I wake up close to 6 a.m.
Hope is up checking the radar -- a storm front is passing through Mercer.
It will be over soon.
Subtle hints for me -- wait -- wait until the storm passes.
No doubt, it is storming outside.
We have some coffee, and I send Paul (my van mate from Brian's Ride) a text.
"See you in Cranberry closer to 8:30 a.m. It's storming here, and Hope says it will pass."
He agrees to the time extension.
Paul gets it.
Few motorcyclists -- no matter how prepared -- enjoy riding in the rain.
The rain stops; I bungee my bag and say goodbye to Hope.
She made sure I packed some of her canned delicacies; I wish I had had more room.
I take the back way onto 19 South and fuel up before jumping on the road.
On my way out, I see an Amish dude smoking his pipe on the right side of the road. He's waiting for a ride somewhere. I slow down and say good morning; he returns the courtesy.
Away I go on curvy, smooth 19.
No rain, nevertheless, I have on my rain gear.
Smooth sailing on 19 South; I ride for about 45 minutes.
As I approach the little town of Cranberry, I pull into Peace, Love and Little Donuts -- the place Paul and I are scheduled to meet.
Like Hope, he too, will escort me to his home.
I park the bike, and within minutes it begins to rain, so I release my backpack and use my tent as a tarp.
Another 15-minutes pass.
Paul arrives and we embrace.
Happy to see each other, and chuckling at the rain.
"I made it!"
"I know! Hey, it's dry as a bone where I am."
We order some coffees and donuts and enjoy a few together.
Paul is a 60ish retired lineman and native Pittsburgher.
We have history.
Last summer, we drove a passenger van together for sometimes as much as eight hours a day over a 45-day stretch. It's hard not to get to know your van mate on that kind of road trip.
We've been friends ever since.
He's been trying to sell me on Pittsburgh. A place he and his wife, Karen, have called home for decades. He knows St. Louis is the front-runner.
After I put all my stuff in his truck, we hit the road.
He in his truck; me in my motorcycle.
It begins to rain.
Then, it stops.
Curves and bends and cliffs.
Ascending and descending.
Grabbing the clutch; releasing the clutch.
If I were in a car, I'd be suffering from motion sickness.
Instead, I'm enjoying the September ride. Come winter -- I'd be without transportation.
We pull into his driveway; he directs me from his truck where to park.
I unload my stuff, and we're off to see the city.
First, breakfast: P & G's (Pamela's) diner in Millvale.
On the way, we reminisce about the van ride; I reminisce about the motorcycle ride.
We catch up on present-day life, too.
As we look for parking, barricades are being moved around in the streets.
It's Millvale Day!
Great: a parade is about to start.
We hurry in the diner, eat breakfast, and high tail it out of there before it gets too crowded.
I get a few photos of the neglected working class neighborhood.
Hurricane Ivan barreled through in 2004 causing severe flooding.
Folks in Pittsburgh remember what a nightmare it was getting home.
Ironically, the flood occurred right around this time 12-years ago.
Next, we head to "The Strip."
We pass through Lawrenceville; then, we look for parking.
It won't be free: six bucks.
Paul jokes around with the parking attendant -- an older bearded man with a rosy nose. Something about him smoking.
Laughing, the attendant responds: "I'm on the drop dead plan."
Welcome to Pittsburgh.
We are parked next to the empty produce terminal. In about three years, the place will become retail, office, and residential space.
Paul takes me to the other side into the urban hustle.
Shops, restaurants, family-owned grocers, and sidewalk vendors.
Wall to wall people -- many of them in Steeler attire.
Busy visually; busy physically.
After walking through most of the strip, I suggest we walk across that yellow bridge over there.
The David McCullough Bridge -- it crosses the Alleghany River.
We absorb views of the river and the old Heinz plant.
He suggests we see the incline next.
Back in the truck we go -- this time to Duquesne Incline.
Spectacular waterway views of the city await.
The round-trip ride is worth every penny.
However, it's nearly time to pick up Paul's wife from work, so we ride back.
Back in his truck we go.
Next up, a grocery stop at the Giant Eagle and of course, PA's wine and liquor store.
I'll be cooking dinner tonight; I also purchase a few bottles of wine.
We go to one of Karen's place of employment: a nursing home.
Despite a long day at work with only two nurse's aides, Karen is in a talkative mood.
I'm in the back seat listening.
We arrive to their home with bags full of food and drink.
I begin the prep work; Paul readies the grill; Karen showers.
She also preps my room.
A friend of Karen's named Nixon will be joining us.
He's an ex-boyfriend of their youngest daughter and lives with them short-term.
