Wednesday, 18 May 2016

A stroll before dinner in Pittsburgh...

After writing up a Trip Advisor review of the hotel I'm staying in - a risky practice when you consider that I still haven't checked out - and then penning another review of the restaurant Eleven, where my colleague Paul and I have been dining most of the week (it's across the road so why waste money on cabs?) I decided to take a stroll before dinner.

It was an interesting stroll around town that took me along Liberty Avenue and into the bustling centre of town, which wasn't really that bustling as it was after 5pm and I'm assuming most of the people I saw were making their way home from work. I ended up on Penn Avenue where yesterday I'd enjoyed a quick drink in Lefty's Bar with Paul and ended up in a Mexican restaurant where I ordered a paella and a beer. I can't say I really enjoyed the beer, but the food was alright.

I wandered about with the river on my right hand side and eventually I headed straight for it only to find that, for some reason, the bridge was closed. Not that I was going over it, but it's intriguing, isn't it, when a bridge is closed and you start to wonder why. "There's a match on," said a woman, pointing to the stadium on the far bank. "Oh," I replied, but I wasn't really interested. I couldn't tell you what kind of match it was, football, baseball, I just don't know, so I headed back towards the David L Lawrence Convention Centre, followed the road round and eventually decided that I ought to eat before it gets too late.

Eleven on Smallman Street – the best restaurant in Pittsburgh?
I knew I'd go back to Eleven because it's so good and on so many different levels. The service, the ambience, the food, everything, not least the convenience. I know that I can just cross the road and walk to the hotel where, incidentally, I am now, having just made that walk. It's just gone 9pm.

Having enjoyed dining with Paul all week, I found it hard going back to dining alone, but dine alone I did. A table for one. I knew the menu inside out. But sometimes it's good to 'people watch' and that's just what I did, but without them knowing I was watching. The last thing I wanted was somebody asking me, "What are you staring at?"

Earlier, as I walked up Penn Avenue I stumbled across the geekiest of geeky shops, a comic book emporium called Eide's Entertainment, billed as 'the world's greatest comic shop'. It was certainly that. Not only was the place crammed from head to foot with comic books, over three floors, it also stocked old vinyl records. A truly amazing place. I picked up a copy of the Clash's first album and their second (Give Em Enough Rope) not forgetting the triple album Sandinista, and found myself inwardly humming along to Hitsville UK, one of many great tracks on the album, although Sandinista was not the best Clash album.

When I picked up the Give Em Enough Rope album - and, indeed, the band's first album simply called The Clash - I was transported back to the late seventies when I was just a little bit older than my daughter is now. I have mixed feelings about those times and some strange memories, some of which sadden me. One of the latter memories involved my 21st birthday and a watch my parents gave me as a present. It was a gold Timex digital watch that I truly wished I still owned now, but I don't, and I feel particularly bad about that and the fact that I never really appreciated, at the time, the thought that went into the purchase of that watch. I was too tied up in being an angst-ridden young man to care about most things. Those days haunted me as I thumbed through the vinyl albums, particularly those first two Clash albums. While unemployed and down on my luck, working as an evening shelf stacker in Sainsbury's, I taught myself to type and I distinctly remember typing out the back cover of that first Clash album. As I looked at it, the memories flooded back. And now, of course, dad is no more. He passed away in 2011, in fact his fifth anniversary was last Sunday.

As I walked back towards the convention centre I thought of the moment when mum saw dad in the chapel of rest back in 2011. It was a sad moment for her, of course, but seeing her upset like that has stayed with me and came back to me as I walked along the street. 

When I reached Eleven I considered not going in just at that moment, but doing a little more walking before 'pulling up a chair' and tucking in, but I'd had a good walk already and I figured it best to get in there and eat something before it was too late. They sandwiched me in between a party of bankers, or businessmen, I can't figure out what they were, but one man was particularly annoying. He shouted rather than talked. "I'm 65 and my wife is just 39!" he boasted to a man who was so old I figured he'd never make it through the meal. "Give me another shot at president and I'll sort those Chinese out!". He was a real cock of the highest order and I wasn't that keen on his dinner companions. They all looked like greedy, money-grabbing sorts, the kind of people Michael Douglas might have targetted had they been characters in the movie Falling Down.

Whenever I drew back my hotel room curtains...
On my right was a young couple. I'm not sure if they were together or not, but they were fairly pleasant. She was from Tokyo, he was born and bred Pittsburgh. We eventually chatted (how else would I know that she was from Tokyo and he lived on the outskirts of town?) and they were great, wishing me well and hoping I'm treated right while in town. I told them that I had been treated perfectly well and that all was good on that score, but that was at the end of my meal. The chicken dish was fine: breast of chicken, greens and a risotto accompaniment. The banana cake was light and delicate, that's why I ordered it, and besides, I knew it would be good because I'd ordered it only a couple of days ago. The beers were pleasant enough too, although I'm going off of beer and I don't particularly like the new-fangled American 'real' ales, they're too syrupy and gassy. Give me a pint of Young's Ordinary Bitter any day.

When I wasn't talking to the couple or eavesdropping on the ruddy-faced business nob head, I played with my mobile phone, in particular the Roger's Profanisauras App where I learnt some excellent phrases, like 'clear the custard' - meaning to have a long overdue moment of gentlemanly relaxation. "I've got 10 minutes before I have to take mass. I'll just nip upstairs and clear the custard."

I had to be very careful not to suddenly burst out laughing as when you're dining alone there are certain things you simply don't do, one of them being laughing out load, seemingly for no reason. Here's another good entry: 'atomic mutton' - a mature woman trying to look younger than she obviously is and ending up looking like a tart in the process. An example being Liz McDonald out of Coronation Street.

I like Dangermouse too - a slim fanatella. But on that note I must hit the sack.

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