:00 PM we'd made it to Station Square and parked. A shuttle ferry was set up, running fans across the river to Heinz stadium. We decided we'd eat and head over to the game on the ferry, rather than risk staying endlessly lost in the maze that was Pittsburgh's roads.

Houlihans was the least packed place in the strip. They don't serve breakfast. The table behind us was set up for a small party. Someone was turning 13. Only people showing up were older ladies. Much older. The ladies whined and worked setting up the cake and placemats for the party. Tough not to listen to them talk. So we didn't fight it. When I came back from a bathroom break, one of the older women sat across from Deanna at our table.

I said hello. She asked if I was the Pittsburgh weather man. Gave me a name. I explained I was not. That I was from Rochester. She didn't seem to believe this. So I did my best to talk in a newscaster voice while she refused to join her party. Seems the place she wanted to sit at their pushed-together tables, someone had draped a purse over the chair. Feeling unwanted and cast aside, I guess she prefered sitting with us. Was all right, we were done.

The ferry filled with passengers fast. There's always that one person who insists on talking loud. Wants everyone around to hear every word they say. We had such a woman on our ride across the rivers. I prayed she didn't have stadium tickets next to us at the game. Boat rides don't bother me. Her voice was nausiating my gut. I know I was turning green. Stayed near the rail incase lunch decided to come back and show itself. (Didn't happen. Thankfully.)

Heinz stadium is beautiful. huge. Might not hold as many people as Ralph Wilson, but looked two times bigger than where the Bills call home. The main floor houses a museum of talented showcases. And everywhere we looked people wore Pittsburgh Steeler colors, jerseys and face paint. A few of us Raider fans did our best to blend. (Thankfully we wore neutral, non-threatening attire. Nothing that would say for sure we weren't there to see the Steelers win. The fact we weren't in black and gold might have been tip-off enough, but we did not encounter trouble).

The seats were complimentary. Nose bleed, we were told. Took a day and a half to walk the ramps to the top level. And a tank of oxygen to climb the remaining set of stairs up to our seats. Section 519, Row JJ, seats 25 and 26. Three rows down from the top. they were aisle seats, thankfully. Claustrophobia is one of the ailments I suffer from. (You got it, another blog).

Fortunately, amid the Steeler fans were chunks of Raider fans in this section. While Dea and I did little to draw unwanted attention. The guys next to her, enjoyed the taunts and teases both dished out, and fed back. It was all in good fun, best I could tell. Guys next to us had traveled to three Raider games. To Kansas City, to Buffalo, and now to Pittsburg. Not bad. They bled black and silver. No doubt.

Thankfully, the guy sitting behind us must have been a sports announcecr at one time. He could very well have been related to the lady on the ferry over. He wanted to call the game, play-by-play, with interjected commentary between plays and during commercials. Annoying, yes. Right most of the time, yes. So at least he wasn't a complete babbling ... idiot. Not a complete one, that is.

Game was back and forth. Steelers were up in the fourth. Just scored a touchdown. Just over a minute left for the Raiders to do something. With 80 yards to cover, and just 9 seconds left, the Raiders got the ball in the endzone, winning the game!

62,000 people cleared out of the stadium in an organized hurry. We took the ferry back to the car. And started for home.

Long road trips often make for interesting conversation. Poor Deanna, who by now had to be tired, but refused to admit it, did claim that: "Long trips I speak no sense."

Hmmm. Sounded Native American to me. For the record, she's not. Of course, I helped with the translation. I became Chief Sitting In Passenger Seat, and said--for strictly clarification purposes; "Ah. Long trips. Me no speak sense. Uggh."

Thankfully, she wasn'tsipping coffee. That would have been a gusher. No doubt. Nose spray, at the least.

And then pronun-ski-ations. Hard not to cover this topic as we made our way down I-90 East toward Rochester.  Is LeRoy pronounced Leroy--like the name, or La-Roy.  Lucy refused to lend credit one way or the other. The battle over correct pronouncement of the small town on the western outskirts of Rochester was not decided.

But we did have a good time. We went to Pittsburgh in December. No snow on the way down. None on the way back. And it wasn't too cold during the game. Can't beat that. Good times, I tell ya, good times.

Well, I hope you enjoyed the recap of my weekend. I did. Sure I left some things out. Maybe on purpose, or maybe because they were so outrageous, I had to. Either way, I did my best to recall as much as possible.  It's time for a second cup of coffee and a Chocolate Chip Retriever Cookie! Anyone want a bite?

Thomas Phillips,
Author of The Molech Prophecy
And the soon to be released, Convicted