30 September 2006

For whom we pay tolls

Day #2 in Pittsburgh, Pa. Talmadge almost gets lost, eats a middling lunch, and scores a handful of vinyl reckids.

But first, let's back up to day #1. After dropping off Seraphim at her Wilton Cake Summit, I was on my own to create all sorts of mirth, mayhem and moral breakdown in Allegheny County. What did I do? I went back to the hotel and took a small nap. Yeah, boy.

After waking up, I called a friend of mine who works in radio here. She used to be my boss, and is the lady who rescued me from a cesspool known as Troy, Alabama. For that noble deed, she will forever have a place in my professional heart. I love Deb. SHE is the reason I was able to create a new life for myself, marry Seraphim, and leave an ugly past behind.

Well, anyhoo, she and I made plans for the three of us to have dinner. Which then left me free and clear 'till 530, when I'd have to be back to fetch the missus.

What to do? Good thing I did my homework. I fired up the Sonata, and took a small roadtrip to a nearby town, Greensburg, which had a specimen of a restaurant chain I truly miss. The fried chicken at this Old Country Buffet was good as it ever was. OCB's fried chicken just might be my favorite ever. And best of all, they were having a lunch special: $5.99 ... and that also includes drink!

I can't bitch.

To get to Greensburg from Monroeville involved taking The Pennsylvania Turnpike. Traversing the portion to get me there would set me back all of $1.25 ..... okay, no big thing. I entered the 'pike (I just love those big green signs they have at the entrance!!), thinking this was just another toll road, such as the Florida Turnpike or "Georgia 400" in Atlanta.

Boy, was I wrong. Where do I start? Narrow medians, narrow shoulders, crazy curves, and, after the middle interchange on my route (which I later found was the west terminus of the original route), a couple of beautiful overpasses. These were o-l-d suckers, a single archway over the road, without a center support. Many of the roadsides had curbs, too. Holy crap, this was like a timewarp.

The "service plaza" I passed, a Mickey D's and Sunoco gas station, was housed in the original stone structure ... originally built to house the restaurant contracted to operate all the service plazas along the turnpike: Howard Johnson's. As I passed it, my mind's eye morphed the building into its original orange roof, small palladium, and ESSO gas pumps out front. Those were the times I wish I were driving a '55 Studebaker and listening to Arthur Godfrey on the radio, as I pull in for a pit stop -- some HoJo's for the tummy and a 29-cent-a-gallon tiger for the tank.

After eating said $5.99 lunch, I returned to the room, where I fired up the laptop and immediately began Google'ing for historical info on the Pa. Turnpike. What I found out just blew my mind: I was driving on a portion of the first ever "superhighway" to be built in the United States. The Greensburg to Harrisburg section of the turnpike opened in ... 1940! Can you believe that? Somehow the idea of listening to Jack Benny, Inner Sanctum, or Edward R. Murrow's news reports from London while speeding on a proto-interstate at 70+ MPH just seems a bit too weird to ponder. But folks did.

And the other portion of the turnpike, that which I can look to my left and see right this very moment? That's the newest section to open. It was completed in 1951.

I still cannot get those overpasses out of my mind, though.

Anyhoo, Deb came over to the hotel that night, and we had supper at the adjoining Outback Steakhouse. The company couldn't be beat. The conversation was wonderful. The food, alas, was a bit middling. Oh well...


Today, I started looking for something a little less 'weird' than old highways: the ever-lovin' used record store! I found two ... one of them in a little suburb called Squirrel Hill, where I got more than a little turned around a couple of times. Not lost, just ... turned around. I found my beaten path, and headed back toward Monroeville. Had lunch today at A&W just down the way from the room. A&W, in case you may not be aware, stands for (A)mburgers (&) (W)oot Beer.

The burger? See "middling" comment above. I've had worse, but I've had much better. Sharing space with this A&W was a Long John Silver's. Ecch. Their fish is much like you'd have imagined Captain Hook's Fish-N-Chips (of Fast Times fame) to taste. Heck, it makes Captain D's look like a fine seafood restaurant.

Annnnnnnnnnnnyway, supper tonight saw Seraphim and me heading back to Greensburg and the Old Country Buffet, where I ate fried chicken, and my wife had a great salad (she's a fan of the OCB salad bar -- so eating there isn't a big burden for her to bear, unlike rolling tape on the Turnpike, capturing some of that great '40s roadside motif, heh heh).

As I sit here thinking about all this history, a big thought occurs to me. Today is September 30 ... my grandfather's birthday. Big John would have been 90 today. Suddenly my fun nostalgic mood becomes dark and melancholy. These are the times I so wish my grandfather were here, so I could ask him if he'd ever traveled any part of the Pa. Turnpike (it wouldn't have surprised me; the man loved roadtrips and took many in his day), and if so what it was like.

I'm so glad I could've traveled such an old, historic road on his birthday.

Right now I'd give anything short of my wife or son to go back to 1955 and enjoy all that glory in its prime. Or at least to have traveled that roadway much later with Big John.


All in all, a nice time so far. Tomorrow is our last day up here, and while Seraphim is wrapping up her seminar, I'll be Deb's guest as she takes me on a tour of Pittsburgh. Promises to be fun.
As soon as possible after 530, we'll be bound back for the wilds of coastal Georgia, stopping for the night in West Virginia (the fifth time we'll have entered the state), before getting home late Monday.

Good night, and Happy Birthday, Big John. You look great up there.

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "Exact Change" Gleck

No comments: