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The Infamous Pittsburgh Expedition

Well, the whole thing was Sandy’s fault. She came up with the brilliant idea of taking our moms, (sisters Elinor, Ethel and Betty) to the ‘Burgh to visit their cousin Laura Jean Matchett, whom they hadn’t seen since Gram’s death in July, 1982. I called Candy with an invite, and so the 6 of us were in, and at this point (completely clueless regarding our destiny), very enthusiastic. Sandy and her mom, Ethel, were traveling from Mansfield, Ohio, and we coming from Warren and Erie, so we decided against a day trip, and agreed to meet Friday evening at the Comfort Inn near the Pittsburgh Airport. It was close to Jean’s house and would be a quick, easy trip (HA!) in the morning when we were all fresh <snort>. It was at this point where our wonderful, well-intentioned plans somehow began to go awry. These  and the following events all took place in the short span of May 31 and June 1, 2002.

On Friday night, we were all safe and sound at the “Inn”, reviewing a big box of old pictures that Gram had handed down to Aunt Betty; we were doing a lot of reminiscing. As it turned out, “The Moms” pooped out very early (11 p.m.). We hustled the three of them into the same room, with instructions to remove their hearing aids so they wouldn’t hear each other’s snoring, and we three cousins (Sandy, Candy, Debbie) gathered in our own room, armed with iced power drinks (bottled water) and chips and salsa. It was after 2 a.m. (“I know, we have to get to bed, but just look at this one!” I truly don’t remember whose line that was), when we decided we’d better turn in because the starving sisters would probably be banging on our door in about 4 hours. So much for the “being fresh in the morning” part of the arrangement.

Moaning and groaning and regretting the short night, we dragged out of bed by 7 AM. The 6 of us took advantage of the Continental Breakfast, loaded up with fruit ‘n carbs, and at about 8:40 AM, stumped (literally) off to the vehicles.

And thus, the trek from hell began. First, very early on, we ran into a detour which took us on a right turn across the river (God knows which one, someone decided there should be three!), over one of the 2496 bridges (count ‘em!) in the city. We were somewhere enmeshed in the maze of crooked streets and lost pedestrians when I thought I heard a little voice say, “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore, Toto”.

After an hour of thrashing around, multiple U-turns, and nearly crashing into each other 7 times, we stopped for directions from a funeral home employee. The customers weren’t complaining about the delay as the kind proprietor took pity upon us. First thing out of his mouth was, “You don’t want to know how far off course you are”. Pointing in some ambiguous direction, his instructions then were: “Go down that way, and don’t even look at the Route 22/30 signs, ‘cause it’ll just make you mad”. We were outta that neighborhood in less than half an hour.

Meanwhile, I’m looking at my watch, thinking we were supposed to be there 30 minutes ago. Little did I know…

Sandy called Jean on her cell phone to tell her we were lost, and would be a little late. It was all downhill from there…and uphill and downhill and uphill. During the entire odyssey, two of the sisters were in my back seat, one snickering to herself at how we’d all get at laugh out of this later, so glad she wasn’t the one driving. The other was asking why we didn’t stop for directions earlier, and that we surely could have/should have/would have been there by now. My valiant attempts at tuning out this backseat chatter were beginning to fail consistent with the increase in my blood pressure. Nor did my nasty glare toward the rear of the vehicle have any positive effect on the unrelenting harassment.

The next 2½-hour period is a blur, mixed with Candy and I in the front seat, intensely watching for familiar street names gleaned from our map (which seems to have been outdated more than 40 years ago), trying not to drive up Sandy’s tailpipe, cursing under my breath, questions flying from the vague black area behind us regarding “What was the name of that street we just passed?”, and “Look at that yard”, and “Where are we now”, and “This doesn’t look familiar at all”, or “We just were here 10 minutes ago”, and “I DON’T KNOW WHY YOU DON’T STOP AND ASK FOR DIRECTIONS!” (WHAT, AGAIN???) This statement was in complete disregard of the fact that I had my eyes glued on Sandy’s bumper, for fear I’d never see her again in this lifetime, and that we’d stopped for directions 5 times already, and had made 42 U-turns. My cursing was threatening to become unmistakably audible.

