Unique Streets: 11
Miles Walked: 3.34
Street Names (italicized have been walked on another day): Penn Avenue, N. Atlantic Avenue, Kincaid Street, N. Pacific Avenue, Hillcrest Street, Donna Street, Fannell Street, Columbo Street, Engleside Avenue, Gretna Way, Shamrock Way, N. Winebiddle Street, Rosetta Street, N. Millvale Avenue, Brown Way, N. Mathilda Street, Breesport Street, Stieb Way, Reno Way, Jordan Way, Alhambra Way, Dearborn Street.
Three days before Christmas in 2019, Johnny and I had a Sunday afternoon to take a leisurely stroll through Garfield. There was a section of it I hadn’t walked yet but I was surprised when I counted the streets after and realized that we’d covered eleven new streets.
The day before our walk was the shortest day of the year but you never would have known by looking at the sun (don’t actually do that.) It floated high in the southern sky and threatened to warm our jackets right off of us. We parked on Penn Avenue and walked to the Primanti Bros. near the intersection of S. Fairrmount Street. We took a seat at a small table in the empty restaurant and shortly thereafter, watched a swarm of Black N’ Gold decked yinzers pour in off the street.
“Johnny, have you ever been in a bar during a Steelers game?”
“What? No, I don’t think.”
“It might get loud.”
I hadn’t even realized that there was a game that day and it was apparently integral in their securing a spot in the playoffs. They ended up losing that day but the fans in that restaurant behaved as if the players could hear their advice and exasperated cusses. Johnny wasn’t affected by the boisterous yells and groans, but his face turned to a combination of abject horror and shock when the waitress brought over my sandwich. The 6-inch-tall by 8-inch-wide colossus filled with fries, coleslaw, kielbasa, egg, and cheese slammed down in front of me and made more of a statement than any waver of a terrible towel. The sandwich made Johnny’s diminutive chicken nuggets look microscopic in comparison.
I could have eaten the whole thing, but it wasn’t a good idea if I wanted to be able to walk any distance. We exited the small bar/restaurant and came into the sun. I wondered if he felt the way I do any time I’ve come out of a dark bar to see it’s still daylight. Like a vampire.
Lestat on this walk! I led Johnny, waddling, back down Penn towards the western part of Garfield.
Many storefronts in this section of Garfield were closed. Whether because it was the day of rest or they were shuttered permanently, I couldn’t be sure. This small stretch of Garfield had a ghost town feel to it. Specters haunting the back of my mind, I audibly gasped when in one tiny lot blocked by a chain link fence, we saw a gravestone:
DIED DEC. 22, 1928
Poor brother George had died 91 years ago on this day. This memorial was unsettling for many reasons: Johnny has a brother named George; the death anniversary was the exact day we were viewing the stone; was George’s body actually in this sad vacant lot? So many questions. If it hadn’t been such a cheerfully sunny day, we might have walked straight back to the car.
Soon, we came to an old church and I decided we should try to find a way up to N. Atlantic by going through the rarely used grounds. A jump over a short bush later and we were where we wanted to be. We kept walking up and found ourselves circling the Hillcrest Urban Farm. If it hadn’t also been a Pokemon Gym with an upcoming Raid Battle, I’m not sure I could have gotten Johnny to walk that far uphill for that long. We battled in the Raid and both caught Mawiles. Then there were more hills.
Fannel was so steep Johnny lowered himself onto the ground with ease and laid on the cobblestone for a few minutes to rest.
At every turn, we were presented with commanding views of the city skyline in the distance or the bottom of the Rize Above water tower.
Finally, we reached Columbo Street and I told Johnny that we were done climbing. It was all downhill from here. It wasn’t. Sometimes as a parent we have to tell sweet little lies to keep our kids from rebelling outright. Stevie Nicks would be proud.
On our way back down, we found an interesting section of Shamrock Way that was more mountain path cut into the bluff than street. The ground was no longer paved, instead, covered in grass and mud. Snow still clung stubbornly to the shadier areas of the path. The parts that were in full sun were cut to the ancient stone road by tiny rivulets of snow melt. Bright green shoots of grass or maybe even clover undulated like seaweed in the clear frigid water as it flowed down to river level.
Many parts of Garfield are like this. At one time, the streets of Garfield were packed tighter than a Primantis sandwich. Any Pittsburgher knows that if you’re not careful with one of these, you might grab it carelessly and let all the good stuff fly out the back as you squeeze and try to shove it in your mouth. The meat, cheese, and egg are now in a sad pile on your plate or in this case, gone completely. All that remains are the coleslaw and tomato of street sandwiches: young wood and ruins.
After our unexpected journey into the wilderness, we came to N. Mathilda Street. The lie I’d told about no more hills became apparent when I noticed two more tiny streets at the top. Luckily, there were Pokemon all over and Johnny had no problem taking his mind off burning calves and exercise-induced shortness of breath.
Finally, we were heading all the way back down and we were both ready for it. Before reaching our car, we came upon Arts & Crafts: Botanica & Occult Shop. With the memory of the misplaced tombstone fading from our minds, we went in. I picked up a chime candle in every color for George and Johnny found a petrified turtle shell. Garfield has certainly changed in the 91 years since George Durbin walked its streets. I should have picked up a Ouija board and some séance candles so I could ask him.