Monday, May 19, 2014

The place to be

Last Saturday, I fought the road construction, the latest "fundraising walk of the week" road closures, and the general mayhem and confusion that is driving in downtown Pittsburgh. I fought it because by God, the kid and I had decided we were going to visit the Ft. Pitt museum and learn about old-fashioned Pittsburgh leisure activities.

We headed toward town, ended up being forced off the parkway thanks to lane restrictions, then (thanks to stadium lot closures) found ourselves in a no-way-back trek northward in the HOV lane (no, we did not want or intend to head north), and then finally came back down to town... where we paid too much to park near Point State Park. In addition to Ft. Pitt Museum's throwback leisure day (where I kicked my child's butt at lawn bowling), there was an outdoor festival happening simultaneously—lots of kiosks and stands dedicated to encouraging people and families to get outdoors and climb, hike, ride, explore, etc. It was quite inspiring, and less than stellar weather did not slow anyone down. Youngsters climbed a wall, my son tried out a 3-wheeler intended to rehabilitate folks with lower-body injuries, and we indulged in the most expensive soft pretzel ever. (Luckily, it wasn't bad...)

But we were at the Point. And short of a torrential downpour, floods, tornadoes, or black ice, one simply cannot visit the Point without making the walk to the Big Fountain. It's impossible to resist. The foaming tower of water, the hordes of humans milling around its base, the fantastic scene that unfolds before you in every direction—it's a favorite destination for a reason. Everybody loves it. You feel bigger there, and yet smaller, too. You are surrounded by manmade grandeur, yet also steeped in history. You're not far from that primitive little blockhouse, oldest structure in the 'burgh, but you're also staring across the water at a submarine, a football stadium, the science center cone, and one of the two inclines that crawl up and down the face of Mt. Washington. You're standing where original city settlers stood, where Frenchmen made a stand, where native Americans came aground. You're positioned right in the midst of Lewis and Clark's starting point.

A lot has happened on that piece of property.

And a lot is still happening there, albeit perhaps on a different scale. As we walked toward the fount, a park worker offered to take our photo. (He must have pitied us, as we attempted a somewhat-centered dual selfie while perched on a rock.) We accepted his kindness, posing, then chatted with him. He shared a funny story about a recent visitor to the park. A smallish fellow had come walking on the very same path we were exploring, had struck up a conversation with this gardener. They'd talked about how the fellow was staying uptown near the Consol Center, and eventually the visitor's identity became clear: Kenny G. Yep, the Kenny G. He was strolling anonymously through the park before his big concert performance. How cool is that? Our new friend shared how friendly and unassuming Kenny had been, how'd he'd laughed at the suggestion that he should be exploring the fair city with an entourage.

Even Kenny G likes Point State Park, and wanders through the shady greenery while gazing out at the massive waters that flow past.

If you can make your way around that vast fountain, and observe children giggling in the spray, and watch lovers adoring each other as they whisper sweet nothings in the clamor of the tumbling waters... If you can hear the tugboats alert each other as they pass, and trains send their high-pitched whistle skyward—if you can take all that in without smiling, then you're a rare human being... and quite possibly a joyless one.