Too complicated of a story to explain.
The table is set; we eat; we talk.
Karen uses sign language with Nixon, so he, too, is included in the conversation.
I utilize enough facial expressions for Nixon to understand me; I make him laugh.
Between three adults, we empty two bottles of red wine.
Dinner was a success.
The double creme brie and honey for dessert was a home-run, too.
A call arrives -- the eldest daughter.
Paul and I head over, so I can meet Sarah and her husband, Andy.
It's dark now.
Curves and bends.
Up and down.
Right and left.
Stop and go.
Finally, we arrive.
Sarah and Andy are in the back porch watching college football.
Really several football games at once.
Back and forth -- channel to channel.
I looked at the television as if I was interested.
Sarah and I engaged one another although she sat furthest from me.
Andy and Paul sat next to each other; they discussed sports.
Beers were enjoyed by all while I swallowed as much water as possible.
A heated debate emerged regarding NCAA football contracts -- player contracts versus coaching contracts.
Although I could not care less about the topic, I goaded Andy.
What's the purpose of going to college?
To use it as a stepping stone to join the NFL or to get a degree?
Andy might have called me a "jag-off" had Paul or Sarah not been present.
We did agree on one thing: the exploitation of college athletes.
Only I don't watch college sports, so I would like to think I'm not contributing to the problem.
Paul thinks he's going to have to break out the boxing gloves.
It's getting late; the argument loses momentum.
We say goodnight, and head back to Paul and Karen's.
On the way, I think about how stupid it was to push a stranger.
Then, I realize I never saw either of them as strangers.
I had heard so much about them (through Paul) that I forgot I did not know them at all.
We arrive back at the house at midnight, Paul and I whisper goodnights.
I go to my room and fall asleep to the sound of light footsteps on carpet.
Awakening from a dead sleep, I startle myself.
It's 8:30 a.m.
I open my bedroom door and walk downstairs.
Paul is in the kitchen; he puts on a pot of coffee for me.
He's on his way to church; Karen left for work earlier that morning.
I thank him for the coffee.
He departs, and I make myself a cup.
I call one of my sisters; then, I phone Jenn.
Later, I move my motorcycle into the garage.
When Paul returns, we cook breakfast; then, we work together to replace my speedometer/odometer cable.
I do most of the work and record the process (for youtube); Paul provides the tools and comedic motivation.
When we complete the installation process, I take the bike out for a spin.
The cable was NOT the issue.
Valuable lesson: part of a mechanic's role is to uncover what is AND what is not the problem.
Still, I have video to show others how to replace that cable on a 450 Honda Rebel.
(Uploading the video in bits and pieces and splicing and editing it together to music is an entirely different endeavor.)
Paul and I mull over other possibilities.
We take a break and watch the Steeler's play; I watch a little of the game; then, I go upstairs to blog.
Karen gets home, and we entertain her for a bit.
Later, I pack my bag.
We say goodbye to Karen; she's going to relax.
Paul and I leave for my best friend's childhood home; I'll be staying with Jenn's parents for a few days in Washington County.
We troubleshoot some more in the truck; Paul will attempt to dismantle the speedometer/odometer cylinder. I suspect there's water in it from the heavy downpour in Upper Michigan.
Less than an hour later, we arrive to Cindy and Hank's.
Despite a long anniversary weekend in Gettysburg, Cindy prepares a big dinner to welcome my arrival.
Paul joins us for salad, rice with mushrooms, string beans, and meatloaf.
(Cindy and Hank hosted many of the riders from Brian's Ride.)
He and I eagerly hear how it was hosting nine adults in their home for one night. Because our part of the trip ended in Pueblo, Colorado, we didn't get a chance to experience the East Coast part of the ride.
Cupcakes and fudge are spread out for dessert.
It's getting late, and Paul has a 45-minute drive back to Pittsburgh.
I hug him goodbye, and remind him of that long bicycle ride through the city.
After he leaves, Cindy and I do some clean-up.
Poor Hank keeps going in and out of the bathroom.
Cindy and Hank suspect those runny diner eggs he had had in Gettysburg.
Once the dishwasher is loaded, Cindy gives me tour of the interior and exterior of the house.
Lots and lots of stairs.
When we walk to her backyard, I see a statue of a tall deer.
"No that's a real deer, and a rabbit it, too. See it?"
We both laugh at my folly.
Later in the evening, Hank and Cindy watch the Emmy Awards while I blog and do laundry.
Hank retires early.
Cindy and I catch up in the living room; then, I yawn and call it a night.
I walk up many, many stairs to my private attic room and wave-less waterbed.
Until we meet again, my friend.