In Uncategorized on December 2, 2009 at 3:25 am

In December 2008, I wrote a story for City Paper about the ice rink in Downtown Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, the paper never had room for it, and the story was killed. Here’s the piece in its original form.

How’s this for a December afternoon in Pittsburgh: 15 degrees F., overcast, with gusts of 18 mile-per-hour winds whipping off the rivers and blasting between Downtown skyscrapers. With humidity of 59%, the air officially “felt like” 1 degree F. Not lousy enough? It was also a Monday. And of all the things tourists could do on a workday in the Golden Triangle – eat at a food court, visit a Cultural District art gallery, shop at Macy’s (née Kaufmann’s) – some folks actually went ice-skating.

Erik Agle and Lindsay Rasmussen, brother and sister, were home from Brigham Young University for a couple of days, and after a stop at Primanti’s, they strapped on some borrowed skates and hit the ice at PPG Place, where a donut-shaped rink encircles a 60-ft. Christmas tree. The plaza is surrounded by the sheer black glass of the PPG towers; this is what a winter wonderland would look like if fortified by the Death Star.

“It’s become a tradition over the last few years,” said Agle.

“It’s our own personal Rockefeller Center,” added Rasmussen. By happenstance, the siblings had visited the actual Rockefeller Center only a couple days earlier, and they were none too pleased with the crowds. “There was just a big old line.”

“Here we pretty much have the rink to ourselves,” Agle said, beaming.

PPG Place is rather proud of its outdoor rink, an institution managed by Florida-based Magic Ice, Inc. (Leave it to the southernmost U.S. state to advise Pittsburgh on winter sports). Magic Ice is happy to brag, for instance, that the rink is actually larger than Rockefeller Center’s, by 2,000 square feet. According to the rink’s staff, busy days can bring in scores of visitors – especially high-school students looking for a romantic evening beneath a Christmas tree.

“The last few days the weather hasn’t been very nice,” said Brad Morocco, a 21-year-old staffer and former hockey defenseman for the South Hills Panthers. “But on Fridays and Saturdays we get a really good crowd, especially at night. We usually have a line that’s twenty, thirty minutes long.” He surveyed the ice, where a dozen skaters strutted in oblong ovals, some looking a little fearful. “On a Monday afternoon, this would be considered busy.”

As he said this, a young skater buckled at the knees, falling on all-fours next to Morocco.

“You okay?”

“Yeah!” the kid panted, jetting awkwardly away.

For $7, an adult guest can figure-eight all day; skates are rented for $3 a pair. Each boot is shaped out of tough blue plastic, and they’re not for everybody. “Ow!” wailed a pre-adolescent in the rink’s rental shop as she jammed her pink-socked foot into the skate. “Owee! This hearts really bad! It’s really paaaaaainful!”

Equally painful was the wind-chill – even in the wall-protected PPG Plaza, the air was biting on exposed skin. Skaters wore buffering layers of fleece and faux-fur-lined coats, jamming their gloved hands in their pants pockets. Even Morocco only circled the ice for 10-minute intervals before changing guard with other staff-members.

“I don’t know why they come out here on a day like this,” Morocco conceded, although he looked grateful for the company.

Rasmussen offered one explanation: “My husband is from Idaho, and we had to show him the tradition.” Then she exclaimed, with equal enthusiasm: “And he just had his first Primanti’s sandwich!”


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