Tuesday, June 16, 2015


I just got back from Pittsburgh (again) yesterday, where we held our once-every-ten-years-or-so family reunion for my mother’s side of the family.  We had family members come in from Florida, North Carolina, Wisconsin, California, and, of course, Maryland.

My mom’s last name rhymes with “Gucci,” only with an “N,” so I dubbed the occasion “#NoochFest.”  (Just in case you’re wondering what the odd hashtag was on the weekend’s Facebook/Twitter posts.)

I drove out on Thursday, and was the first one to arrive at our destination in Wilkinsburg; a large rental house that was supposed to be able to sleep 16 (if you bring a bunch of air mattresses).  I knew there was going to be trouble before I even got inside.

The neighborhood was pretty sketchy and even locked, the front door didn’t look very secure.  The weather-stripping was loose and it looked like one good shove would blast the doors wide open.  Once inside, it didn’t get much better.  It wasn’t that the place was in disrepair, but that there was practically no furniture inside.

In the main rooms, there was one couch, one rocking chair, and a canvas “tailgate” chair.  There was a card table and a 3-foot long kitchen table.  That was it, and we had a party of nine coming.  There was no TV, no coffee table, just a lot of empty, freshly vacuumed, square footage.

Upstairs, there were two bedrooms, each with a double bed and a dresser.  Another bedroom had one twin bed and a desk chair.  On the third floor, there was a king-sized air mattress and no other furniture.  Also, there were no A/C vents in that bedroom, nor a ceiling fan, so the temperature was about 95 degrees.  It was completely uninhabitable.  I figured there would have to be some serious negotiating when assigning bedrooms.

My choice was easy… I was the only “single,” so the twin bed looked be mine.  I had brought along an air mattress just in case of emergency, and it looked like we would need it.

So I unpacked and tried to make the place more habitable.  I stocked the beer I brought into the fridge and went around to the bedrooms to turn on the ceiling fans.  Round about that time, the rest of the family began to show up.  They were as unimpressed as I was.

In fact, my brother and brother-in-law were on their phones almost immediately, trolling for a Plan B.  This was supposed to be a long weekend’s vacation, not an exercise in seeing what we could endure.  Luckily, both brother and brother-in-law had a butt-load of Hilton points, so we decided to muster out at the Monroeville Doubletree instead.

Is it me, or are the ice buckets getting smaller?
  Apparently they have ice bucket condoms now.  What’s next, liners for drink glasses?

But after a kind of turd of a first day, things looked up quickly thereafter when we went to Kennywood on Friday.  If you’re not familiar, Kennywood, it’s a small amusement park outside of Pittsburgh, which was built in 1898!  No, the rides are not that old; it’s gone through a number of renovations and they have modern rides.  But there are still a number of rides that were open back when my parents were kids.  That’s what made it so much fun.
One of those rides is the Jackrabbit, which is a small (by today’s standards) wooden roller coaster, with a serious first drop and a number of camel humps. 
Another is the Racer, which is a racing coaster featuring more humps and sharp curves than steep drops.

The other set of cars is to the right of the stairway.

I wasn’t crazy about the Jackrabbit… it reminded me of why my roller coaster riding days are behind me.  I’m just not crazy about the sensation of falling… or rather, the sensation of being rammed straight down into the ground at high speed.

I rode that one with my dad, although that may have been a tactical error.  It took some wiggling to get both our butts into that narrow seat.  You could tell it was built in a day when Americans were significantly smaller.

The Racer was a lot of fun though, as one set of cars would race against the other, often so close to each other, it felt like you could reach out and smack the other team.  I liked that coaster a lot more.  I rode it with my nephew Daniel.  There were individual seats, so we didn’t have to go cheek to cheek.  He fit fine; I probably should have buttered up.  When I got out of the ride, it sounded like someone opened a bottle of champagne.

There was one ride, the Skycoaster, which we were pretty much universally against riding.  Two or three people would lay down on a small platform, attached to the top of a giant tower, and then they would get towed way up to the top of another 280-foot tower, and let go.  The riders would come soaring down like they were on a giant pendulum, and swing back and forth.  It looked just like this:
All I could think of was, “Nope.  Nope nope nope.”

For a closer, clearer view, (which wasn’t shot with a cell phone), click here.

Interesting concept though.  Physics in action.  They should dress people in knight’s armor and have another one released in the opposite direction.  In theory, they would bounce back in the opposite direction a number of times.

After the obligatory train ride, (so us old people could sit down for a moment), the boys wanted to go a water ride.  Now I wouldn’t have minded a nice misting machine, but the last thing I wanted to do was tromp around for the rest of the day in wet clothes and shoes.  My mom, brother-in-law and I passed.  Everyone else loaded up on the raft.
Brother, Sister and Dad, lined up to get on board.  The boys are already seated.

