Exile in America (Part 1): Carnegie/West End

After 25 years in New York, the author moves back to his hometown and discovers a new world lodged in the old one . . . Sometimes the strangest destination is home.

Local wheels

Oh deer

Shopping/Work/Death, a cyclical path (Chartiers Cemetery, Carnegie, PA)

Baby Boy McCartney . . . The saddest stories, buried in the ground

Office park at sundown, highway below gleams up at the empty lot

Exile in America: Introduction

Pressed by circumstances, I returned to Pittsburgh, where I was born and raised. Initially I decamped to the West End, far from where I had grown up. It was like being in a whole new city (except for the Iron City beer everywhere and the bus signs flashing “Let’s Go Bucs!”).

Then I moved closer to the heart of town, which was utterly familiar. Still, there were areas I barely knew, like neighborhoods I had only passed through a few times before. I was compelled to explore these places, camera in hand (which would have never occurred to me before).

Talking with someone in a McKees Rocks bar, I told him I had returned to Pittsburgh after 25 years. “This city’s better than you remember it,” he said assuredly. I won’t dispute it. As to whether “you can’t go home again” (Thomas Wolfe), I still can’t say, but in the meantime there is no shortage of places to walk through and pictures to take, of things new and familiar (or a hybrid of both).

Fracking country! (chemical silos beside tracks)

Meterized hillside

Under the overpass (Noblestown Rd. & Penn Lincoln Parkway)

Satellite image © 2012 Google

A prime juncture for exploring Chartiers Creek, a serpentine swath (52 miles long) that runs through Washington and Allegheny Counties, and discharges into the Ohio River.

Once steel country always steel country

A steep city, a city of hills

Man, these hills! On some, it's like walking through water . . . The flatlands of NYC spoiled me for walking (and where I grew up was hardly the hilliest part of town).

A city inclined (to steep declines)

The view from Overlook Park

Ahh, the classic shot (sort of): Pittsburgh skyline/The Point — where the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio rivers meet; at the confluence, with the bridges like butterfly bandages holding the city together . . . This image is long familiar to me, but mostly from ads and news photos. In person, though, from the heights, it dazzles.

Train through trees from edge of park

A steep city, a city of stairs, etched in hillsides enshrouded by green

Overgrown stairs in the woods off the highway
fade into nature like Aztec ruins

Exile in America (Parts 1-4)

More Images of Pittsburgh (Slideshows)


Exile in America (Part 2): McKees Rocks

After 25 years in New York, the author moves back to his hometown and discovers a new world lodged in the old one . . . Sometimes the strangest destination is home.

Creek Road along Chartiers Creek, under the Wind Gap Bridge

“Road’s End,” as the locals call it, is a leafy patch of light industry, abandoned cars, and (probably) a few misanthropes who want to “get away from it all” while remaining in earshot of the highway above.

Satellite image © 2012 Google

Showing some leg, showing some skull

Road’s End is an intimate nowhere; a woman there will gladly oblige a stranger with a camera who asks her to roll up her short shorts and pose against the bridge.

Vestige: Old brick road peeking up through new one

Slim passage (where Creek Rd. meets Singer Ave., near the tracks)

A sacred aura pervades

McKees Rocks is a lush and rusted jewel on the Ohio, faded but still glimmering, with beautiful churches, streets and vistas that are beyond quaint . . . Through its trove of architecture, local sages, and industrial archeology the history/aura of an old city will survive.

Volume drinking

A 22-ounce beer (~ 2 beers) for $2.50 is not uncommon in Pittsburgh bars (almost like giving it away).

On this day: Grand Opening of Bottom Dollar in McKees Rocks

Pittsburgh takes a good picture

Brooklyn, where I used live, takes a good picture as I’ve often said, but so does Pittsburgh. The hills make for a constant layering effect, plus you can always go higher and get a new perspective.

A trio of churches at twilight seen through the McKees Rocks Bridge

House swallowed by vegetation

Exile in America (Parts 1-4)

More Images of Pittsburgh (Slideshows)


Exile in America (Part 3): Lawrenceville/Strip District

After 25 years in New York, the author moves back to his hometown and discovers a new world lodged in the old one . . . Sometimes the strangest destination is home.

Stephen Foster’s tombstone, Allegheny Cemetery

A most nondescript monument for such an iconic figure (and native son). But it may be fitting, for even though Foster wrote some of the most popular songs ever — songs I sang in grade school music classes, that are still lodged in my head — he died on the Bowery, drunk and destitute.

Down to the waterfront (satellite image)

Gingerly I walked the narrow shoreline, hearing explosions up ahead. I encountered a group of shirtless urchins, setting off fireworks, doing what urchins do. “Just passing through,” I declared. Lord of the Flies occurred to me then — primal regression, at society’s edge; a vision of being swarmed, having my throat cut and left for dead. (I don’t think they were the type, though, and surely I didn’t deserve it, for my harmless intrusion on their obscure hideaway.)

“Bad Kids . . . Spunk”

Houses in Lawrenceville

Lawrenceville has undergone a renaissance in recent years, through the same "mixed use" formula that's driving the revival of neighborhoods across the Rust Belt. It’s the antithesis of suburbia: instead of houses in one place, the shopping mall in another, and industry segregated in some no-go hellscape, it's all intermixed. When it works, as it does here, it’s a vivid, concrete expression of vitality.

Pgh. Casing Co., Strip District (next to 33rd Street Bridge)

My band used to rehearse here; the guitarist’s father owned the company, which made natural sausage casings. I most remember the drying room upstairs, a large space filled with racks where pig intestines were stretched out on slats, and that smell — like walking into the belly of a pig.

Former site of 27 Bar, a dive my grandmother owned for 20 years(then sold to the city, which cleared the property a long time ago)

One of the wholesale candy stores my uncles owned (17th St. & Penn Ave.) . . . My cousin took over the business (this store and the main one in Mt. Oliver are still operating).

Exile in America (Parts 1-4)

More Images of Pittsburgh (Slideshows)