Strange Conveyances: 3

In Pittsburgh on July 24, 2009 at 12:00 am

Random Pittsburgh 013

Thirteen years ago, when I first came to Pittsburgh, the stairways boggled my mind: Did people actually climb hundreds of concrete steps to ascend from one neighborhood to another? And did every stairway look so ragged? The steps jiggled beneath my feet; their pebbled cement looked cracked and unstable. I imagined breaking through and landing on the bottle-strewn wasteland below, rolling through crushed glass and groaning in a bed of mulched leaves.

But the stairs were also exciting — like ancient passages leading to the mines of Solomon. Pittsburghers still use the stairways, toting groceries or taking short-cuts from one clifftop neighborhood to the next. Pittsburgh is a tiered city, where houses cling to hillsides and porches hang over foggy chasms. A street will splinter into stairways, and then, after a series of treacherous curves, the stairways and street will reunite down the way. The steps that once bore steel-workers and housewives now carry pre-teens to the basketball court, or drifters to a dumpster, or lovers to a hidden overlook. Most often, though, you won’t pass a single soul.

The other day I hiked from Panther Hollow to the Frick Fine Arts Building — a quick, hard-breathing ascent up a weathered staircase. I was riding my Schwinn, and for a moment I considered biking out of the Hollow by street, but the cobblestone pavement would wreak havoc on my tires. I lifted the bike onto my shoulder and heaved it upward, one step at a time, relieved by each landing. Once I reached the top, I set the bike down and guided it for a minute before mounting the seat and peddling toward Schenley Plaza.

A middle-aged woman approached, shaking her head.

“You’re hard-core!” she marveled.

She probably missed my smile as I pedaled past, tasting delicious salt.

  1. the stairs at the bottom of ella st that go to the ebo are beautiful. they’re covered in graffiti and weird metal art installations.

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