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.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Fifth and Forbes

Debarking from the bus onto Liberty Avenue, the mock cacophany of traffic, a hollow aural shell of noise with no depth, grapples for my attention with a few haunting phrases from a new book I just began to read this morning. My eyes are slits, my mouth dry, my only solace the brief sense of urban congress as bodies pour from the bus and enter a modest stream of foot traffic, ripples extending far past the points of intersections barely averted in obeisance to some esoteric wave equation I lack the imagination to compose.

This is not my only solace, but it's the only one I care to discuss.

The air, though chilly, has something of Spring in it, and I decline to button my jacket. I adjust the bag strap on my shoulder, sliding it uphill and under my collar.

The illusion of urban living does not last long; downtown Pittsburgh lacks the resources to sustain it. I choose to walk cross-town on Wood Street, in search of the proposed site of the new PNC tower near Wood and Fifth, which would be the first skyscraper erected in Pittsburgh in over twenty years and the first sign of progress in the ten-year effort to improve the Fifth and Forbes corridor, the windmill at which City government has tilted, relentlessly, for as long as I've lived here.

Wood Street, however, is a slum in too many ways. Waste paper clogs the gutters and storm drains, dozens of people restively await buses to odd, outlying locations, begging the question of how they came to be downtown so early in the morning to begin with. Their mouths are downturned like they've just bitten something sour; their eyes surly with vacant hostility, and every few feet one finds another poster or flier or storewindow sign advertising the lottery.

Every few feet. An advertisement for the lottery.

Know we no shame?

Turning up Fourth Avenue toward Grant Street, and the lawyer ghetto that is become my native habitat, I am astonished at the serenity of the street. It is not a holiday, but it might as well be, for the absence of traffic either wheeled or afoot, for the laconic pace set by the few workers who bothered to come in today, for the odd viscous silence coating everything.

I walk slow. And then slower, belaying my arrival at the office. The lottery signs dwindle with the bus stops. As I head uphill, the number of empty commercial frontages also diminishes.

In the office my colleagues sit around a table, drinking coffee. Someone won a few dollars from a scratch-off lottery ticket. And so.


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