The trip began in Pittsburgh. My mom and dad were both born and raised in Pittsburgh and three of their four kids, including me, were born there as well. Even though I was just a baby when Dad got transferred to Birmingham, Pittsburgh has always had a really special place in my heart. Almost any time we went out-of-town when I was a kid, we piled in the car and headed there. One of my very favorite childhood memories is when we would finally arrive late at night, me tired and groggy, curled up against the window in the backseat. When I knew we were getting close I'd peer out the window, waiting for that moment when we'd exit the Fort Pitt Tunnel and boom! all of a sudden Pittsburgh was laid out in front of us, all those beautiful bridges and buildings lit up against the three rivers. It was breath-taking every single time. The New Yorker once said Pittsburgh is the only city with its own entrance and that's exactly the way it feels. (You MUST click on the image below to get the full effect.)
Photo courtesy of PittsburghSkyline.comSome of us drove in from Buffalo and some of us flew into Pittsburgh. Those of us who drove - my mom, brothers Chris and Lee and me - arrived a little earlier than planned which gave us a little time to kill. When Mom asked if there was something we wanted to do, I imposed my will on the group and we headed off to see the Wall. The Wall, for those not in the know, is the remaining chunk of the outfield wall from Forbes Field, former home to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Forbes is probably best known for this moment. When I was a kid I had one wall of my bedroom pretty much covered with Andy Van Slyke but this picture was tucked away in one corner.
I've always wanted to visit the Wall and I was in the middle of reading The Best Game Ever: Pirates 10, Yankees 9: October 13, 1960 which made the visit even more timely. (As an aside, I highly recommend the book to baseball fans out there, particularly my fellow Pirates fans. And I know there are a couple out there, Lee, so zip it.)
I'm not kidding when I say I got a little choked up. I was standing in the same space as Roberto Clemente!
The first thing we did once we were all together was have a birthday party for my nephew Luke who will turn 2 in a week or so. The little guy did pretty well for himself, I have to say.
Here Luke keeps a close eye on Daddy as he opens his presents. Dad kept taking the presents Luke had already opened and taking a closer look at them and Luke was not entirely sure he liked this. Smart move by the kid. I can still see Lee standing in the middle of the street outside our house on Christmas morning, in tears while John and Chris ran his new remote controlled tank up and down the street, refusing to let Lee play with it.
Monday morning the group - my grandmother and aunt (both Pittsburghers), my mom, my three brothers, my sister-in-law, my nephew and me - took a ride on the Gateway Clipper. The Gateway Clipper travels along the three rivers of Pittsburgh while a tour guide occasionally shares some interesting facts, allowing you to take in the sights of the city. Here are some of my favorite views.
Bridges galore in Pittsburgh! I have this site marked just so I can look at them when I want to.
The Point, where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers meet and form the Ohio River. When you're up close, that fountain is pretty impressive.
When we rode by PNC Park, I taught Luke how to say "baseball." Later in the trip when there was a baseball game on a TV in the restaurant where we were eating, he pointed at it and said, "Baseball!" Clearly, he's a genius and I'm the best aunt ever.
After a quick lunch we piled into the car and headed off for Gettysburg. Since the other car was packed full of people I rode with John, Sarah and Luke. Look how happy Lukie Ookie was to have Aunt Hea-er in his car. (I was "Hea-er," Chris was "Tris" and Lee was "Fee/Flee/Lee" depending on the day. But really we were all "Tris" interchangeably for the most of the week.)
The next morning John, Sarah (sister-in-law), Luke, Lee and I set out for a tour of Gettysburg. John purchased a CD guide to listen to in the car but between varying levels of interest and the little guy in the back, we ended up doing the abbreviated version. Oh, there was also the fact that Mom, who was supposed to be taking Grandma to Lancaster for the afternoon, called a few minutes into the tour to inform us that she had somehow locked her purse and keys in the trunk of her car which meant she and Grandma were stuck at the visitors center where we'd left them until Lee came back with his key.
Still I did learn that the improved artillery and accuracy made the Civil War the first war where it was more advantageous to hold the defensive position than to be on the offensive all the time. And I did, of course, take pictures.
