03 October 2006

Subterranean Freeway Blues

We're home.

Monday at exactly 950 PM, Talmadge and Seraphim arrived back in Rincon, Georgia, completing their fun-filled little junket to Pittsburgh.

Sunday, October 1, my former colleague Deb took me on a "dime tour" of Pittsburgh, truly a one-of-a-kind city. I don't think I've seen that many bridges in a single line of sight in my entire life! Downtown sits at the fork of two rivers - well, actually three; the Alleghany and the Monongahela merge to form the Ohio River. Deb showed me her beloved city in a way no "Gray Line" hack could ever match.

Oh, and she treated me to lunch at a Pittsburgh institution called Primanti Brothers. I don't think I've ever had a sandwich that has the fries IN it, not on the side as is usual. The perfect food if you're in a hurry -- jam it all between two toasted slices of thick bread, and eat. There's a mural along one of the walls where caricatures of notable Pittsburgh natives are shown: Andy Warhol, Andrew Carnegie, Stephen Foster (y'learn something new every day....), and of course, the immortal Fred Rogers.

Can you say "fun"?

From there it was downtown, where I was given the grand tour of where she works. I imagine Deb was stifling many rolled eyes off to the side as this radio geek was damn near starry-eyed. For, you see, I was in the master control room of KDKA, just the oldest radio station in the history of western civilization, that's all.

And then I was taken on one of the 'incline trains' (the city has two). Gotta tell you, folks - the one at Chattanooga doesn't hold a candle.

A nickname I heard used for Pittsburgh was "Iron City" -- talk about a heavy sense of deja vu! Birmingham, Ala. -- which made its name for its steel industry in the early 20th century -- has also been referred to by that nickname. Among its many other affectionate names is "Pittsburgh of the South." After Sunday, I could see why.

Both cities' former industries weren't the only similiarity; driving around parts of the city on Saturday, and riding with Deb on Sunday, a lot of what I saw - from 40% incline residental streets to house architecture to the basic feel of the smaller neighborhoods, to their love of sports, even to such ephemera as the style of road signs and signals, reminded me so much of parts of the 'Ham. In short, Pittsburgh struck me as a bigger version of my native city.


However, Pittsburgh has one huge feature to its infrastructure that Birmingham doesn't: TUNNELS. One in particular is the Fort Pitt. Deb took me through that one; when you emerge from the Fort Pitt Tunnel, the whole skyline of Pittsburgh suddenly jumps out at you. Truly awe-inspiring.

About the closest thing Birmingham has to anything tunnel-esque is that quasi bridge/tunnel like thing on Red Mountain Expressway. Or that man-made "tunnel" at the Palisades shopping center. Of course, Alabanana doesn't have mountains too high or challenging to cut through. The only real tunnels the state has are both in Mobile. The George C. Wallace tunnel and older Bankhead Tunnel burrow underneath the Mobile River, the shipping lane into the city's port facilities.

I love tunnels. I've always been fascinated by 'em, and this trip gave me a "tunnel overload" I won't soon forget. We drove the Chesapeke Bay Bridge/Tunnel back in '03, we did the I-540 tunnel between Fayetteville and Fort Smith, Ark. earlier this year, but there ain't nothing like the tubes that allow you to pass through some of the more rugged mountains of Appalachia.


After Seraphim finished with her last session on Sunday, we hit the turnpike and headed south into the beautiful state of West Virginia, the fifth time we entered the state on our trip. Our destination was Fairmont, W.Va., where its Red Roof Inn was a beacon atop a hill overlooking the hustle and bustle of I-79.

After three nights of glorious luxury at the Hampton Inn (farm fresh "eggs" notwithstanding), it was hard getting used to the very spartan surroundings of our Red Roof Room. That room was barely large enough to hold the king size bed. There was no Wi-Fi available. But the room was clean, there was a functioning TV (with a good movie on HBO at the time - Walk the Line), and the motel staff was as friendly as could be. Who could pick nits? The room was $42.99 .... compared to the Hampton room setting us back $119.00 a night! The Red Roof had no breakfast, "farm fresh" or otherwise. Just a single coffee machine and some cups in the lobby. And on that particular morning, their Mr. Coffee was all tore-up.

Again, we didn't complain. There was a Hardee's just down the way, so we grabbed some breakfast biscuits and drinks and hit I-79 southbound. Rincon, Georgia wasn't exactly down the street, ya know.

We stopped at the New River Gorge visitor center before crossing the New River Gorge bridge, the world's second longest single-arch bridge. We exercised off our Hardee's vittles as we plodded down the boardwalk to the lower platform, where we viewed the bridge and surrounding beauty in its awesome splendor.

US-19 linked up with I-77 and the West Virginia Turnpike, and the Mountain State gave us an unforgettable farewell token by presenting us with the East River Mountain Tunnel. What's really cool about this one is that it crosses the line between W.Va. and Virginia. You go in one state, and come out another.

One more tunnel (Big Walker Mountain) awaited us, and soon after we crossed into North Carolina, the beautiful Appalachian mountains became mere rolling hills before transitioning into the familiar coastal plains of home as I-77 terminated in Columbia, S.C., about two miles from what is positively the best barbecue in the world: Maurice's. Love him or hate him, the man has a way with pigs. Since having my first experience in 2005, all I had learned about 'cue in Alabama went flying out the window. I am now a devotee of mustard-based BBQ sauce.

I don't think you'll have any trouble guessing just where we ate supper.

The remaining ~150 miles were largely anti-climactic. I-26 to I-95 to Ga. 21 to home.

And on that note, I'm going to bed. Some further comments will have to wait for another time. It's late, and this thing is long enough already.

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "Tunnel Vision" Gleck

1 comment:

nettiemac said...

Sounds like y'all had a fantastic time!!!! And glad y'all got to stop at Piggie Park on the way home! I agree -- love or hate Maurice, the man makes damn good 'cue. And his mustard sauce is simply the best. Okay, his and Shealy's (another Midlands tradition).