Unique Streets: 22
Miles Walked: 6.06
Street Names (italicized have been walked on another day): Industry Street, Allen Street, Asteroid Way, Manton Way, Arlington Avenue, E. Warrington Avenue, Millbridge Street, Fern Way, Harcourt Way, Proctor Way, Climax Street, Ardale Way, Loyal Way, Bernd Way, Estella Avenue, Haberman Avenue, Freeland Street, Delmont Avenue, Leaf Street, Cedarhurst Street, Banning Way, Sylvania Avenue, Gearing Avenue, Orient Way, Montooth Street, Bolivar Way, Chalfont Street, Michigan Street, Cleo Way, Amesbury Street, Eldora Place, Vandalia Street, Tampa Way, Zelda Way, Ashdale Street, Althea Street, Arcadia Way, Altamont Way, Bernd Street, Beltzhoover Avenue, Etta Street, Bigbee Street, Aline Street, Bailey Avenue, Boggs Avenue, Wyoming Street, Virginia Avenue, Shiloh Street, Thorpe Way, Ruth Street, Kathleen Street, Cushman Way, Eureka Street, Armour Way, Secane Avenue, Kingsboro Street, Craighead Street, Walter Street, Helen Way.
On the first day of November 2019, I walked with a friend from my writing class. I picked Bob up from his home in Moon Township and we headed east. Bob is older than me by a few decades but any fear I had about him being able to walk for a distance were quickly suppressed. During our drive, he told me that he used to be a runner and now stays in shape by walking 5 miles, most days of the week.
My plans for our walk included a part of Beltzhoover I’d always driven past but never visited. I parked my car on its border with Allentown and we both bundled up for the colder weather. Bob needed coffee and I needed a bathroom before our walk, so we headed a few blocks over to Black Forge Coffeehouse. It was completely in the opposite direction from where we were headed but Bob seemed fine with that. Never having a true destination or timetable myself, I appreciated that.
We set off on our walk and began noticing all sorts of things that have been lost, forgotten, or tossed away. Pieces of Halloween candy fallen from a trick or treat bag lay in the middle of a skinny alley. I imagine a diminutive Captain America who doesn’t realize it didn’t make it into the folded opening of their bag of loot.
Greasy Styrofoam take-out containers and empty plastic jugs of Turners Lemon Iced Tea lay in the middle of a bramble of weeds and brown leaves. The fast calories that energized the consumer of the food in the container will be burned off long before the refuse biodegrades.
Even the houses are disposable. On one block that runs along McKinley Park, there are about 20 houses, two or three of which are actually lived in. The rest are boarded up and falling down.
The number of people we have seen on this walk is dwarfed by the number of broken TVs. Three TVs for every one person. Maybe even four. A flock of CRT TVs sit at the end of a grass driveway that leads up to an ancient leaning garage.
A 1950s Thunderbird with a crinkled hood watches over the cluster of plastic and glass as if they are fledglings crowded in a nest.
We take a long set of city stairs that run parallel to Bernd Street. We can see that the stairs go down and then where a small gap exists to allow pedestrian traffic, they go back up the other side of the valley. Halfway down the stairs we find an ancient relic: a pay phone.
It’s missing the receiver but otherwise, it looks to be in pretty good shape. I wonder what sort of calls have been made from this phone. Clandestine whispers to a lover: “yes, uh huh, he just left. C’mon over.” Reminders to pick up a certain grocery item. Lies to parents: “Yeah mom, I’m at Charlie’s house working on the science project” when the teenager is actually on their way to McKinley Park to drink malt liquor in the woods.
A disembodied mannequin head and shoulders lies face down in a carport among tires, black plastic bags, rugs, and throw pillows. The lifeless human figure is initially more shocking than all of the garbage that surrounds it. It’s never a mannequin until it is and then it blends into the background with the rest of the trash that people don’t have the time or energy to properly dispose of.
It’s lunch time and we decide to walk almost two miles to the Shiloh Grille in Mt. Washington. I love their food and the building has a colorful history. As we walk, I tell Bob that the restaurant is the former house of Kate Soffell, the wife of the warden of the Allegheny County Jail. In 1902, Mrs. Soffel notoriously fell in love with one of the Biddle brothers, both of which were imprisoned at the Allegheny County Jail and then helped them escape. Eventually, they were caught in West View after having stolen a horse-drawn sleigh and the two brothers were mortally wounded.
Mrs. Soffel tried unsuccessfully to commit suicide and was subsequently sentenced to two years in prison. After her release, she lived in the house until her death from typhoid fever in 1909.
It’s one of my favorite stories to tell and one that is not well known today. People lose things, they throw unwanted items away, they forget the stories that formed the various streets they walk. The ghosts of those that came before us are there, but their voices get quieter every year. It’s up to those who are here and listening to tell their stories and sift through the garbage to find the truth. Our elders will thank us for it and our children will continue the tradition if we pass it down.