BET / HAN / KFUL: Thanksgiving Gratitude 2022

painting on wall reading "Be Thankful"
Be Thankful or BET HAN KFUL, your choice. Wall art, The Run

Be Thankful. Those two words—or possibly three when rendered as BET / HAN / KFUL—are something we can all (hopefully) act on. Your author has plenty to be thankful for—a wonderful wife, terrific friends, neighbors, and creative partners, most of his health, some of his hair—and I don’t take any of it for granted.

So often—especially in today’s hashtag self-obsessed culture—expressing gratitude comes in the form of “humble brag” gloating. We’ll not do that here. Instead, we thought for this Thanksgiving we’d nominate some very Pittsburgh-centric things our readership can relate to and share in group gratitude for this little collective virtual Thanksgiving.

Here then are some things The Orbit is thankful for every day we get to spend in our hometown. Maybe you’ll relate and maybe not. Either way, we thank you for reading.

single chair from dinette set on street, acting as a "parking chair", Pittsburgh, PA
Parking chair, Garfield

Yes, we’re grateful for the humble parking chair. For the record, Chez Orbit, located in cheek-to-jowl Lawrenceville, does not deploy a chair—even after digging out from snow. Regardless, the absurdity of seeing random old dinette seats literally taking up space three feet off the curb never gets old and never stops being amusingly funny. With more and more parking placeholders moving to generic white molded plastic lawn chairs and Home Depot job buckets, we get a special thrill to come across a classic like this one.

Rising Main city steps, Pittsburgh, Pa.
Rising Main city steps, North Side

City Steps are ho-hum to some and what are those? to others. Like a child’s fantasy of magical pathways through mysterious overgrown woods, Pittsburgh’s collection of seven hundred-and-a-bunch sets of city steps are an elaborate intra-city adventure portal masquerading as public transit infrastructure. With this large a collection, pretty much everyone in the 412 has steps not too far away, right at your fingertips … err, foot steps. Be thankful you do.

old brick wall with layers of paint, cinderblock, and plywood
One of the world’s most beautiful walls, Arlington/Mt. Oliver

We’re thankful for walls. Not any ol’ jive-ass boring walls, mind you, but walls that read like archeological expeditions, art moderne collage, and site-specific evidence of histories we’ll never know. Take that wall off of that wall and dudes in New York will pay top dollar for it. You can have it for free, right here.

house under construction with artwork attached to plywood door covering
Outside art, Millvale

Our friends over at The Portland Orbit coined the term “Outside Art” for the unique phenomena of exactly that. Neither public art nor graffiti/street art, outside art is installed either by the (private) property owner or with their consent for the express purpose of delighting and amusing the rest of us. We’ve been working a couple angles on this we’ll get to in the new year, but suffice to say the volume of outside art available just about everywhere is awe-inspiring when you start cataloging it. Putting one’s art into the world anonymously, with all the potential hazards of weather, mockery, and vandalism, is as altruistic an action as there is. We’re glad people keep doing it.

foggy scene with rusted iron fence and houses
Fog, Polish Hill

Generally, being a morning person works out pretty well—that is, until you stay up late and can’t ever make up the sleep. It’s never more true than when one is on a pre-breakfast constitutional through thick fog. You name it and it’s going to look better draped in the gauzy blur of cool humid air that makes everything appear mysterious, a little dangerous, and right out of a dream. When you take that fog walk through the cemetery? Fuggetaboutit.

hilltop view of two neighborhoods in Pittsburgh
View of Troy Hill (foreground) and Strip District (background) from Reserve Township

Weird views are something everyone in Pittsburgh gets accustomed-to—but don’t take it for granted! Sure, you can go with a corporate view like Mt. Washington or the West End Overlook—and those are great—but give yourself a chance to check out the view of town looking straight across the Liberty Bridge from the trail in Emerald View Park or the roofs of Bloomfield’s row houses lit by the morning sun from Sugar Top/Upper Hill District or the 360-degree view from St. John’s Cemetery in Spring Hill or this one looking down at the top of Troy Hill and all the way across the river to the Strip District from Reserve Township.

metal can lid painted with devil holding anarchy flag nailed to utility pole, Pittsburgh, PA
Tin can pole art anarchy devil, Friendship