Pretty crazy to imagine one of the bloodiest battles in history in the middle of all that beautiful scenery.
John explains to Lee how the cannon works. Lee appears to be interested. Not that it matters because John would be talking anyway.
That night we went on a Gettysburg ghost tour but it was a bit of a snooze. At that point I was pretty wiped out though and the ol' ankle was starting to cramp a bit so it's possible I just wasn't in the mood. Anyway, I have no pictures!
On our way out of Gettysburg we had to stop at Boyds Bear Country. My sister-in-law Sarah is a huge fan of Boyds and this place is like a temple for collectors. It is huuuuge and stuffed to the rafters with bears and other stuffed animals of every size. I don't really collect Boyds but when I was wandering through the nursery portion of the store - complete with baby bears in cradles and nurses walking around burping bears - I saw this little guy and well, he had to come home with me. The tag around his neck had a name on it but I didn't like it so I named him Harry instead. Harry really enjoyed his portion of the trip, I think.
I'll be honest, things got a little dicey at this point in the trip. John and his family were staying in a different hotel than we were at the next stop so Mom, Grandma, Chris, Lee and I all had to cram into one car. This would be fine if we were still 4, 6 and 16 but we're not. We are not small people in the Henderson family so the squeeze, it was tight. I had to make sure I had my book and iPod out and in the correct position because once we were all in, there was no moving of the arms going on.
Fortunately, halfway to Harrsiburg (I think - I admit my days are getting muddied) we stopped at the Dollhouse Museum. Despite the name, the Dollhouse Museum is really a toy museum. There are dolls involved but there were lots of other things to look at too which is nice since outside of a Cabbage Patch preemie, I wasn't a big doll kid.
This is more my speed:
Hot wheels! (This was really supposed to be G.I. Joes but none of my photos of that display turned out.)
One of the best things about brothers who are much older than you are all the hand me down toys. Even though some of these things were before my time, I remember them being around probably because of John and Chris.
And then the last room was like one huge flashback for Lee and me. Observant readers will remember a story I once told about Chris "accidentally" melting Lee's Mr. T doll. Well, you should have heard us when we spotted this guy:
Can't you just hear him saying, "I pity the fool!" I offered to the distract the curator while Lee lifted the Mr. T - it didn't look like they had a very high-tech security set-up - but Mom frowned upon talk of theft and we didn't want her and Grandma to get mixed up in our schemes. Chris, on the other hand, totally owes Lee and should have been ready to take the fall if it came to that. (We totally had that stuffed Alf too.)
Here we have my entire late elementary/early junior high years on one shelf: MC Hammer, Vanilla Ice and of course, the New Kids on the Block. (Eeeeeeeee! I LOVE YOU, DONNIE!!!!111!!!)
Oh. Oh, wait. Never mind. But hey, look at the young Thomas Vanek action figure!
See, because the doll is from Austria... and Vanek is from Austria. Get it? Come on, the idea of little Thomas dressed up like that isn't funny? Oh, fine. Never mind.
Despite the fun distraction of the toys, as soon as we got back in the car, misery set in. We still had a little bit of a drive to Harrisburg and quite frankly, dear readers, I didn't think I was going to make it. I totally snuck out of there before my family to see if I could find a hotspot for my laptop to connect to and I got nothing. The final blow. Harry and I plugged in the iPod and tried to think happy thoughts for the next hour and a half.
After a night's sleep in Harrisburg however I was feeling better and ready to take on the Pennsylvania Capitol building.
My favorite part of the building were these mosaics in the main floor showing the history of Pennsylvania and things important to the state.
At the building's dedication, Roosevelt called the Capitol "the handsomest building I ever saw." Roosevelt was probably not wearing flip flops at the time.
Unfortunately most of my pictures inside the building came out really dark and I've already been working on this post for days so I don't feel like messing with them to get them to look better. I know you're all heart-broken. The building really is beautiful though. If you're interested in pictures you can actually see, check out this site.
