Wednesday, May 27, 2009

I'm Not Dead, I'm in Pittsburgh

So last weekend I hit the road immediately after Dunkin Donuts opened their drive-through window and a trio of Boston Cremes and I spent just under six hours in the car on the way to Pittsburgh. A group of my friends from Twitter had planned to descend upon the Steel City for the weekend so we could wear nametags, show our faces in three dimensions and make awkward advances toward each other that would be recounted 140 characters at a time.

I spent the morning driving the entire length of West Virginia. If this obscene gesture is the state of Dubya Vee, I started at the wrist and came out beside its extended middle finger.
In between, there was nothing but trees and Exxon stations and trees and zero cell service and trees, which was a problem because the purpose of long drives is to simultaneously talk on the phone while you try to lick powdered sugar off your dashboard.

Around one p.m. I rolled into the 'Burgh and immediately made a stop at Primanti's which--just like an indie rock band--came either highly recommended or strongly discouraged, depending on who I asked. After mashing my PIN on the attached ATM to comply with their handwritten CASH ONLY policies, I ordered a steak and cheese sammich, which the menu said was their #2 seller1.

Their gimmick is that the french fries are baked into the sandwich, between the bread and meat and a stack of cole slaw big enough to landscape your backyard with, but edspite the promise of an after-lunch aneurysm, I have to admit that it wasn't very good. It was blander than a PBS pledge drive and co-starred my arch-nemesis, soggy bread,2 although that doesn't mean that I didn't shove all of it into my face, even scraping my bottom teeth across the wrapper to gather any errant cheese drippings.

From there, an iPhone walking map led me across the Seventh Street Bridge to the Andy Warhol Museum. I'd been looking forward to checking it out both because I dig his work and because I'm only a pair of Ray Bans away from looking like Mr. Fifteen Minutes of Fame since we have the same bleached hairstyle, doughy cheeks, and attitude, although he obviously wins the talent portion of the competition. The museum had recently featured a Star Wars-themed exhibition but unfortunately it had closed the week before and the only remnants of Darth and Co. were a number of Lucasfilms-branded action figures on the clearance rack of the gift shop.

There were no special exhibits--the next one wasn't on the schedule until June--so several halls were stacked with locked trunks of what used to be or what was yet to be assembled. The rest of the building is definitely worth a stop if you're in town but I was a bit disappointed by the permanent collection, if only because one floor focuses more on Warhol's mother and another is devoted to his Interview magazine. There are some interesting pieces though, including his collaborations with Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring and several works from his Death and Disaster series, the latter coming as a silk-screened surprise to the visitors who just knew him as the Tomato Soup and Jackie O dude.

After contemplating the purchase of a Velvet Underground t-shirt, I hoofed it back to my car in a persistent drizzle that left me with enough mascara streaks and wet cotton to appear as an extra in a Whitesnake video. I drove toward the airport to my Expedia-priced accommodations at the Holiday Inn Exxxpress, where the Extra X stands for Extra Stranger's Hair in Your Shower and the bored-looking staff took their time finding my reservation as I busied myself by grabbing the manager's business cards and shuffling them before asking the couple behind me if they wanted to see my magic trick.

After several attempts at pronouncing my last name, the staff slid a plastic key across the counter but told me that none of the locks in the building were working so they'd have to call Hank to let me into my room. Three minutes later, Hank materialized behind the desk, leading me down the hall while lugging an oversized universal key. He crammed it into the lock and grunted as he opened the door, while staring at me in a way that was unsettling enough for me to worry that I'd wake up and see him watching The Red Shoe Diaries on the other side of my room.

I had just enough time to shower and change before dinner, so I hurriedly lathered, rinsed, and repeated before wriggling into a dress I bought at a store that stocks Laffy Taffy at the register and caters solely to the Learner's Permit and Pre-Algebra set. I smeared some shadow across my lids, grabbed my worthless key and was on my way out the door when I simultaneously felt something scrape my shoulder blade and heard the distinctive sound of tearing fabric. I managed to bungle my exit, somehow snagging myself on the door hinge and tearing a trench through the 100% cotton covering my back.3

When I introduced myself for the first time to one of my friends in the lobby, I had the awktastic opportunity to extend my hand, muster my least-sociopathic smile, and ask if he could please tape the hole in my dress. After grabbing a roll of packaging tape from the front desk, he gingerly collected both halves of my torn ensemble and slapped some adhesive on it, ensuring I'd spend the rest of the evening giving my name and an explanation as to why I looked like I'd just rolled out of the Captain D's dumpster.

