A Great Day Out

A Great Day Out April 27, 2022

We went to Pittsburgh.

I’ve been so sick with anxiety it’s hard to write about anything except how anxious I feel lately. Every time I sit down at the computer I feel like I’m going to throw up. There’s so much to fill you in on, I don’t know where to start, but we’ve had adventures the past few weeks. The most exciting adventure was yesterday, in Pittsburgh.

On Monday of Holy Week we got our one big check for the year, the one that was supposed to pay the utilities to zero and buy all the homeschooling supplies for the year before we were broke and living week to week again. On Tuesday we paid the utilities to zero with the debit card, thinking the check would be in the bank. On Wednesday we realized that the check had been held at the bank and Paypal was furious with us, and played phone tag. On Holy Saturday, the check finally cleared and we spent it for real this time. On Easter Monday, we got the letter from the bank that the check would be held until Holy Saturday.

Somewhere in all of this mess, I realized that it would be much cheaper to buy a zoo membership and a membership to the Carnegie museums than to buy an elaborate science and history book curriculum for Rose’s homeschooling, and it would be more educational as well. Rose hates sitting still and reading but she loves the sciences; she already knows more about biology and biomes than I ever will. She needs displays and demonstrations to learn about in real life, not a textbook geared to a much more ignorant child. I never thought about doing this before because we’ve only had a car to be able to go to Pittsburgh for a year. The Steubenville bus doesn’t go to Pittsburgh. I’d been afraid to drive there because of how crowded and crooked all the streets are, but technically speaking we had the means to go there. Next thing I knew, I’d signed us up.

All I had to do after that, was get over my fear of driving.

Yesterday was that day.

Driving to Pittsburgh from Steubenville is a bit like driving over the sets of several science fiction movies, one after the other. First you cross the Veteran’s Memorial bridge into the grim town of Weirton, West Virginia. There used to be a massive steel mill in Weirton but they demolished it a few years ago and never cleaned up the mess. Now, from the freeway, Weirton looks like something out of a grimdark dystopia, a five-mile junkyard dotted with Orthodox churches. Next you cross the flatter, quieter stretch of farmland in the chimney of West Virginia and the most western part of Pennsylvania, where there’s nothing but fields and raggedy “Trump 2024” flags. Then suddenly, without warning, you’re near mountains again. All the traffic constricts into a line. The line gets squeezed right into the side of the mountain, and then you’re in an endless tunnel with the whole hulking weight of the Ohio Valley on top of you. All you can see for the next two or three minutes is tail lights, and a metal framework that doesn’t look like it would hold up an entire mountain. All you can think for the next two or three minutes is what would happen if the mountain buckled and the tunnel caved in.

And then, just when you feel you’ll be buried alive forever, the tunnel spits you out onto a gigantic bright yellow bridge. The bridge is over the Monongahela river. Across the Monongahela river is Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is a city out of a fantasy story, a hilarious jumble of buildings, one fascinating architectural wonder next to another wonder from a completely different school of architecture, fun things to look at heaped together in no comprehensible order. All the intersections are laid out like elaborate cursive letters. Every so often there’s a park with a fanciful playground and a hundred noisy children having the time of their lives.

And people are friendly there. That’s the greatest wonder of them all. They aren’t bitter Steubenville grouches; they seem genuinely sorry if they accidentally hurt someone, instead of hurting people making their day. A lady accidentally cut in line in front of Michael as he bought a sandwich, and she was so embarrassed to be rude to him that she bought his lunch by way of apology.

We had lunch in Squirrel Hill, the home of Mr. Rogers and of a really nice gluten free bakery. Then we went to the zoo. You understand that the word “zoo” comes from “zoological garden” when you go to the Pittsburgh zoo, because the Pittsburgh zoo actually is an elaborately landscaped garden with animal enclosures set in at comfortable distances from one another. We got to see the zookeepers feed the sea lions by throwing fish in the air. We got to pet the rough skin of a small ray swimming in a tide pool tank.  There was a cheeky young gorilla who had figured out that the people watching him would clap whenever he did something interesting. He would clamor around the rocks in his enclosure, then look up at us and clap his big gray hands expectantly, and we would obey his prompting and applaud. An animal living in a zoo had figured out how to train humans to react to his commands.

I felt like I’d escaped from a zoo, myself.

I felt like at any moment, somebody would come and shoot me with a tranquilizer dart and drag me back to my cage, in Steubenville, with my anxiety, with the harassing monster next door, and the constant feeling that something terrible is going to happen, and the cruel angry people all around.

That made it difficult to go home.

I reminded myself the entire drive back that I could go to Pittsburgh whenever I had a full tank of gas now– and I will. I told myself that I’d come back as soon as possible, as we drove across the bridge and through the tunnel, past the farmland and through the grimdark dystopia.

Maybe someday I just won’t come back.

Anyway, that’s what I did when I should have been writing.

I’m going to do it again soon.



Image: a view of the Fort Pitt Bridge, via Wikimedia Commons 
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.
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