As the week wound down, we finally headed back to Pittsburgh. It was the first time in a few years we've had a day to spend there so we did a couple of our favorite things.
First up, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. The museum has the world's third largest collection of dinosaur fossils and is considered one of the top Natural History museums in the country. It's very cool.
Before we get to the dinosaurs however, a quick Top Shelf geology quiz for you, taken from a display in the museum.
Question: Granite is an igneous rock that is formed as magma solidified. What is the best way to date such rocks?
Correct answer: Bring flowers and candy.
Question: Can you date sedimentary rock which was carried along and rounded by a river?
Correct answer: No, it's already married.
(First joke is Lee's, second joke is mine. Yes, this is exactly the kind of humor the Henderson family excels in.)
Most of my pictures are the result of me telling Lee to do something ridiculous. What else are little brothers for, you know?
Quite possibly my favorite thing in the museum. You know this sign means someone actually tried to chew one of those rocks, probably cracking a few teeth in the process.
After the museum, a baseball game! It's been a number of years since we made it to a Pirates game during our Pennsylvania trip so I was super stoked.
Before we went in for the game, Lee and I wandered around a bit. We were running a little late because of the other part of the family but we wanted to look at some things outside before it got too dark.
These player statues are pretty popular photo stops and there's often a line of people waiting to pose with them. After the game some of us were cracking up at a guy who ran over to the Stargell statue and put an arm up behind him and leaned back for a quick picture, without really paying attention to where his hand was. He's going to be pretty surprised when he looks at his photos and realizes he was grabbing Pops' package.
The Roberto Clemente Bridge, right behind the outfield wall, is closed to automobiles during games, allowing fans to walk over from other parking areas.
PNC Park is one of my very favorite places on the face of the earth. It's built along the Allegheny River and the city skyline lies right behind the outfield wall which makes for some beautiful scenery. It consistently comes up in polls as one of the best parks in the Major Leagues. It's really very lovely. Click on the next few images to get a better look.
The out-of-town scoreboard in right field shows the score, the inning, which team is currently hitting and how many outs there are which made it very easy for Lee to keep tabs on the Mets. (As an aside, I was trying to remember if the Mets won or lost that night but the scoreboard calendar on MLB.com pops up under the sidebar ad making it impossible to actually read. Nice move, MLB.com.) My favorite tidbit about PNC is that the right field wall is 21 feet tall in honor of Roberto Clemente who played right field and wore 21.
Uuuuunfortunately, the team playing INSIDE the park isn't nearly as beautiful as the park itself. The score at the end of the first was a pretty good indicator of what it's been like to be a Pirates fan for the last oh, 16 years or so.
Lee picked up a classic black hat with gold P, Chris purchased a Roberto Clemente jersey (something he's been talking about doing for years now) and I scored a pile of jersey tees - a Jason Bay (yes, I know he's no longer a Pirate but it was on clearance and I feel very strongly that you can never have too many t-shirts), a Nate McClouth (been too long since I owned a current Pirate) and a Bill Mazeroski (in honor of our trip to the Wall and my then-current reading material). I think it's worth pointing out that immediately after I pulled on my McClouth tee, Nate hit a home run for the Pirates only run of the game. Atta boy, Natey.
The Pirates' opponent this fine August evening was the Milwaukee Brewers. Once upon a time, the Brewers logo looked like this:
That logo is sweet. It's an M! And a B! In the shape of a baseball glove and ball! Come on, that's awesome! And it's drawn in bright, distinct colors!
Now the Brewers logo looks like this:
It's an M. Just an M. In dark boring colors like everyone in the world wears now. Oh, sure they made a stab at referencing the team name by slapping a piece of barley under the M but let's face it, this logo blows.
Anyway, the game ended with a 3-1 Pirates loss. Sad. Thanks goodness Andy Van Slyke was there to make me feel better.
Anybody still out there? Anybody? Hey, if you're still reading at this point, congratulations, I'm pretty sure that makes you my favorite reader! Sorry for the long and arduous slog. Now that I've gotten this post out of my system hopefully things can go back to normal: Really, really short posts that are ALWAYS about the Sabres. Heh.