The rest of the night was lovely, including stellar Thai Tapas at the Silk Elephant and reasonably priced drinks at The Squirrel Cage, where our only complaint was that we were all quarantined in the windowless balcony where we would've been incinerated if there had been a fire. Perhaps that was the point. It was amazing to meet everyone and the night ended with exchanged numbers, promises to stay in touch, and packing tape on my shoulder blades.

It was just like prom.

1 Their Number 1 menu item was Iron City Beer. I have mad respect for those who consider booze to be a food group.
2 This is why I keep lettuce away from my Big Mac. No that's not a euphemism.
3 If you guessed #4 on this post, you're totally right and have obviously read this blog more than once. While I did try to snap a shot of Mister Windpants in the museum, one of the polo-shirted attendants pounced on me with the quickness and made me delete the shot. No pictures means no pictures, yo.


ML said...

I'm glad you enjoyed the 'burgh. It's not so bad here. The cage is a great sketchy bar - maybe next time try some bars in Shadyside though. Oakland is for the drunk college kids. South side is for the drunk graduated college kids. Squirrel Hill is for ... adults? And Shadyside is a little classier than the average Pittsburgh bar. Only a little though. Also ... I have to agree about Primanti's, however you'll probably eat it every time you come into town. I think they put crack in it.

Sun Runner said...

Ah, yes, the "when worlds collide!" event. Some are more uncomfortable than others. Meeting Internet-only people IRL is, I think, on the low end of the weirdness spectrum. Having your white-collar-job boss come into the strip club where you work on the weekends for extra cash would be at the opposite end, for example.

I just wanted to pass along that I did in fact manage to qualify for Boston at the Cleveland Marathon. I made it under my BQ time with 45 seconds to spare. Thank God, because I was seriously going to stab myself with a complimentary banana if I missed BQ-ing.

But I did, so perhaps I'll see you in Hopkinton in 2010!

Dr Zibbs said...

I did a Google search about Twitter this weekend and your picture came up with a bunch of people.

Was it those otehr Twitterers from this past weekend that yoy speak of? Hmm? Hmmm?

headbang8 said...

"It was blander than a PBS pledge drive and co-starred my arch-nemesis, soggy bread"

I'm likin' your turns of phrase, J-Mo.

As a native, but not ardent, Pittsburgher, I can appreciate that the 'burgh has its charm. The city itself, in structure and countenance, has the potential to be stunning. But the state of disrepair of the place can depress you.

Warhol would be outraged that his namesake museum ended up in the 'burgh. He hated it. By the way, we shared both the same home town, and the same prominent Pittsbugh art teacher--Joseph Fitzpatrick.

Mermanda said...

Silk Elephant and Squirrel Cage = walking distance to my house. You are a whore.

Jules said...

Glad you had fun! There's another restaurant there, not sure if it's called the Church, but it's a pub that's in an old Catholic church. It rocks!

Michael said...

I say you beat Andy in the swimsuit competition, though.

Anonymous said...

put hot sauce on the primanti's sandwich. it becomes amazing. surprise no one told you that. and primanti's is way better than church brew works

Grace said...

I honestly thought the Laffy-Taffy-tastic store was Forever 21. I really thought I had that one pegged. Delia's. Who knew?

Glaven Q. Heisenberg said...

Holiday Inn Exxxpress, where the Extra X stands for Extra Stranger's Hair in Your Shower...

What's the third x for?

That? O, that's a typo.

What Simpsons ep did I steal THAT line from if you're so smart, hmm?


it's this one.

Nice try, though.

emmysuh said...

I can't believe that the no pictures rule extemds to no pictures of ridiculous people. If I were a musuem curator (and believe me, some random curator at the the Tate Modern thought I DID used to work there) I would totally have let you keep the picture. Because I like to mock other people like that.

Christy said...

AHHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! A post worth the always. How I've missed you!

& just for the English-freak in me, how do you pronounce your last name? Like it sounds? Castro-dale? Or more Italian-like, Cahstroh-DAH-leh? Or am I way off & it's really pronounced something like Smith?

Eric (Extra P.) said...

Silk Elephant and Squirrel Cage = things I've read about in sex manuals but didn't have the nerve to try. I am a whore.

TheStarterWife said...

Should have gone for the "Soon to be Famous Cheese Boat" at Primanti's. It's the only thing I eat there.

Monste said...

Props on the packing tape; much more discreet than staples.

MonsteRawr said...

Damn you, sticky enter button!

Maxie said...

I'm a big fan of primanti's, but I've never had the steak and cheese.

Anonymous said...

I don't know why the steak & cheese is the number 2 seller - the capicola & cheese with egg is far superior.