11. …in the neighborhood.

The second part of my Neighborhoodwalk contribution: My new neighborhood, Brighton Heights and other nearby stuff. I’m cheating a little bit, as most of these pix were taken within the last few weeks. And I’m still discovering everything my new neighborhood has to offer, so I’m certain there will be more…

For the past two weeks, my drive home has been different. Instead of pointing my car up the winding country road that took me from Beaver to Butler, I head the opposite direction — literally and otherwise — down Route 65, along the Ohio River, towards the city. I go through Sewickley, where I can never seem to avoid stopping at those damn traffic lights. I pass under I-79. I drive through Ben Avon, where ancient trees have stretched their branches over the road, forming a golden canopy this time of year. There’s the Bellevue sign, inviting me to Live, Worship and Shop — and the Bellevue Beer distributor, which always looks inviting as well.

And then I hit the viaduct that divides Bellevue and Pittsburgh, and I see the sweeping view, stretching from Downtown to McKees Rocks, and all the homes and factories and that giant river in between.

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In the daylight, the view is a reminder of everything Pittsburgh is: glittering skyscrapers, giant mills and factories — some running, some not — and homes and entire neighborhoods stuck to the sides of all but the steepest hills. At night, though, it’s just breathtaking — a million points of light reflected on the surface of the river. I could be that I’ll get used to that view someday … but I think it will take a while.

* * *

3024115020_a8a38202cePittsburgh is a mix of old and new. My street, however, is mostly old. The houses, although in great shape, all seem to be in the range of 70 to 100 years old. And people like it here — the neighbor with the shortest tenure has lived here for 35 years, and Stella, the widow who lives across the street, built her home with her husband nearly 70 years ago.

Everyone knows about our house, too. Jerry, the guy who lives next door, played with the people we bought the house from when they were growing up. He hasn’t been inside for 3024114492_e1b1c6c9361several years, but he knows some of the nooks better than we do.

We were lucky to find a house on a street where things are spread out a bit — we’re not talking acreage, but as everyone else seems to, we have a nice back yard, with room for a good-sized back porch. There’s a small front porch, too — when the weather gets warm next spring, I’ll be spending a lot of time out there, talking with neighbors as they walk their dogs up the street.

We’re still learning about what there is to do around here. We probably won’t really get to enjoy that part of the experience for a few weeks, as the weekends are going to be full of tearing up carpet and other projects. However, we still have to eat — and we’ve already sampled some of what’s nearby. We’ve found a couple favorites in Bellevue already:

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A dream restaurant for a chili dog connoisseur like me. And:

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Great food. Friendly people. Cheap. Yum. And there’s a whole business district just around the corner from where we live:

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We’ve spent a little time at The Vault before we moved here; we haven’t yet sampled pizza or subs from Chubby’s. But with a name like that, how could you go wrong?

* * *

Just on the other side of the viaduct is the entrance to the McKees Rocks Bridge, a hulking blue span over the river and out of the city. Turn the other direction, and head up the hill into Brighton Heights. I take the easy left at the five-way intersection, make a couple more turns and then I can see the little light on the railing in our front yard. It’s distinctive, and it makes it easy to pick out my house in the dark.

I pull up alongside the light.

I’m home.

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10. it’s a beautiful day…

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This is the first of two posts inspired by a session at PodCamp Pittsburgh 3, a session with various Rustbelt Bloggers about ways to promote the secretly thriving cities in the region. The idea: give readers a glimpse into your neighborhood. Tell them what happens in your town or your area. Explain what makes it special to you and why it could be special for them. Because this idea was proposed just one day before The Wife and I closed on the house, I thought the only appropriate thing to do would be to write two posts, one about Butler, where I had lived since late 1994, and one about Brighton Heights, where I’ve lived for the last two weeks.

So we have this — Neighborhoodwalk, Part One: Butler.

I moved to Butler in 1994. I learned a couple things very quickly: 1) There is no easy way to get from Butler to Pittsburgh, and 2) That’s OK for many of the people who lived in Butler.

Here’s a story that was told to me by Mrs. Crappy, shortly after she moved back to Butler after a year in Kokomo, Indiana. The grandfather of her ex-boyfriend, a native of Butler, once asked her why they were always running off to Pittsburgh. He said he had been to Pittsburgh exactly twice — when he left to fight in World War II and when he came home.

“I don’t know why you kids have to go to Pittsburgh all the time,” he said. “We have everything we need right here in Butler.”

I don’t think I could agree with that statement completely, but I can see Grandpa’s point. There’s plenty going on in Butler to sustain you — and if you somehow find it lacking, its proximity to Pittsburgh helps as well.

I lived there for 14 years. It’s not a large town — maybe 15,000 or so in the city proper — but it still manages to feel urban. We lived just a couple blocks from Main Street, which put us within walking distance of restaurants, bars, a movie theater (for a while, anyway), the community theater, our YMCA, a grocery store and even work. To walk that short distance, you strolled along tree-lined streets and among some beautiful old homes.

With a couple of brief exceptions, we had great neighbors on Franklin Street. The apartment in the house next door to ours especially seemed to attract good people — the family with two young kids who helped us pick music for our wedding; the contractor who went through a series of girlfriends until he met the women who was an ER nurse at Butler Memorial (we knew she was the one before he did); the people who live there now were also great neighbors, and their dogs provided endless entertainment for both The Wife and Miles.

Butler weathered the economic storm fairly well — one of its two big mills never closed, although its a significantly smaller operation that it was just a few years ago, when I was covering business for the local paper. Main Street businesses came and went, but there were never that many vacant storefronts. And the latest revitalization effort — one of several that have started in the time I lived there — seems to be in good shape; there are smart, dedicated people involved this time around, and the politicians seem to be willing to actually let them run the show.

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Butler was comfortable to me. I always felt as though I fit in there, whether I was talking to sources for work, meeting The Wife at Natili’s North for lunch or just sitting on our apartment’s lovely little porch on a summer night, with a beer, a book and the radio playing a baseball game.

Butler was home, for a long time. While I’m thrilled to be in our new house, in a new city, the 14 years I spent in Butler will stay with me, even as we move on to bigger things.