My first car was a Mercury Cougar. Not one of the cool late-90s Cougars, either. One of those Gulf War models with crushed velvet seats and emblems that looked like the Thundercats logo. It was a great piece of crap. My first laptop was a 20 pound clunker with only a floppy drive. My first bike was a one-speed Batman Huffy that I covered in duct tape. My first beer was a Keystone.
It’s a tried and true practice: learn with the worst, the broken, and the old. It’s the antiques and junkers that really teach you about what can go wrong, whether it’s on the road or in the kitchen. That way, when you move on to a nicer, newer model you’re desensitized enough not to freak out the moment everything breaks. I’ve just signed the lease for my next apartment, and I know plenty about stuff breaking.
It’s been well over a year since I moved to Pittsburgh, got my first place, and started this occasionally-updated blog. I was in love with my quirky, new, basement apartment. Over the course of the next few months, I would fill it with a hodgepodge of cool furniture and obtuse hand-me-downs. I’d make countless trips to Ikea with Abby. I’d build a book shelf out of some cinder blocks. I’d add more antique cameras to the shelf above my living-room-stove. My apartment may have had similarities to Saddam Hussein’s subterranean fox hole when I first moved in, but now it resembled a home.
Lawrenceville has plenty going for it. As a Pittsburgh neighborhood still in the throws of an artistic and commercial revitalization, it’s the place to go for smokey roller rink bars, Mexican brunch, and handmade greeting card boutiques. Last weekend, it had even more going for it as a group of attractive women and geeky photographers took to its riverfront trails.
Abby and her friends have been going on photo shoots for years, mainly because of their talented pal Louis Stein (he took that dapper photo that I cropped in my header). He grabs his softboxes, lenses, and half a dozen people and away they go. Naturally, when he planned a shoot with Abby, her friends, and another talented photographer, James Wong, I was more than happy to tag along. It’s not often, he and I lamented, that either of us get a chance to shoot photos just for the art of it; Louis has been doing a ton of assignments for the marketing firm I work for, and I just never get a chance to be out in the wild with purely photography in mind.
We shot on a small trail along the Allegheny River, on the wrong side of the train tracks, beneath a bridge (that’s not very specific, I realize, as 90% of the city’s riverfront parks happen to be beneath bridges). The place was littered with graffiti and Pabst cans. The trails were occupied by bikers and dogs. The river was high and muddy. Most importantly, the weather was cooperating–it feels like it’s rained every day for the past 3 months.
I was shooting with my old Nikon D40 and a 35mm 1.8f lens, and my older Pentax K100 film camera. I’m posting the results from the Nikon now, but finishing and developing the roll of Kodak black & white film will take a little bit.
Dancing, in all its various forms, is an elusive and highly valued skill–it’s the Navy SEALs of talents. I don’t know how you obtain it, nor do I understand fully where it comes from. Somewhere in your hips, I’ve been told. So as far as dancing goes, I’ve only done it on occasion (and by “occasion” I mean at weddings or ’80s Night when a bodacious song comes on). Even more mysterious, however, is contemporary dance. The professional stuff. It’s dance with meaning; dance as performance art; dance that manages to occasionally be both beautiful and bad ass.
A few weeks ago, Abby took to me to the Dance Alloy annual fundraiser show. I stuck close to her, listening to her explain the various routines to me (she knows her stuff), picking up on the symbolism behind the dancers’ movements, and eating my fair share of brie and flatbread. I love being involved in the arts because it means a near endless supply of brie at fundraisers. The highlight of the evening (for this dork, right here) was a dance constructed around a lecture by Carl Sagan mixed with Radiohead music. The solitary dancer worked his way around the stage while an analog overhead projector drew out equations on the white stage wall. If this was what contemporary dance could be, and not that laughably pretentious stuff I had seen mocked in a number of Woody Allen films, then I was on board.
The choreographer who unleashed Sagan, we’ve determined, seems hell-bent on making contemporary dance awesome for everyone. That’s not such a bad thing. Recently Abby and I went to a performance by The Pillow Project, a monthly themed and improvised dance show that just so happens to take place on the second floor of a warehouse on the outskirts of the city. If this were a comic book, various goons and villains would be hiding out here, stripping cars of parts and laying all of their machine guns on a long banquet table. When I dropped Abby off at the lone, steel door to the dance space (it was raining and I’m a gentleman), I wasn’t sure if I was leaving her off at a fabulous, found artspace or the opening scene of “Darkman.” Hint: Darkman never had moves like this.
When a man walks up to your car in traffic and knocks on your window, a couple things could happen: you could be getting car jacked; you might be getting punched in the face for cutting someone off; or, in my case, you could be informed of a flat tire. Despite the business-attired man delivering the news in a polite and friendly manner (thanks Pittsburgh!), I was still stunned. It had been a rough morning, I had a large cup of black coffee next to me. I was trying to get to work. This informative Samaritan had sent me into a panic.
I made my way across traffic and pulled off into Polish Hill. What was I going to do? I had never changed a tire before. I didn’t have AAA. The amazing experiences I had enjoyed this week suddenly vanished and my survival instincts needed to kick in. I drank that black coffee. I called my parents. I was hoping that they’d be able to find a number online for some garage that could come change this tire for me. No luck.
The first lesson of how to change a tire: no one in the city of Pittsburgh offers roadside assistance anymore. No one.