Tag Archives: pittsburgh

growing away

I learned today about the death of a man who directly and indirectly made my undergraduate experience what it was. I heard the news via email from my former boyfriend and then from my former professor. When I turned to Facebook for more information, I was surprised to find an effective use of social media in the pretty wonderful memorial there, a gathering of reminisces and anecdotes and jokes and ways Doc touched so many people. The UHC really is a beautiful legacy that he leaves, and I’m so glad I was able to experience it.

The strangest part of hearing this news and thinking about Doc’s life is that there’s no one here in my San Francisco life to really commiserate with about it — no one who knows what I’m talking about. For all anyone knows, I’m making it up. And as soon as I started thinking about Doc and Pitt and the UHC, reading people’s stories and memories, my own memories flooded. Getting stuck in the Cathedral elevator. Nestea bottles that wouldn’t break. In over my head about the Russian Revolution. Reading Elliot lyrics on the roof of the 14th floor. Oven rack kleptomaniac. Roadie for a PittArts blues guitar lesson. What the Honors College needs is sluts; more sluts. Wine tasting drunkenness and Mexican dinner. For tonight, you are in my hair and in my eyes. Unfashionably late to dinner with esteemed English Department faculty. The pack of tards. Ah, ah, ah, are fa-jai-tas on the menu? I don’t want to explain these things; I want you to know.

I wanted to talk with someone who had been there, who knew the references, knew the backstory. It’s weird to have a whole chunk of your life feel so yours and yours alone, especially so formative a chunk. It’s probably the way a lot of people feel about college, but I think a lot of people keep in contact with more college friends than I do. I moved away, I broke ties, I lost touch with the people who shared these memories.

I’m not alone; I know that. I have amazing people in my life, and some of them have probably heard me reminisce enough to know at least a little of the context. But that feeling of being alone in your memories, alone in your past experiences — it’s is a strange one.

I’m glad for each memory and story, though, and I wouldn’t have had them without Doc. Thanks, Doc.

“You will remember the kisses, real or imagined; / You will remember the faces that were before you, and the words exchanged; / You will remember the minute crowded with meaning, the moment of pain, the aimless hour; / You will remember the cities, and the plains, and the mountains, and the sea, / . . . / These are the things that will return to you, / To mingle with the days and nights, with the sound of motors and the sun’s warmth, / With fatigue and desire, / As you work, and sleep, and talk, and laugh, and die.” -Kenneth Fearing


my heritage; or, a brief history of hillsville, pa; or, the charms of western pennsylvania

Tonight I went to my dad’s hometown: Hillsville, Pennsylvania. (It’s so backcountry, it doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry.) It’s just across the Ohio/Pennsylvania border — one of the places you can stand with one foot in Ohio and the other in Pennsylvania. The two bars we went to, Nite Trax and The Finish Line (formerly known as Chief’s), both had one half decorated in Steelers gear and the other half decorated in Browns gear. (But everyone wearing sports gear was repping the Steelers, duh.)

Nite Trax is so named because it’s right across from the railroad tracks that used to take the limestone mined in the quarries there at Carbon Limestone to wherever it needed to go in the Midwest, on the East Coast, and beyond. When my great-great-grandfather, Nikoli Zahaczewski (aka Nikolai ZohoŇ°evsky), moved to the United States in 1907 from Galicia, he worked at Carbon Limestone. Then, his son, my great-grandfather, John Dunchak, worked at Carbon Limestone. And my grandfather, Johnny Dunchak, worked at Carbon Limestone his whole life, too.

