Let’s check… Afghanistan? Still a mess but they’re still working on getting the sane folks out. Both parties still blaming each other. California? Burning. Temperatures? Roasting. Hurricanes? Blowing about all over the Atlantic and Caribbean. So basically, not much is new to talk about. So I’m going to do something I haven’t done in ages and write about the mini-vacation Sweetpea and I just had.
It wasn’t anything big, just a long weekend in my hometown of Pittsburgh, attending a family reunion.
We used to have them every year, like clockwork. But they kind of died out and we hadn’t had one since the early 2000s. Some of my cousin’s weddings acted as de facto reunions but were much dressier. So we put this one in the books late last year when it looked like we’d be done with the ‘Rona by late summer of this year. (Oh well…)
The reunion was on Saturday. We decided to drive out to The Burgh on Thursday, because Sweetpea had an old family friend, a priest, who lives there, so we wanted to have dinner with him while we were in town. Then Friday, we’d head to wherever my parents were staying, after coming up from Florida.
So yes, there were plans… which fell apart almost immediately.
Two weeks ago, we heard from my parents that they didn’t feel safe traveling out of Florida, due to the COVID running wild on the panhandle. (Thanks, Desantis.) As much as they wanted to be there with everyone, they were out.
Sweetpea had texted her friend months ago, letting him know we were coming out. He said he’d plan something fun. But when she texted him last week, he never responded. After days of non-response, she started to worry, so she finally just called his cell.
That’s when she found out he died in early July, out visiting California. (No, he didn’t answer, his cousin’s sister had the phone and was answering any calls that came in, from those like us who hadn’t heard the news. He’d had a massive heart attack.
Well, that was a kick in the teeth. It’s one thing for plans to go wrong, but THAT wrong? We were sad, but we dealt with it. What else can you do? But it left us hanging out there with nowhere to go on Thursday night. (I hate when someone’s tragic demise inconveniences me.)
I suppose we could have canceled a night of our stay, but I wanted to push on. I didn’t want to deal with the hotel, which I got on Thank You Points, and we already had the dog-sitting lined up and my time off work was arranged. I figured we’d find something to do with our Thursday night and Friday day.
Now let me explain how McDonald's was responsible for our getting stuck in city traffic.
Anytime I have to go somewhere, I love to start the trip with some road muffin. And by that, I mean Egg McMuffin. So after packing, I had a couple things to do: gas up, get my road muffins and stop by a liquor store. Neither place is far from the house so after getting gas, I headed to Micky Dee’s. Rolled into the drive-thru about 10:30, only to be told that they weren’t serving breakfast. Shit. I thought they made a big bold move, some time ago, to make breakfast available all day. I guess they folded up that operation quietly. If I’d have known, I’d have left earlier. So while I pondered my next move, I headed for the liquor store. Then vodka in hand, I decided to hit Burger King, which was between there and home. I ordered my usual double whopper via their app, including my specifications. (No ketchup, mayo, or onions.)
Once home, upon digging into my Not Egg McMuffins, the first thing I noticed was an onion. Then upon further inspection, I saw it wasn’t even a double Whopper, it was just a single, with none of my modifications.
Now, I was pissed and angrily commenced to pulling out the onions and wiping the mayo and ketchup off the rest of the stuff, grumbling all the while. Naturally, I had to check the app receipt to make sure I put in my order correctly, and I did. There was a feedback button as well, so I got to express my vast displeasure at having to deal with skeevy ketchup and mayo first thing in the morning. (OK, maybe, like, fifth thing in the morning.)
Anyway, as I was sitting in traffic just outside and then amidst the city of Pittsburgh, I realized that if I’d been able to pick up my McDonald's when I wanted, it would have saved me at least half an hour, which would have made for much less city traffic. It’s all McDonalds’ fault.
We got to our hotel, a Doubletree, and checked in. As we entered our room, we noticed it was marked as a handicap-access room. No big deal, right?
Wrong. Sure there was lots of room to maneuver, but that room was created by removing the furniture! All we had was the bed and a desk chair. It was weird.
There’s plenty of room for a couch and chair, like we saw in the online pics.
We considered changing rooms, but ultimately figured, we weren’t going to be “entertaining” in there, it really wasn’t a big deal. Just weird. It’s like we could have had a dance party in there.
