Filed under: Art Gallery, Pennsylvania | Tags: east liberty, impossible project, instant film, polaroid week 2015
Pittsburgh is growing. It’s surreal to live here your entire life and watch outsiders’ faces over the years turn from disgust to wide-eyed enthusiasm – a rust-belt city darling gracing the Internet pages of social media. We have good food, pretty hilltop views, cheap real estate. We are proof that yes, you can take a pig from the mud and make it clean. And that’s always the dilemma of the growing city: happiness at improvement, confusion – anger – that with improvement, comes rising prices, communities being pushed out of their homes – becomes a place like every other place. So amidst the construction (which has happened since 1973, in what historians call the “reinvention” era), I look for traces of old Pittsburgh to make sure nobody forgets it: empty churches, lawns-turned-overgrown fields. Wooden mill homes that survived over a hundred winters.
Filed under: Pennsylvania | Tags: impossible project, instant film, neville island, polaroid week 2015
People around the Pittsburgh region have their theories about Neville Island, the largest inhabited island in the Ohio River: it’s off-limits to outsiders, a thruway for truckers, crowded with factories – nobody really lives there. In the 80s, crossing the Coraopolis Bridge to the island, you’d be warned: Poison! Do Not Enter! (I remember a skull and crossbones painted on that sign, but maybe I watched too many cartoons as a kid.) Chemical companies treated a corner of the former farmland turned shipyard as a dumping ground. It took years, but they finally cleaned up their act. Now an ice rink inhabits the area once dubbed “poison park,” and across the street is a tropical island-themed bar complete with fake palms and sand (island – get it?). My sister lives on the Island, so Jeff and I explore it often. I tell him stories about Wind Chimes truck stop and the amazing Chinese-American neon sign that made me want to go there because I imagined it would be like stepping into 1955. All those afternoons at the Rollerdrome next door, learning to skate backwards, and playing Pac-Man in its seedy little café that hasn’t changed decor since the Carter era. Grid-patterned streets dotted with tiny cottages boasting pink flamingos and the American flag on lawns cut clean and bright.
Filed under: Pennsylvania | Tags: garfield pittsburgh, home, impossible project, instant film, polaroid spectra
Garfield, Pittsburgh: The longest I’ve ever lived in one place. When I was a kid, we’d bounce from apartment to apartment so often it became spring routine to start looking through the classified ads for another place. The trick was to not get too attached. I made do with small spaces. What accumulated over a year was easily let go for convenience sake. Moving taught me how to let go. When I moved in with Jeff nine years ago, I remember loving this strange storefront-turned-living space, but the street behind it, Gem Way, was a total wreck. There was the abandoned building next door to us that attracted drug addicts and urban explorers, and the building next to it that caught fire, sending black plumes of smoke through the neighborhood. A lawyer rented out the garage beyond that to local bands, so there was the occasional loud dance party keeping me awake on work nights. I’ve documented Gem Way over the years, and have come to love its strange vegetation poking through the fences, its ivy-covered houses and broken pavement. The family of groundhogs nesting under our porch, and feral cats wailing at the moon. Its graffiti-covered brick the only shots of color on a gray Pittsburgh morning.
The world stops when it snows, and with it, I nest. I have felt low, trying to figure out where my art is going and what, in general, to do next. And I recently received heartbreaking news about a dear old friend, which I’m trying to process. I’m being vague, but it’s something I don’t want to go into detail right now (to protect her privacy as well as my heart). In short: I’ve been in hiding.
I remind myself that it’s okay to take these small breaks from life and tune out for a while. One of my biggest dreams is for one solid week of peace without distraction. It’s funny how years ago, I wanted bigger and bigger things, and as I grow older, my desires become much less complicated.
We’re in the thick of a deep-freeze which has made it difficult and uninspiring to go on long adventures, so instead, I wake early and bundle up, tucking my pajamas into boots, and trek out back through Gem Way, circling around to Penn. Morning snow crunches underfoot, the occasional car drives past, reminding me I’m still in the city. It feels as if I’m the only one awake on this well-traveled road, snow falling, camera clicking. I realize I don’t have to go far to get what I want.
For the past nine years we’ve been together, Jeff and I make the ordinary an adventure. A trip to Home Depot becomes a photo opp across from the parking lot; a stroll down the Big Lots “international foods” aisle provides us a basket full of spongy, coconut-flecked cakes from Spain. Driving home from work, we’ll take a left turn instead of a right one, just to see if there is something different along a route that we’ve taken hundreds of times before, and there usually is: as early darkness softens the turns of season, we get ready for the first real snow. Colder days, thick black nights – we fill them with old movies, warm simmering stews, and plans for the coming new year. We are full of light.
Filed under: Pennsylvania | Tags: allentown, bethlehem, easton, impossible project, lehigh valley, polaroid
I never think of traveling our home state as “vacation,” but last month’s drive out to Bethlehem to visit friends changed my mind. As we made our way along the Lincoln Highway, the towns became slower, fewer people in sight – fields of color showing signs of fall, even though the weather was more August heat. Breezewood to Chambersburg to Dutch Country, we rolled right into the Lehigh Valley. We explored miles of treasures at Renningers Antiques, ate a delicious Spicy Antipasti sandwich at Hummus House in Allentown, talked for hours with our friends, and took a walk over the Delaware River from Easton to the Jersey side just because we could. There was that moment of twilight as we crossed the bridge: pink sky, quiet river, a slight chill, an ice cream shop at the New Jersey/PA border closed for the season. The soft, neon glow of an old sign twinkling in the distance made my heart twist with a tinge of sadness – a good-bye to summer.
Filed under: Pennsylvania | Tags: impossible project, lincoln highway, polaroid, route 30
When Jeff and I stared dating nine years ago, our first road trip together was Route 30, Pennsylvania’s old Lincoln Highway, destination: Mutter Museum. I mapped out the places I wanted to see along the way, but more importantly, this travelers’ road crazy-twisting through mountains provided relief from the PA Turnpike. Speeding highway travel puts my nerves on edge, and finally, I found a man who was willing to travel the roads less wandered with me (metaphor intended). A few weeks ago, driving back from a visit with friends East, we climbed intense mountain passes, and felt the isolation in those forgotten towns nestled in the hills. It was a bright, clear, sunny day, so pretty it made hearts ache. We imagined Model T-s struggling up those hills in the route’s early days, all the stops it took just get a few miles – clever roadside attractions that gave travelers some escape: hotels that looked liked ships, fairytale creatures hidden among the trees in someone’s yard, with signs made clear no trespassing.