Somehow, miraculously, mysteriously, and somewhat sadly, my dad escaped having a Pittsburgh accent. Everyone we talked to tonight, including a few high-school friends of my dad’s, all had the accent to varying degrees. Since he grew up there too, he really should have one!! A few choice OHs:

  • “People kep’ thinkin’ I was Messkin ’cause I got dark skin, so I made sure I said ‘yinz’ a lot so dey knew I wasn’.” – patron at Nite Trax
  • “I couldn’ find ma Stillers lighter, and I go, ‘War’d I put it?’ An’ den I fahn it in my purse! Hah!” – bartender at Nite Trax

I always thought the town my dad grew up in was mostly Hunky, but I learned tonight that I was wrong — it’s overwhelmingly Italian. Eye-talian. Roman Catholic Italian. With lots of bathtub Madonnas (and my dad said he and his brother used to call them that). Nite Trax has homemade Italian food every Tuesday — the owner Gino’s mom comes in once a week and makes cavatelli, ravioli, meatballs, and her special spaghetti sauce. I got the cavatelli, and it was the best Italian food I’ve ever eaten, hands down. After dinner, we went on a little driving tour of the area and went through the cemetery — there was pretty much one Hunky name among the hundred-some Italian ones. (Though the family history goes that my great-great-grandfather Nikolai is buried in this cemetery, too, but no headstone remains.)

And more on the loophole in the PA smoking ban — you’re allowed to smoke in Nite Trax, in Pennsylvania, but not in Chief’s, a few miles down the road across the Ohio border. (Incidentally, Chief’s is a bar my mom and dad used to hang out at a lot when they were dating. Aww!) As the bartender at Chief’s explained, if you’re an eating-and-drinking establishment in Pennsylvania and more than 80% of your sales come from liquor, smoking is still allowed. This has been a death-sentence for Ohio bars, she said, especially ones in borderlands. (Indeed, we were the only people in Chief’s, wheras Nite Trax was packed.) A direct quote from her: “Smokin’ an’ drinkin’ — it’s the American way. It’s like peanut-butter and jelly.”

"smoking permitted" sign on the door of nite trax in hillsville, pa

"smoking permitted" sign on the door of nite trax in hillsville, pa

Whew. It has been a whirlwind week+ here in the Mahoning Valley. I’ve reminisced, reconnected with my past, gotten pretty nostalgic, and learned things I never knew. It has been a good trip. I like my roots.


I just spent a little over 24 hours in Pittsburgh, after not having been there since I finished school in May, 2005. I really love it there; I mean, I really do. I’m sure part of it is nostalgia — after all, I came of age there. It was the first city I ever lived in, where I learned to navigate public transit, where I learned to city-bike, where I learned to exist out from under my parents’ roof. It was where I discovered things like literature, indie rock, folk music, contemporary art, and food that wasn’t totally bland. Admittedly, I suppose a lot of people feel this way about the place they went to college.

But there’s just something about Pittsburgh. It’s a city, with great neighborhoods and restaurants and cafes and transit (okay, the “great” is arguable here, but where isn’t it?) and with big, beautiful, brick houses that have ivy growing on them and yards with trees, and I could maybe even afford to live in one of these houses. It has history and character and its own bizarro culture and dialect.

I don’t know; I’m sure I could be happy a lot of places, and I’m not saying I absolutely have to move to Pittsburgh as soon as I can swing it or else I will perish. I have a lot of things to figure out either before I can make a geographic move or that will play into any decisions about a geographic move, including career path, finding a partner, and so on. But I do know that I like being in this city.

I made a flickr set with some pictures I took and a lot of commentary/backstory, so if you like Pittsburgh or you like to read my reminiscing rambles, you should head over there. I’ll include some highlights and other random things here.

First of all, let me say that there is nothing wrong with french fries, grilled chicken, or grilled steak being on a salad. In fact, I expect it, really.

I was struck by all of the sports-team paraphernalia people were wearing. I mean, these people are serious about their sports, and they are really happy to be Stanley Cup and Super Bowl champions. Every bar you go into, there’s Steelers and Pirates and Penguins crap everywhere: bobble heads, beer cozies, pennants, posters, gaudy light-up things, it’s incredible. On Penn Ave. in the Strip, there were three stores just like this one within a few blocks of each other, not to mention street vendors selling similar wares. (I think this was the best t-shirt I saw. I bought it, of course.) And then there was the bus that had GO STEELERS! on its marquee. Amazing.

