Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Pass Through Pittsburgh

(August 6th- 7th)

On the way from NYC to Pittsburgh, I abandoned my favorite spot (the far left seat at the table towards the front)  for the upper level of the megabus.

Clouds touched the Alleghenies. Rain pelted the sun roof.

From the road- near a place called Lock Haven.
As the bus swayed, the driver announced, “I have to fight the wind from rocking me. No, my coffee is not spiked.”

In terms of distance, it was the longest ride of my journey: 6:50 am to 2:30 pm and roughly 380 miles, but it went fast. Riding through the mountains with a panoramic view was exhilarating.

So many of my friends travel to other countries in search of spectacular views and microbrews —I think we sometimes underestimate what’s just down the highway in our own.  In more rural parts of the route between NYC and Pittsburgh– you might as well be driving through Austria and Switzerland, even parts of South America.

If you’re savvy, this could cost you no more than $1.50 (or in my case $5).
Back in the Steel City,

I was greeted by Ben Paul, my host and last minute hero. My original couch-surf host had dropped out on short notice, sending me on a frantic couch-surfing message flurry. Ben contacted me back within an hour.

My 24 hours with Ben Paul / why he is awesome:

*One of the first things Ben did was guide me on a musical hike down the Tranquil Trail in Frick Park.

I played the drum:

One of the drums from the Brazilian drum band Ben plays in.
Ben played the melodica:

 *Ben is also the automatic good guy by any formulaic movie standard. He managed to pet every dog in Frick Park, with the exception of the one he couldn't reach:

*But his favorite animal is the llama:


(llama medley raided from Ben's facebook profile pic album)

*Ben is also an excellent teacher; back in the apartment after our hike, he on-the-spot learned Yann Tiersen’s "Comptine d'un autre été: L'après-midi" (track four of the Amelie soundtrack) by ear and taught me how to play a section of it on the piano.

 Soundtrack to this blog post. (Not Ben. Video borrowed from youtube).

*Teaching is a part of his mission in life:  His PhD in Clinical Psychology from Pitt is on hiatus as he focuses on his web-start-up: CommuniTeach, a free website focused on connecting people in communities for “skill swap” meet-ups.

How it works:
1)      Members list on their profile what they’re interested in teaching and what they’re interested in learning (ex: vegetarian Indian cooking).
2)      Somebody takes the initiative to organize a skill-swap party (LearnIts).
3)      Attendees bring ingredients and, guided by the member conversant in Indian-cooking, make some damn good Bhindi Bhaji.

*Another reason Ben is awesome: He made me a CommuniTeach certificate for couchsurfing excellence:

We basically spent the entire time trying to impress the heck out of each other. Both of us apparently succeeding.
The next day, Ben introduced me to his favorite restaurants / concepts in Pittsburgh:

Conflict Kitchen...
A restaurant that changes its identity every six months based on cuisine from a country that the USA is in conflict with (both arms and abstract conflicts). A week ago, they served Bolani Pazi, an Afghani sandwich and looked like:

(photo from their website:
When we visited, they served arepas (grilled corn cakes with fresh fillings).

Conflict Kitchen was featured on "All Things Considered" on NPR-- Ben's favorite radio station.

Speaking of NPR...

 Ben once met his hero, Ira Glass of NPR's This American Life, by photo-shopping himself a backstage pass.

 Despite the fact backstage passes for This American Life don’t exist, this actually worked.
Ira Glass and Ben Paul
After learning  all about our country's ideological conflict with Venezuela over chicken and avocado arepas, we headed next door for bottomless coffees at Waffle Shop, part diner:

part ongoing live-streamed- talk-show—

where members of the community and customers can be interviewed, tell stories or host their own show.

Both Conflict Kitchen and Waffle Shop are projects of Carnegie Mellon University.

(For obnoxious hilarity, check out Waffle Shop's live stream on late Friday and Saturday nights during the school year, when college students trickle in from nearby bars.)

My timing was fortunate, Waffle Shop is also open on Sunday mornings from 10 am- 2 pm. I had just enough time to squeeze in a talk-show appearance with Ben, before bidding him farewell and heading back onto the road to resume my Megabus return voyage.

 Next stop:

Columbus, Ohio.

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