Unique Streets: 31
Miles Walked: 5.06
Street Names (italicized have been walked on another day): Kelly Street, La Schall Street, Frankstown Avenue, Sweeney Place, McCombs Street, Inwood Street, No Name, Eastview Street, Gerritt Street, Idlewild Street, Beecher Street, Monticello Street, Fielding Way, Amity Way, N. Murtland Street, Forest Way, N. Lang Avenue, N. Homewood Avenue, Race Street, Sterrett Street, Fuchsia Way, Collier Street, Fletcher Way, Hermitage Street, Ferdinand Way, Kedron Street, Mt. Vernon Street, Upland Street, Chaucer Street, Spin Way, Saxon Way, Apple Street, Challenge Street, Pineridge Street, Brushton Avenue, Baxter Street, N. Braddock Avenue, Felicia Way, Zenith Way, Bennett Street, N. Dallas Avenue, Fleury Way
I park in Homewood West on Kelly Street near the railroad tracks that have been there for over 100 years. The business district of Homewood is packed full of people going about their business. The smokers at Showcase BBQ emit wafts of heaven-scented gray smoke throughout the neighborhood. Two men throw slabs of ribs on the grill grates as two others shovel wood chips out of a truck and into steel drums.
“Can I join you on your run?” one man hollers down from the truck.
“I’m just walking.”
He laughs as I walk up to the men at the smokers.
“What time do you start serving?”
Great, just enough time for a walk and then I can pick up dinner for my family. The second street that I walk down is gravel and called Sweeney Place. If someone picked you up by your shirt collar like the ghost of Christmas Present and plopped you down on Sweeney Place, you might think you were on a small-town country road. Only one side of the road still has houses and the other where the railroad tracks run, is a mess of tall weeds and saplings.
Many houses in Homewood are large and were, in their halcyon days, true beauties of architecture. Now, most have been split into apartments, fallen into disrepair, and on many blocks, completely gone. Wealthy families with names emblazoned on various street signs, buildings, schools, and libraries lived in Homewood and the neighboring area of Point Breeze: Mellon, Wilkins, Dallas, Linden, Carnegie, Frick, Pitcairn, to name a few. Their large homesteads were eventually parceled out and many houses sprung up to fill the blocks of their former acreage.
In the 1950s, after much of Uptown and the Hill District was decimated to build the short-lived Civic Arena, black families were forced to move. Many of them had no other choice but Homewood with its many apartment buildings. It became their home base and has been an epicenter for African American culture since. There have been hiccups throughout the years. In 1968, the Holy Week Uprising after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. brought fire and brimstone to the streets of Homewood, the Hill, and the North Side. The damage caused by these riots hurt parts of the city that were able to recover from them the least. That effect can still be felt today. In the 70s and 80s, illegal drugs flowed through the streets and the crime that comes with them did too.
Homewood has a reputation as a “bad part of town.” If walking over 3,000 streets in Pittsburgh has taught me anything, it’s that there are no “good” or “bad” parts of the city. There are rich areas, poor areas, and whole lot in the middle. The blocks in Homewood are long in order to fit the grand houses that populate the streets. Children play together in the middle of the safe dead-end streets. Most varieties of native Pennsylvania trees can be seen on almost every block: American Chestnut, Osage, Maple, Oak. I see deer frolicking on the corner of Amity and Fielding and feel like I’ve been transported into an animated Disney movie.
Neighbors getting into their cars converse for a few moments before getting on with their day. Murals emblazon the wide sides of buildings on many blocks. “Homewood, Hope, God, Peace, Freedom” are the themes of many that I see.
The minutia captivates my senses as I walk. A vine covered building on one corner has a crooked backlit sign hanging from iron brackets. The words “Lou’s Convenience Store” are written on a cartoon grocery bag filled with milk, bread, toilet paper, and cleaning supplies. A hoagie floats near the bottom of the bag.
House remnants force me to pause and stare a while, admiring the marble tile that still hangs on the front of a fireplace.
On the top floor of another, a door to nowhere is closed to the house that remains.
Did two friendly families live in this duplex? Maybe not. There is no knob on the side of the door that opens to a three-story fall.
A marooned boat does not float anymore in a steep brick alley.
Its captain’s chair can be seen a few feet away, lying in the weeds next to a lumbering case of plastic and glass that used to be a projection TV. On another block, I spot a monkey ball (aka Osage Orange). It’s lying in a trickling stream of not-quite-water, so I leave it.
A few blocks down on Brushton Avenue, I spot a crop of them. I pick one that has the least bruises and immediately have sticky hands. I regret my decision to pick it up but since I already have, I’ll carry it home to my four-year-old.
Across the street from a large school building called Baxter High, I hear a loud meow. I stop in my tracks and look around for the culprit. More meowing from the left as a pale orange tomcat saunters out from between weeds. I sit down and he crawls into my lap. He’s a lover boy and can’t get enough pets from me. Then, I feel something brush on my back. Another kitty! This one is a brown tabby and is a bit shier than his frenemy. They rub cheeks and then one swats at the other. Not wanting to be in the middle of a catfight, I tell them to calm down and they do. I get up to continue my walk and the cats come too. Thankfully, I leave them a block later as I walk towards busy Frankstown Avenue. As I walk by the Dallas Parklet, a woman announces loudly to her friend “She has a monkey ball! Honey, you can put that in your basement to keep out all of the spiders and creepy crawlies!” I didn’t know that and thank her for the tip.
I can’t help myself when I see two nearby streets I haven’t walked yet, so I go on the other side of Frankstown to walk on Fleury Way. As I turn the corner near Perry’s Market, I realize the brick street is a lake. A man nearby notices me and I mention “That’s a big puddle.” He laughs and agrees. Later, I would get home to research the area and I discovered that there used to be an ice pond in that very spot. Things change and things stay the same.
I know I’m getting closer to my car when I can see and smell the smoke from Showcase. Groups have filled up the tables outside as they dine on some of the most delicious looking food I’ve seen. I walk in and order three half racks of BBQ ribs with mac and cheese, yams, greens, green beans, and cornbread. It tasted as delicious as it looked and smelled.