Sunday, July 3, 2011

more of the city of bridges, a stop in the mistake by the lake, and finally in motown

i am exhausted. and it's only day two. uh-oh. well, we still have a case of monster energy drink in the back of the van. we woke up this morning at around 9 and had breakfast with the lassmans. they were so kind to provide us with company and food. afterwards of which, we packed and showered and by 11 we were in downtown pittsburgh walking around. we drove to PPG Place, which is a Philip Johnson designed tower. for those of you not familiar with it, it's the tower shown in the live action film Inspector Gadget. that entire film used pittsburgh as its backdrop. anyway, we enjoyed walking around and looking at the wonderful sights. it's quite a beautiful city. the road system around there is INCREDIBLY confusing. it is not gridded and instead just winds around everywhere. and there are a million bridges. but it's still remarkably pedestrian friendly. i didnt see a lot of public transit, however. and we did exhaust ourselves walking around everywhere. there were plenty of old historic buildings as well as contemporary ones. a good mix in my opinion. i'm still so amazed by pittsburgh's vitality. there is not a single steel mill left in that city and today it's ranked as one of the most livable cities in the united states. it somehow not only survived the end of the industrial economy but adapted to the knew service/knowledge economy and thrived! many cities in the united states did not survive that transition at all. and now i'm very interested in how that did that. our host family pointed out several facts about the city that kept it alive: Carnegie Mellon and U. of Pittsburgh, both major research universities, are well within the city. These are world famous universities that provide not only education but the impetus for technology companies to come into the city for the proximity to well educated, talented young people. another interesting thing is a matter of demographics: many cities went downhill with the race riots and the flee of white middle class people to the suburbs ("white flight"). many of the people in pittsburgh before the end of industrial economies who were white were actually orthodox jews. now, orthodox jews cannot use technology on the sabbath (i believe; correct me if im wrong) and must walk, not drive, to synagogue. so these people were not going to drive and move out to the suburbs. they stayed put. demographics, education and research. ingredients for urban success?

anyway, we left pittsburgh for detroit. we took the ohio turnpike from the penn turnpike and eventually i-75 around toledo up towards detroit. however, along the way, we decided to take a stop in the city of cleveland, for a detour at the rock and roll hall of fame! the city has a beautiful, if small, skyline. there is a massive, post modern/contemporary skyscraper that is handsome and fits well into the eyes of viewers. it's a cesar pelli design: not groundbreaking but very harmonious and very much needed in cities. you cant have a skyline full of empire state buildings but you need fillers. but the fillers can't be ugly. it's called the key tower. another tower is the terminal tower. this was built in the 20s or 30s and is beaux arts. gorgeous. the mix between the contemporary key and older terminal is seen throughout the city. anyway, we got to the rock and roll hall of fame and parked next door at the science center's parking deck. step out and it stunk to high heaven. there was this huge mass of seagulls...thousands upon them, down the road at a warehouse and the wind blew the smell of them towards us. it made me gag. but we hurried over to the hall, which is a design by i.m. pei and quite gorgeous too. what makes it especially gorgeous is it's next to lake erie. we didn't go in, but we did walk around. and we saw for our very first time a great lake. it was breathtaking for me, though it for others must be mundane. but the concept of this massive sea in the middle of the "great american desert" of the midwest. it was amazing. "i can't see the other side!" well, eventually we got back in the car and drove through the downtown. the city is handsome and clean. but it looks sterile. too clean. not enough life. our host family in pittsburgh noted that people live in the suburbs in cleveland. that's unfortunate. it's great to work in a city. but even better to live in a city. pittsburgh was great to see at night bustling with young people. that reminds me: pittsburgh was so young! so many young people! note to self: move there.

anyway, we got back on the road and headed straight towards toledo. theres unfortunately not much to say. it is, after all, ohio. we did stop at a dennys for dinner. attached to it was a little convenience store. they sold shot glasses and chachkis that said ohio on them. i was tempted. anyway, around toledo, we got onto i-75 and headed straight towards detroit.

one thing we noticed immediately in michigan: all the cars are american brand. all of them. all of them. no one owns a japanese car. in nj, most cars are japanese made. american cars are in the minority. anyway, again, there wasn't much interesting in michigan until all of a sudden a sign said "welcome to motown." that sign happened to be on a oil refinery building. what a welcome. a welcome to hell? with fires spitting out of the chimneys of an oil refinery? then we saw the downtown. the renaissance center, GM's headquarters, had signs glowing. we also saw the outline of the abandoned michigan central train station, the grand beaux arts abandoned station. as we passed near it, we could see straight through the windows: it's gutted. also interesting was seeing the bridge b/w windsor, ontario CANADA and detroit, michigan, USA. we were basically at the border. signs pointed us in the direction of the tunnel or bridge to canada. we're so close to a foreign country! we actually picked up a CBC radio station along in ohio. one station was in french. but we're nowhere near quebec. anyway, we're here now in the suburbs of detroit. and i am exhausted. and want to rest.

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