Guest Blog: My First Trip to Pittsburgh and A Weekend of Not Making Decisions

This past weekend, our Houston friend Alesha came to visit us in Pittsburgh. You may remember her as one of our friends that also visited us when we were in Montreal. For anyone that’s counting, this makes her second trip to visit us on our adventure- third if you count our wedding in Michigan. We asked her to write a guest blog post about her first ever trip to Pittsburgh and she took us up on it. Since she’s a bit loquacious, we’re splitting it up into two posts in which she covers (1) Activities and (2) Weather, Transportation, and Overall Impressions.

Back home in Houston, I work as business manager for a multi-unit dental group. It’s a company that I’ve helped build over the last 8 years and one I’m really proud of. I have over 50 people on my team and am lucky to have a boss that has given me a lot of decision making power. However, making decisions all the time can burn me out. So, going into my solo trip to Pittsburgh, I let Braden know that he and Janna could plan any activities that they wanted and I’d be happy to do them. I requested that they not duplicate too much of what they’d already spent time seeing and doing — so if there’s a Pittsburgh “must-do” that I didn’t get to… that’s why. Since we’ve been friends for nearly half our lives (I’ve known Braden since 2005), I was confident they’d be able to pick out items that would entertain me. And they definitely didn’t disappoint!

One of the first activities we went to was the Pittsburgh Shorts– which Braden assured me had nothing to do with fashion. It’s actually a local short film festival at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater in East Liberty. The Festival “presents the best contemporary short films from around the globe, highlighting films that promote innovative visual storytelling and cultural tolerance.” The show began at 8pm and we were able to see eight shorts. The films ranged in themes from inclusivity to political terror and from adolescent confidence (or lack thereof) to religious conflicts in Kenya. There was even a student film (of which two of the makers were present and did Q&A afterwards) exploring how the NFL has been gaining a tenuous fan base in Britain. My favorite piece, though, was a film entitled Three Pages. It was entirely in French with English subtitles and it explored the last 3 months of an aging accountant’s life, and his dedication to master a piano piece before pancreatic cancer claimed his life. It made me laugh, made me cry, and was one of those reminders that life is fleeting- so you might as well spend it doing something that you’re passionate about.

On Friday we hopped on a bus to head downtown where we joined thousands of people at the Light Up Night Festivities. This event is the city’s official debut of their holiday decorations. They open a Christmas market (which Braden said looked a lot like the Christmas markets they saw in Europe), have dozens of food vendors, live music, and ceremoniously light up all the Christmas trees downtown. My favorite part of the Festivities was a live ice sculpture display. A chainsaw wielding artist created an ice Santa standing on a horse right before our very eyes. Definitely not a sight this native Houstonian is used to. After the festivities, we headed to the Arcade Comedy Theater for an improv comedy show.

Coziness at the Friendship Perk & Brew Cafe.

After spending a few solo hours on Saturday at the Friendship Perk and Brew catching up on work, I met up with Braden and Janna and we took their car over to the Old Allegheny Rows Historic District. There we knocked out a bunch of Pittsburgh activities. We checked out the Mattress Factory (which everyone told me was a Pittsburgh “must see”). The Mattress Factory is a “contemporary art museum and experimental lab featuring site-specific installations” that opened in the 1970’s.  A majority of the museum is housed in mattress warehouse that was built back in 1900.

The museum is split up among three buildings within about a block of each other. While I definitely thought that everything there was very unique and not your typical “art museum” type of exhibits, little of it was really my speed. I would have to say that my favorite installation was located in one of the annex buildings. In what used to be a three story row house there is now a permanent installation of what seemed to be a lot of found wood items arranged into an intricate adventure. Details in every corner, changes in lighting and footing, and random recorded sounds kept all senses alert.

After wrapping up at the Mattress Factory, walked a few blocks over to Randyland and had our picture taken with Randy. On this visit, as opposed to Braden and Janna’s last visit, we were only there for about 20 minutes. My main takeaways from Randyland are that it can take relatively little effort on one’s part to make another person’s day and it’s hard to be in a bad mood when surrounded by so much vibrant color.

After a quick lunch inside and away from the cold we went over to the National Aviary– which was sooo cool! I appreciated my hosts doubling up on this activity so that I’d be able to see it. The Aviary has several different habitats dedicated to specific types of birds. There are tropical birds, small birds, grassland birds, and more! The habitats are set up so that you can walk right through the rooms and the birds are able to fly and otherwise go about their normal business right beside you. We paid the extra couple dollars to go into the Lorikeet Feeding, where the birds are trained to fly off a branch and sit on your arm while they eat nectar out of a little cup that you’re holding. We also got to see a Guam Kingfisher; which is one of the most endangered birds in the world (only about 100 are alive today).

Bike parts under a blacklight

We closed out our afternoon with a trip to Bicycle Heaven– a for-donation only bicycle museum and shop that has over 6,000 bicycles on display. The museum has tandem bikes, wooden bikes, plastic bikes, foreign bikes. Never have I ever thought there was so much history and variety to bicycles.

Saturday evening we headed back downtown after dinner to attend a Word Play story telling show at Bricolage Theater. I’ve never been to a story telling show and was pleasantly surprised with the experience that met me. Five individuals stood up and presented stories that were about 15 minutes in length each. The readings were accompanied by music (which I think was spontaneous). The stories ranged from a college student working as a seasonal “ham scraper” at a Honey Baked Ham Store to make some cash for Christmas presents, to a gay man’s first experience at a sex club in Pittsburgh in the 1990’s to an uncle’s recollection of being a sandek at his nephew’s Bris. The stories were all of events in life that are common enough to happen to anyone. And yet, performed in this medium they provided immense entertainment.

A delicious dinner at Choolah Indian BBQ

Throughout the weekend we also checked out the Strip district, South Side Flats and ate a ton of great food. All-in-all, I couldn’t have been happier with my decision-free weekend!

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