Pole Art is the evergreen Where’s Waldo? of bike/pedestrian travel. On any day any given utility pole may be enhanced by the anonymous addition of just about anything. Sure, we’re nuts for tin can pole art, but it doesn’t stop there. Weird signs, full art installations, recycled toys, and improvised memorials. You gotta look! The very nature of these ephemeral pieces means that each has a ticking clock counting down its limited lifetime before it disappears. Not knowing how long we’ve got is a central theme of all of our lives—being thankful for the time we have and the opportunity to interact with these random exclamation points is something we’ll not overlook.

pair of gravestones with last names Will and End
Will/End. Gallows humor, St. John Vianney Cemetery, Carrick

Cruel humor from beyond the grave may be a strange thing to find comfort in, but it reminds us we’re thankful to be alive. Even with all of life’s pain—and there’s no small amount of it—I’d rather be breathing than the alternative. Hopefully that’s the same for anyone reading this. If you’re in doubt, please get yourself the help you deserve, and then think about the things you have to be thankful for. Those things are all around us every day.

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all.

Ten Reasons to be Thankful Amazon Kicked Us to the Curb

goats eating weeds

Reason #1: Green as far as the eye can see. Goats eating knotweed, South Side Slopes.

It’s official. On the figurative eve of the Thanksgiving holiday, Amazon made known what seemed inevitable all along. Despite Pittsburgh reaching the second round of the tech giant’s really real real estate reality show–even seeming a legit top contender by making the first cut/Top 20–we didn’t get it. The company announced last week that “HQ2” would in fact be HQs 2 and 3, occurring in slightly less name brand sections of New York City and Washington, D.C.

Good for them, I suppose. Even better, though, that it didn’t turn out to be us. While the flood of jobs and money and tax-paying citizens were clearly irresistible for the legion of mayors and civic leaders out there who swung wildly for the fences, Pittsburgh–like Anchorage, Alaska, Hickory, North Carolina, and Woonsocket, Rhode Island[1]–ultimately fell short on … whatever Amazon was looking for. Location? Population? Hip factor?

Hell if we know. But for the last half year, when Amazon’s dangling proposition was the talk of the town, it was a terrifying concept to consider. On the one hand, we’d probably get some nice stuff out of it–a major boost to public transit or a bunch more direct airline flights, say–but on the other, it just felt like Pittsburgh’s heart would inevitably have been ripped out, tossed in the dumpster, and replaced with a featureless approximation.

Here then, for the Thanksgiving holiday, are ten reasons to be grateful Amazon dissed and dismissed Pittsburgh in its selection for company expansion.

older wood frame house in McKeesport, PA

House, McKeesport

Affordable Housing. Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the closet and into my car. Forever, it seemed Pittsburgh real estate would just stay stuck in the post-steel crash where you could buy a home pretty much anywhere for the price of a new car.

That’s not so true anymore–especially if you’re looking in much of the gentrified East End. But with a median home price of $125,000, Pittsburgh still ranks as one of the cheapest markets in the country for home ownership[3].

The rest of this post is pure speculation, but any economist would tell you that dropping another hundred thousand people[3] in the area–basically increasing the size of the city by 25% overnight–would jack rents and home prices like we’ve never seen. If you can afford living in Pittsburgh today [and no, not everyone can] be thankful that should still be true next year.

graffiti manger scene painted on former steel mill, Pittsburgh, PA

Christmas scene, ex-mill, Lawrenceville

Ex-Mills. You don’t miss your water ’til it’s gone. If Amazon came to town, all those people would have needed places to lay their heads and rehabbing hundred-year-old row houses in Hazelwood, West Homestead, and the Hill District would likely not be on the table. You can totally imagine the monster brick and corrugated steel sheds that still lurk on the riverbanks in Lawrenceville and the South Side, McKees Rocks and Millvale razed and the land redeveloped into Lego-style anonymous luxury condominiums.