Speaking of buses, Port Authority has added a number of lines since I left. I know and love the 61A, 61B, and 61C. . .but the 61D and 61F, really? But I guess it’s good that a transit authority is adding lines instead of cutting them. . .ahem, MUNI! Poor MUNI.

The Squirrel Cage, my favorite bar in Pittsburgh, and probably my favorite bar anywhere, is still going strong. The two bartenders that were there yesterday are the same ones that were there the last time I went, which was sometime in May, 2005. They have this great dumbwaiter behind the bar that they load beer onto in the basement and then pulley it up when they need to restock. And even though Pennsylvania passed a smoking ban, you can, miraculously, still smoke in the Cage. Apparently there is some loophole that allows smoking if a business does a certain percentage of its business through booze and instead of food.

It was interesting to watch Pittsburgh local news and talk to Pittsburghers about the recent fitness club shootings. It has gotten a fair amount of coverage nationally, but about 80% of the local news I watched was devoted to it, every reporter filmed standing outside the LA Fitness building. The bar patrons were abuzz about it, too, mostly lamenting that all this violence was giving Pittsburgh a bad name (remember the guy who killed three police officers earlier this year?) and also flabbergasting that the men behind these crimes were so “normal-looking, just like any kid you’d pass on the street, you just never know.”

Some things have changed, most notably in the parts of Oakland that have been bought by the University and spiffed up, but the important stuff is still there. Walnut Street is still chic, Murray Avenue is still dingy, and Forbes is still populated by frat boys, even in the summer. And my heart is still warm when I’m there.

Savoring the Moment

In college I had a good friend named Arun who would suck down Frappuccinos like they were water. Not the milkshake-type things you actually get at Starbucks, but the chocolatey/coffeey/milky drink in the little glass bottles that you get at the convenience store. Many a night during freshman year, he would buy one at the 7-11 on the first floor of our dorm, pop it open, and down it in like three long gulps, 30 seconds total. I didn’t understand it. Whenever I got one, I would gingerly sip it and try to make it last as long as possible — it was a treat, and I wanted to enjoy it. I used to yell at him whenever he’d drink one, chiding him for not “savoring” it. How can you even taste something, let alone enjoy it, when you consume it that fast?

The way I’ve been living my life over the past few months has been like the way Arun drank Frappuccinos. I’ve just been running down to the 7-11 to get one, sucking it down, and moving on to the next thing so quickly that I don’t even realize what I’ve just done, I don’t even know what it tasted like. Get up, get ready for work, go to work, multitask all day and eat lunch at my desk, come home, make dinner, rush to some social activity, rush home, go to bed. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the social activities, and it’s not that I don’t at least occasionally enjoy work — it’s just the fact that my mind is going so many miles an hour while I’m doing all of these things that I’m not really, truly appreciating the fact that I am doing any of them.

At the risk of dragging the metaphor on too far, I want to savor my Frappuccinos; I want to be able to tell the difference between Mocha and Vanilla. I want to enjoy the things I’m doing and the company of the people I’m doing them with, to decide intentionally how to spend my time and then intentionally savor that time. I want to focus on what I’m doing, when I’m doing it, and give it the attention it deserves. The hardest part is just letting myself slow down enough to enjoy any given moment — to put aside thoughts and worries about what else is going on, what I have to do next, what I have to do in a week, so that I can focus on whatever I’m doing right then.

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” -Matthew 6:34

I Have Arrived.

I’m sure when classes start I won’t have enough time to write blog entries after every thing I do. Also, there probably won’t be as many new, exciting things happening every day to write about. But there are, now, and I like writing about them, so I’m doing it.

Got up this morning and went for a run. It was nice, although I felt a bit out of place, and people were looking at me funny. Silly Americansky, all health-consciousky. I ran away from downtown on a main street near the Kolej; I haven’t ventured away from downtown yet, only toward it. So that was cool; there are a lot of little shops and groceries and cafes and pubs — and old Czech men drinking beer on the pub patios at 9:15 in the morning.

