Some tiny creature, mad with wrath,

Is coming nearer on the path.

--Edward Gorey

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. Outlying Islands

Writer, lawyer, cyclist, rock climber, wanderer of dark residential streets, friend.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Pittsburgh By Mist and Dusk

From the twenty-something floor of such-and-such a building, the city, at dinnertime on Easter Sunday, is preternaturally still. Downstairs, smoking a cigarette just outside the exit, my car the only one parked on the street and the surprisingly warm mist gently curling the pages of the brief I've brought with me to while away a few minutes, none of the hum that animates any city is palpable. I'm reminded of the only quiet hours in New York City's East Village: from roughly 5 AM to 9 AM on Sundays. There, of course, the quiet is far more unsettling; the contrast with the status quotidian is infinitely more stark. But here, just the same, there is quiet and then there is Quiet.

Pittsburgh's downtown area, like those of most secondary cities and not a few primary cities, serves principally as a giant boardroom -- a place where business is transacted and little else. In the handful of lofts and condominiums sprinkled around the triangle, loves are formed, consummated, dissolved, dreams are imagined, shared, shattered, children are conceived, miscarried, neglected, but no groceries are purchased, very little coffee is sipped in commercial establishments, only a handful of enterprises are open for business, and even fewer outside the Cultural District which is active only for the few afternoon hours of matinees and the associated consort.

This is a city that often sleeps.

I enjoy these quiet hours in the office, whether or not I enjoy the tasks that lure me in when I needn't show my face. There is sometimes a face-time component; my workaholic boss often makes at least a brief appearance when I come in off-hours. But that never animates my choice; he doesn't expect me to work as hard as he does. Indeed, I suspect he would preserve the moral highground he enjoys for, at his advanced age, still being the hardest working man in showbiz. He is also, however, a devout Christian, and this is the one day I am reasonably certain he will make no appearance. I am here today to work, because I feel like working, because I am a little behind, because I have nothing else terribly urgent to attend.

Looking west from the window near the elevator shafts, the tranquility on display outside and below my office window is contradicted. There, looking northeast, I peer down at the tentacular interplay of highways that divide the business district from Duquesne University and the Hill. These arteries thrum with cars like blood cells, invigorating this grey, moist organism with the oxygen of humanity; they, of course, are only active because they channel the passage of people from home to celebrations and back again, sprinting along the Mon, diving north across downtown's barren posterior, sliding along or across the Allegheny, continuing on to points unknown. To count these wayfarers against the city's serenity would be an injustice.

From my window I can see at least fourteen major office buildings. My window is one of no more than a couple dozen that presently are illumined, at least a few of which are just on, casting no shadow of industrious workers in on a holiday. It's rather bizarre.

Notwithstanding the rain, I wish I'd cycled in. I could have turned laps around downtown for hours, allowing the first hints of spring to moisten my legs in the dark, the hiss of my tires on the pavement uncorrupted by any other noise. I might have foresworn my blinking lights, and lurked like a specter in the night, observing each brick and stone and manhole cover in lieu of the people who usually so captivate my attention. Without the nagging concern for errant traffic, I might succumb to the sense of flight that occasionally elevates a ride, when my legs feel like they might pedal forever, and my lungs forget a decade and a half of abuse.

I might never go home.


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