Another weird thing. It took me at least five minutes to figure out what the hell this thing was:
It looked like a tripod that placekickers use to hold a football upright so they can practice kicks without bugging someone to hold for them, but it was plugged in. I thought it might have been a telescope, but there were no lenses. Eventually, I found a button on the side of it, and lo and behold, it was a desk lamp. Weirdest desk lamp I’d ever seen. Live and learn…
For our Thursday night activities, I got in contact with my cousin, to see if they minded if we came to hang out for a while. That turned into dinner, and by dinner, I mean a feast.
That’s how it is with my family. Anytime family visits, they bring out enough food to feed the Roman Army. We had manicotti, meatballs, roast pork, salad… the works.
And as an added bonus, we got to hang out with the friendliest golden retriever ever. (OK, that’s pretty redundant. I don’t think there IS such a thing as a mean golden.) But come on, look at this smile!
This big boy would sit there and let you stroke and pet him until your arm fell off. Just a big love sponge, with the fullest, softest, most luxurious coat. (I'm so glad our lab doesn't read this blog. He would but he thinks the affairs of humans are beneath him.)
Friday, we decided to poke around my dad’s hometown, a tiny old river town just west of Pittsburgh. It’s basically cut into a mountain. I swear these are some of the steepest roads anyplace not named San Francisco.
We were too full for breakfast so we ended up finding a nice little place for a light lunch. After that, we discovered this town had more antique stores per square block than any place I’ve ever seen. I suppose that stands to reason. Like I said, it’s a very OLD town. I’m sure there have been lots of estate sales, featuring LOTS of ancient stuff.
This was a fountain outside our hotel. Seems to be an homage to “compensating,” I think.
After our walkabout, we went back to the room, cleaned up, and headed for my Aunt and Uncle’s house, for feast #2. It was kind of like the “Pre-Reunion.” Lots of cousins and their families showed up. Dinner featured massive fish sandwiches, as provided by a local restaurant that is known for them. And of course, there was also baked lasagna, sauce and meatballs, veggie plate, pizzelles and biscotti, and other goodies.
By the time we got to the reunion the next day, I’m surprised we could eat another bite. But we managed. We had no choice. Our "reunion" is really just an interactive tribute to comfort food.
The reunion was at a local park, where we had a pavilion reserved. We lucked into a beautiful day and we had a great turnout. As someone who’s always lived far from where my family was, it was great to see everyone and catch up. It’s funny seeing some of the cousins I remember as little kids at prior reunions, now chasing after their own kids.
I’m sure I look far different to them as well. When the reunions started up, I was a teenager and the oldest of the cousins. My brother and I were always picked first when choosing sides for softball or volleyball. This year, I had to sit out the softball game because I knew I’d end up hurting something.
I’ve had rotator cuff tears in both shoulders over the last ten years, both of which have been fixed up with physical therapy. If I played ball, one of two things would happen: either I’d baby it to the point of not being able to throw a ball 20 feet and wound my pride, or I’d get caught up in the moment and let it fly like I used to, and re-tear a ligament. Who knows what I’d tear if I tried to swing a bat?
As they say, Father Time is undefeated.
The reunion rolled on all day and finally broke up around 7:00, after which we reassembled to my Aunt’s house to watch the Steelers pre-season game and have a few more drinks. I’m used to watching my team on my own, with Sweetpea sitting over there in her Ravens gear. It was a nice change to watch the game with my brother and cousins.
We had one more piece of business to attend to on Sunday morning, before leaving town. We had to stop by a local store to pick up Pittsburgh’s famous Isaly’s Chipped Ham and Mancini’s fresh-baked Italian bread. We got the ham easily enough but when we got to the bread aisle, the bread we wanted was conspicuously missing, with several empty shelves as evidence. I didn’t know if they didn’t get deliveries on Sunday, or if it just hadn’t got there yet. But we couldn’t just wait around, so I went to the checkout with just the ham. Then suddenly, Sweetpea got my attention and pointed toward the bread guy wheeling in the bread cart. Not a moment too soon. We took a loaf right off the top and were good to go.
But best of all: before we left I finally found what I’d been looking for.
The drive home was easy enough, with much less traffic than when we came out. I unpacked quickly and then took a nice 2-hour nap. I was beat. (Plus I hadn’t slept well the night before. Forgot to bring my CBD, I guess.)
Dinner was a no-brainer. Ham and cheese sandwiches on fresh Italian bread. Life is good.
Thanks for playing along this week. Next week, it should be back to the usual hot topics and debunkery.