I ate breakfast at the dorm again, and went to the internet cafe across the street to activate my AIFS debit card. Gmail wasn’t working, so I couldn’t check my email. Then I took a shower, and Kathryn and I decided to venture down to Wenceslas Square and Tesco for groceries and little things for the apartment. We hopped a tram down there, and I thought we would have to get off at a certain stop to catch the Metro, but we got off there and there was Tesco!! So we ventured all over the 5-story consumerist hellhole, buying can openers and cleaning supplies and blankets and towels and groceries. I got a good week’s worth of food — apples, bananas, rice, whole wheat pasta (once I found the health food section), tomato sauce, baked beans (I couldn’t find black beans!), bread, turkey, cheese, bottled water — for 350kc (less than $20). What a deal. And it was only a mildly harrowing experience. (See Appendix A.)

We went down to campus today for an orientation meeting. It basically consisted of Marketa reading us everything that was in the literature they gave us when we were accepted to the program. But we saw the building where our classes will be, and it gave us an excuse to be downtown. After the meeting, my friends wanted to look at cell phones, so we went to the Oskar store and got the scoop. I’m still not convinced I’ll need one, so we’ll see how this week plays out once everyone else gets theirs. We walked around a bit and tried to find a place to sit down and eat; we ended up at a weird fast-food wrap place. I don’t remember the name, but they served a bunch of different types of wraps, like Greek and Thai and Japanese and Italian and Norwegian and Dutch and French. So I had a Thai wrap with chicken and good Thai dressing and lettuce and tomato. Not very Czech, but cheap and good. Then we decided we wanted a bar and some beer (because I hadn’t had any yet and it was like 7:00!!!), so we walked to Mala Strana, where none of us had hung out, and found this awesome place called U Stkaklksdf Cafe. They had 27kc (about $1.10) pints of Pilsner Urquell, so we hung out there, and it turned out it had free WiFi, and I also happened to have my computer in my backpack because I was afraid of thieves taking it while we were gone, so I passed it around and we all checked on class schedules, etc.

There were a couple of other American-looking girls in there, so we talked to them and it turned out they were from American University, doing the FAMU program, living in the dorm next door to the cafe — the dorm that Teddy is living in! So I asked if they knew him; they did, and he was a good friend of one of them. So the one girl said she would tell him she saw me, but he was out or whatever. But about a half hour later, who walked in but TEDDY!!! It was crazy — I haven’t seen him since we were like 11! So we caught up, talked about what we had been doing in the past 10 years, talked about his program and its director, who was a Czech ex-pat in the US for a while, and came back after communism and now lives at the Kolej and runs this program. So it was incredibly good to see him, just cool to see a formerly-friendly face in a crazy place halfway across the globe from where you last saw each other.

So, we got a bit rowdy at the bar after our 3rd round, and were getting kind of obnoxious, so we left a big tip for the American-friendly Czech bartender, walked back up the hill to our dorm and hung out in the lobby a bit. A lot of people were around tonight, probably feeling like they should be social because school is starting or something. We have an orientation for our intensive language course at 10:00 tomorrow morning, and then class after that. I’m excited to get started, have school, learn, have some structure and some more things to occupy my time. It’s been nice to hang out, but it will be ever better to get back to classes, learning, intellectual stimulation. And beers between classes, of course. Most of my classes are in the morning and the late afternoon, so I will have lots of time to kill at cafes and pubs and doing work during the day. I can’t wait.

So, I had plugged my computer in with my Czech adaptor for the first time when I started writing, and there were weird little blips on my screen. I felt the adaptor and it was really hot, so I unplugged it and now it kind of smells like burning. This is not a good sign. My Pod is also dying, so I was hoping to charge that, too. I should probably figure out what is going on, if I need some kind of transformer or something. I wonder how I do that. . .call 1-800-APPLE? Oh, wait. I’m in Eastern Europe. That won’t be possible. Guess I should conserve battery, then, for now.

Therefore, time for bed. Gonna get up and shower and eat breakfast so I hopefully have enough time to walk down the hill and across the bridge to class. That will be nice.

