One of the most beautiful urban sights you will ever see is the city of Pittsburgh just as you come out of the Fort Pitt Tunnel after sunset. You drive down a long, long hill to get there - Pittsburgh, for those of you who have never been there, has approximately six square feet of level ground in the entire metropolitan area; not even the rivers are flat - and then you go through a tunnel that only feels that long because Pittsburghers invariably slow way down when in tunnels. It's a blandly utilitarian sight, the interior of the tunnel. And then you get to the end, and - BAM! - there, all of the sudden, is the entire downtown of Pittsburgh, all lit up. It's breathtaking.
I hit that tunnel at a little before 5am, central time. Before dawn works just as well as after sunset.
Yes, I know Pittsburgh is not in the central time zone, but the thing about short trips is that it just is not worth adjusting your body clock. Wisconsin is central time. For the four days I was east, well, I could just do the math.
I'm not much on pre-dawn anything, usually, but I wanted to get home in time to pick up the girls from school, so early, early it was.
I'd spent the night with my friends Mike and Krista. Mike was a colleague in my Pitt grad student days, and was largely responsible for keeping me as sane as I was, which is meant well even if it does sound to the uninitiated as faint praise. Krista, a perceptive person, has long maintained that we were the same person in a former life. We probably won the Silver Sow Award together. It was good to see them (and trade Tolkien nerdishness with their son Eli).
But off I went.
Ohio was, well, beige. And white due to the occasional lake-effect snow. But not nearly as cold as it was on Friday, so we'll take that. It has entirely too many radio stations devoted to Rush Limbaugh, who is apparently still around and still doggedly pursuing his own reality as if it could be created from sheer verbiage out of the wreckage of this one. Honestly, how does that man even find his shoes in the morning?
Also, the Tackiest House In America has been repainted and is now Bland.
It stood at mile marker 111 on the Ohio Turnpike, and Kim and I used to look forward to it when we drove past - which, I suppose, is saying something about the Ohio Turnpike experience. It was a bright white ranch house, except that someone - probably in the mid-1970s, I'm guessing - had painted about half a dozen foot-wide horizontal stripes around the whole thing. They started with a deep navy blue at the bottom and gradually transitioned to a bright kelly green at the top. It wasn't unattractive, really, but neither was it anything you'd want nearby. But it, like the rest of Ohio, is now beige, and that is a shame.
The highlight of the trip home was listening to the radio broadcasts of the Presidential inauguration ceremony in Washington. After eight long years, George W. Bush is finally no longer in a position to do me any direct harm, and that is all to the good. At this weekend's birthday party one of my Republican relatives asked me if I felt Obama would solve all of our problems. No, I said, I'll settle for him not being actively harmful. It'd be a step up.
I wasn't terribly impressed by the ceremony itself. Obama's speech was workmanlike at best, for example, and Chief Justice Roberts really needs to learn how to read off a cue card. But for sheer historical import - both looking back over our past and looking forward to a future that I might actually want my children to inhabit - it was a great day.
And I did make it home in time to pick up Tabitha and Lauren from school, so the early morning was worthwhile. The first thing we did was go to a car wash, where we discovered that the car was not in fact "road-salt" grey. And then came the Distribution of the Gifts, because that is what other people's trips are for, really.
Of course it's Eagles stuff. You have to train them up right, after all.