The morning’s expedition had taught us that the statement “You can’t get there from here” is excruciatingly true in what the cousins have since dubbed “The Lost City”. I have a sneaking suspicion the saying was actually coined there. We also suspect that not many come out of there alive, and feel so incredibly fortunate to still be breathing and able to recount this incredible odyssey for you here today.

The real clincher for me came during an upbeat period in what we now term our “Travels to” (wait’ll you hear Sandy’s “Travels from” portion of the chronicles) when one sister said from the back, “Don’t ever ask me to do this again”. My deceptively calm reply was, “You can count on it”. Meanwhile, I quietly asked Candy where we had stashed the duct tape.

Well, to make a long, loooong story short, we arrived at Jean’s house at 11:30 AM, only 3 hours late, amazingly, none of us being choked to death, thanks to my proficient self-control. Happily thanking the Travel Gods for sparing our lives and sanity, we entered the house…with a helpful little shove from Elinor for her youngest sister.

But wait. It’s not over yet…one poor aunt who’d gone more than 3 hours without a tinkle break frantically asked where the john was. You won’t believe this-it was upstairs. Now we’re not talking a regular upstairs. Nooo, we’re talking 200-year-old Victorian 59 steps per flight, a couple of 90 degree turns this way and that, a 10-minute, slow, agonizing yet frenzied trip upstairs. It was painful to watch. OY! Where was Elinor when you needed her?

This is about the time I began feeling guilty about the “You can count on it” crack. Now just imagine being almost 80 years old, having a full bladder, experiencing so much difficulty with the first 3 steps into the house that your 83-year-old sister has to goose you up the last one. Then, adding insult to injury, here you face an almost vertical cliff face climb with no safety rope, for that way past-due tinkle. Later, on my own terrifying expedition up out of the abyss, I believe I detected a trail up the carpeted stairs. A yellow brick road? I don’t think it was bread crumbs, Gretel.

Post tinkle-trauma, we actually had a great time with Jean, drinking ice tea (Oh no! Doesn’t this spell trouble?), taking pictures of each other, and looking at the old pictures that Lin, (another cousin of the sisters) had bequeathed to Jean. There was lots of information discussed about the Secor side of the family that we hadn’t yet gleaned, so Sandy is in seventh genealogy heaven, and all is well…now.

We all then went to lunch, gabbed and laughed some more, and returned to Jean’s home (disappointingly, with no U-turns. At the time, I feared I’d go into U-turn withdrawal; I had become quite skilled at these earlier today). At the end of the visit, we’d planned on finding Route 79 together, and then going our own separate ways from there. After the enjoyable 3rd U-turn, however, I was just about losing it, so got out of the  trusty Blazer and told Sandy, “If we get separated, you’re on your own. We’re heading north toward the Nether Regions.” However, not to panic the rest of the pit crew, secretly I hoped she’d be able to find us again next year in North Podunk (where we likely got lost forever), take mercy upon us, and lead us back home.

And this is where Sandy’s own version of the “Travels from” can be inserted. Keep in mind that this was in the days prior to GPS, at least in our vehicles. So, how was West Virginia, Sandy-got an Ohio map now? Oh, you say Uncle Virg super-glued it to your dash? Added four screws, squirted on some Loctite, and 3 coats of polyurethane? Ahh, what the heck, let’s live dangerously-ready to do it all again next year girls?

No dear, the story is not yet quite complete! At the Titusville Perkins (and not a building within a hundred miles over 5 stories) on our return trip (yes, we finally made it back to familiar territory with limited glitches), the aunt inquired about the soup of the day. Upon learning that it was broccoli cheese, she asked if she could get it without the cheese. Poor waitress…I wanted so badly to suggest steamed broccoli, but respectfully, I held my tongue; I was still suffering ample guilt from the “Count on it” remark.

Well, God Bless us, we tried to do a good thing, and after all is said and done (although I know I shall be forever scarred), I know we did. Keep in mind, though, while this story probably seems just a little too good to be true, the above account was written a full four days following my return home, so the memories were vague, happy, and somewhat gilded. The other two cousins may have a much different version of the same story, as I may have-OK, only just slightly-taken full advantage of poetic license.

Home, Sweet Home .



5 Comments on “The Infamous Pittsburgh Expedition”

  1. Oh my Lord. When you were reading this to us I almost busted a gut. This is so funny and you are so talented ❤️❤️❤️

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