Appendix A:
Things that are similar between Tesco in Praha and Giant Eagle in Squirrel Hill:
1. Elderly Eastern European people speaking Eastern European languages with anger.
2. More people than the aisles can comfortably accommodate.
3. Not enough cashiers.
4. Lines at the deli.
5. Braeburn apples (my favorite).
6. A very rushed and frenetic atmosphere.

Things that are different at Tesco in Praha than at Giant Eagle in Squirrel Hill:
1. Prices listed in Crowns instead of US Dollars (this is a bridgeable gap, because I am a mental math star).
2. Clerks at the deli counter who speak English; in Praha, one must point to the type of cheese one wants and then nod when the clerk has put enough of said cheese on the scale, or one must try to pronounce the type of meat one wants and be corrected by the clerk, but with a smile.)
3. The price of Braeburn apples (my favorite) — 16kc per kilo, compared with $1.69 per pound.
4. The presence of delicious dark chocolate candy bars for 9kc.
5. A little counter by the produce that you have to take your produce to, where a man weighs it and puts a sticker on it for checkout ease.

flower men

New fascination: men carrying flowers. Especially beefy, jock-ish men. Especially when the flowers aren’t for me and I don’t know the men.

They carry them so daintily, only an index finger and a thumb timidly pinching the cellophane that encloses a rose and its baby’s breath. Holding the flowers upright, in front of them, an arm stretched out uncomfortably. Almost like a torch, but lower, below eye-level.

Why don’t they just grab them with their fists, with all their fingers wrapped around the stems? Why don’t they carry them at their sides and swing them like clubs, like cavemen? Are they civilized? Do the flowers somehow make them dainty?

sometimes you’ve gotta go

“I love this bar.” – Toby Keith

Went to the bar last nite and got trashed on $5 pitchers of Budweiser with 2 old friends and 4 new ones. It was awesome.

I was having a bad day – I’ve been having a string of them – and it was confounded by a too-much nonfiction readings class with Lee Gutkind. There’s something almost erotic about listening to people reading things they’ve written. It’s interesting enough reading other people’s stuff, but to hear them read it is almost overpowering – it’s vouyeristic, but not listening-to-the-people-next-door-doin’-it vouyeristic, it’s like creepy, emotional vouyeristic. I don’t know. . .you can learn a lot about the way someone acts or carries his/herself from listening to them read something they’ve written. When you’re doing that, you can’t hide your insecurities, you can’t always keep up the act you keep up the rest of the time. So I don’t know, I was just struck by a sadness in people around me, an emptiness, a numbness, that rubbed off on me. It makes me think about whether or not I can actually write this San Francisco memoir I’m planning to do. . .the other day, I couldn’t even get through reading some old notes and drafts on my computer from a story I tried to write about Doug. But anyway. . .

So after class, Jut, Josh, Thomas and I went down to P.D.’s, and had just finished a pitcher when Caitlin and Jen showed up, and later Jen’s friend Greg. We had a good time getting drunk and gossiping about nonfiction and laughing and trying to figure out how old the bartender was cos she looked about 14. I haven’t gotten that drunk just on beer in a long time. It was a fun, stereotypical social situation that was just really good to be a part of.

I’m listening to Rent and enjoying it – a lot. It’s so cheesy, and it’s a flippin opera, but it’s great.

Giving myself a snow day today and getting stuff done around the apartment, getting some schoolwork done, working on internship and study abroad stuff, and maybe getting my hair cut.

Just got this joke in a stop-paying-high-prices-for-your-meds piece of spam:
Three brothers bought a ranch in Texas and planned to raise cattle. They couldnt think of a name for their ranch so they asked their mother, who said, You should name it Focus. The brothers were puzzled. Why? they asked. Because, said their mother, Focus is where the sun’s rays meet. (Note: this joke is famous because it is a triple pun! In physics, a focus is the point at which rays of light come together or meet. The mothers sentence also sounds like, Focus is the place where the sons raise meat.)