That was the best call I made all day.  They got off the ride completely soaked, with squishy shoes.  Even the giant air dryer didn’t help.

Next were the bumper cars, so I couldn’t pass up a chance to knock my nephews around a little bit.  Daniel thought he had me lined up a couple times, but I was able to pivot sharply and get outta Dodge.  Age and treachery, baby!

We finally sought the shelter of the café, got something cold to drink, and united with my aunt and uncles and their families.  Eventually we went back to ride the Jackrabbit and Racer again.

I swear, I don’t know who was happier, the kids or my dad.

There are three generations on that ride; the same one my dad rode as a kid.

A little grandparental bonding time on the Racer.

We called it a day around 4:00, and beat it back to the hotel.  We met up at the house where my aunt, uncles and cousins were staying, for a pizza party.  Their rental place in Squirrel Hill was actually nice.  It was fun to have an low key gab-fest before the next day’s outing at the park.

We had a pavilion on Saturday at North Park, for us to eat and drink and shoot the shit.  So it was pretty much just like the previous night, only outside. 

My brother bought a couple of wiffle ball sets, so they called me out of the stands to pitch to the boys.  They didn’t know that Uncle Bluz was good friends with “Uncle Charlie,” as I showed them how to make a wiffle ball curve by several feet.  Sadly, I exceeded my pitch count in about a half an hour, so they had to make a call to the bullpen for another right-hander.  But it’s cool; I’m almost back to a full range of motion with my right arm…

It was funny though… shortly after we got there, about a hundred motorcycle riders showed up for a picnic at the pavilion just down from ours.  I wasn’t complaining… they had some great music playing.

This is only a few of the bikes; the rest were off to the right.

I told Daniel I’d give him a dollar to tip over that first bike, but he wouldn’t bite.  I’m pretty sure bikers wouldn’t beat up a kid…  Uncle Joe was sure these weren’t “biker” bikers… More like a group of dentist who ride, than the Sons of Anarchy.

The big event for Sunday was going to see the Pirates/Phillies game at PNC Park, aka the most picturesque ballpark in the country. 

The weather was a little worrisome… forecasts called for rain throughout the day.  But it only rained early, before the game… buy enough to make several of us pop for ponchos.

First the ice bucket gets a condom, then me.

But the rain stopped before the game started, and was replaced by stifling mugginess.  I hoped it would be a quick game, but there it was, 0-0 going into extra innings.  But for a scoreless game, it was quite entertaining.  The Buccos pulled off several outstanding defensive plays, featuring a sprinting, diving catch by right fielder Sean Rodriguez.  (It was the #3 highlight on Sports Center on Monday.)  The Pirates eventually won, 1-0, on a walk-off single by Josh Harrison, in the 11th.

And that was that… we went out for dinner and dessert, and all went our separate ways Monday morning.   Granted, as soon as I got home, I had to head back out because Sitcom Kelly had her Sitcom Mom’s company seats for the Orioles/Phillies game.

I must be kryptonite for the Phillies, as they got shut out in this game too.  They must have seen me and went, “What, him again?

Unfortunately we had the obligatory obnoxious Phillies fan right behind us… You’d think that when your team has the worst record in the league, you might want to keep your big mouth shut.  Anyway, a couple other fans threw a couple of pointed barbs his way, which effectively shut him down for most of the night.

Maybe I’m just getting old, but I don’t pay my good money* for ballgame tickets so I can hear some dumbass trying to call attention to himself.  No one is there to see clowns like that.

*Yes, I know I didn’t have to pay for last night’s ticket, but it’s the principle, you see.

Anyway, the fun’s over; now it’s back to the grind.  No more adventures until July, when I’ll be Ohio-bound.  I suppose I ought to be dried out by then.


Jono said...

Glad it doesn't rhyme with "nookie". Just sayin'.

Facie said...

How is it that someone decided to rent a house in Wilkinsburg? Interesting.

I, however, love the Jack Rabbit. When we went for J's school picnic last week, I rode in the front car alone for that and for the Racer. That was great. I too was able to avoid the water rides thanks to my kid hanging with a bigger group this year. But if I had been there when you were there, I think I might have made an exception. It was so humid that day.

Glad you had a good weekend and no one got arrested. ;-)

bluzdude said...

Right. They would have hated to have been called "rookie" all their lives.

bluzdude said...

The Wilkensburg place had the best price. Now we know why.

You and my Dad would get along. He was trying to round up people to go with him in the first or last cars. Eventually we met up with my cousin and his family, and his daredevil 9-year old was game.