detail from sign for Weiner World hot dog shop, downtown Pittsburgh, PA

Weiner World, Downtown

Weiner World. (And Frankie’s, Primanti’s, Ritter’s, O’Leary’s, etc.) Have you seen Bakery Square? Techies like their food overpriced, in sterile environments, delivered by national chains, wrapped in cultural narrative, and totally devoid of character. Had Amazon landed in the newly-rebranded “Hazelwood Green,” we can totally envision gradually saying goodbye to every old-school, greasy lunch spot in favor of slick restaurants with heart-healthy menus, online ordering apps, and prominent ampersands in their logos.

singer Randy Galioto performering at Bloomfield Little Italy Days, Pittsburgh, PA

Randy Galioto, The Italian Elvis, Bloomfield Little Italy Days

The Italian Elvis. Sure, Randy Galioto isn’t going anywhere, but try booking a gig when tastes have shifted to catstep, solipsynthm, and electro-Qawwali [look them up!]. This blogger likes weirdo music just about as much as anyone, but still wants a place where The Italian Elvis can bring down the house with his “It’s Now or Never”/”O Sole Mio” medley. For Frankie Capri, Bloomfields’s “Boss,” and Dick Tady & D.T.O., you’re still right at home.

illustration of cartoon burglar

Keeping petty crime legit

Petty Crime. That’s right: bring in a bajillion new tech types and criminal activity would be forever altered. Say goodbye to “broken window” vandalism, street-level dealing, and building code violations. Instead, we’d be stuck with land grabs and insider trading, trademark infringement and mass evictions. The first time a case of wholesale government graft broke, you’d be begging for some miscreants to urinate on your petunias or spray paint a wang on the back fence.

metal folding chair on street in front of row house in Pittsburgh, PA

Parking chair, Lawrenceville

Parking Chairs. If you think a product manager making six-and-a-half figures is going to accept your old dinette seat holding a parking place, you need to, you know, delete your account. The software engineer moving to town from San Francisco or Boston is going to jump straight on the horn to Johnny Law and call your ass in for illegally blocking a public space faster than you can say hypertext transfer protocol. If you love great D.I.Y. parking reservations, be glad Amazon will be taking up space elsewhere.

large fried fish dinner on plate

Lenten fish supper, Church of the Assumption, Bellevue

Lenten Fish Fries. Sure, this is a stretch, but hear me out. All the kooky Catholic stuff–from priests gambling bottom shelf liquor at church-sponsored fairs to polka mass and cinema races–is on the chopping block already. Most of us just don’t go to church like people once did. But the collision of a godless technozenti with carb-conscious foo foo tastes spells the end of deep-fried breaded cod with sides of haluski and cole slaw. You’re laughing now, but we’d be all be crying next March.

fursuit costume of white dog with purple features, Anthrocon 2017 Fursuit Parade, Pittsburgh, PA

Anthrocon fursuit parade, downtown

Anthrocon. Teenagers making minimum wage at their jobs as fast food cooks and retail clerks would never be able to afford the inevitably jacked-up rates the convention center would be charging. No, with all those computer geeks holding court, the giant downtown space would be in constant use between Ruby programmers and flash memory engineers, systems administrators and web marketers. The fursuited wolves, cheetahs, and were-bears flying and bussing in from Smalltown, U.S.A. would be forced to move on to some cheaper market. We love you, furries, and we hope you keep bringing Anthrocon back to Pittsburgh for many years to come. Woof.

Woman with homemade Stanley Cup, Pittsburgh Penguins 2016 victory parade

Penguins fan with D.I.Y. Stanley Cup

Football/Hockey Fandom. If the teams could survive the economic crash of the steel industry in the 1970s/80s, surely they would be embraced by a larger hometown fan base, right? Don’t be so sure! You can totally imagine Jeff Bezos importing alternative professional sports–think lacrosse or soccer, competitive snowboarding or–I don’t know–“e-sports.” That alone wouldn’t necessarily be a death knell for the other squads, but what happens when a routine mid-season Steelers-Bengals game gets preempted for the Super Bowl of Ultimate Frisbee? It’s a slippery slope!

gravestone with Pittsburgh Steelers football helmet, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

Steelers’ fandom’s not dead! … yet, Steelers grave, Allegheny Cemetery

[1] Source:
[2] Source:
[3] That’s the promised 50,000 jobs at Amazon plus the estimated equal size of additional family, ancillary workforce, etc.