Our 2022 Road Trip #2: A Night Off for Steel City Sports

Willie Stargell statue!

Ladies and gentlemen, Pittsburgh Pirates Hall of Famer Willie Stargell!

Longtime MCC readers are well aware we’re not into sports. We don’t actively hate them, but they’re not among our hobbies and we only attend games if we’re handed free tickets. Sports-related tourism pops up on rare occasions in our trips — like that time we loitered around Camden Yards back in 2017 — but we don’t go out of our way for it. When it’s directly in our path and we have the free time…eh, why not take a gander.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Since 1999 Anne and I have taken one road trip each year to a different part of the United States and seen attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home. We’re geeks more accustomed to vicarious life through the windows of pop culture than through in-person adventures. After years of contenting ourselves with everyday life in Indianapolis and any surrounding areas that also had comics and toy shops, we chucked some of our self-imposed limitations and resolved as a team to leave the comforts of home for annual chances to see creative, exciting, breathtaking, outlandish, and/or bewildering new sights in states beyond our own, from the horizons of nature to the limits of imagination, from history’s greatest hits to humanity’s deepest regrets and the sometimes quotidian, sometimes quirky stopovers in between. We’re the Goldens. This is who we are and what we do.

For 2022 we wanted the opposite of Yellowstone. Last year’s vacation was an unforgettable experience, but those nine days and 3500 miles were daunting and grueling. Vermont was closer, smaller, greener, cozier, and slightly cooler. Thus we set aside eight days to venture through the four states that separate us from the Green Mountain State, dawdle there for a bit, and backtrack home…

Welcome to Pennsylvania!

Next state up after West Virginia, whose welcome sign photo came out blurry.

Whereas traffic through Ohio’s numerous road construction sites flowed nicely and didn’t test our patience, thus allowing for an uneventful intermission outside Cambridge…

TOTAL ROAD TRIP MILEAGE AS OF GAS STOP #1: 266.

…Pennsylvania’s stop-and-go herky-jerkiness was a pain in the neck, same as it’s been every single time we use their portions of I-70 and I-76. I was a tad worried about delays because we’d prepaid for a timed event on Friday evening. Thankfully we arrived in Pittsburgh with a few hours to spare despite the state’s resistance to our presence.

Our Pittsburgh hotel was the most expensive of our entire trip, but it was also the only one chosen purely for its proximity to that appointment (and, full disclosure, for the membership points). Once we figured out which side had the entrance (which took more than one try), we turned in and found a couple dozen folks standing outside, some of them employees. We had no idea what was going on. Someone pulled the fire alarm? Workers on strike? The first of many Dobbs v. Jackson WHO protests to come in the days ahead? We never found out. All I know is one (1) employee was left manning the front desk, which is all we needed to check in…and to check out the view that explained the hotel pricing.

hotel view of Heinz Field!

Straight ahead in the distance was Heinz Field, home of the world-famous Steelers and their big college football team, the panthers.

Housekeeping note: Heinz Field, which had been Heinz Field since its opening in 2001, was still named Heinz Field as of June 24, 2022, the date of our visit. Three weeks later, the good folks at Heinz — whose ketchup-forward museum we visited in 2018 — declined to renew their deal with the Steelers. The naming rights were then snapped up by a company I’ve never heard of called Acrisure, who sell either insurance, acne medicine, or deodorant for acrobats. We have no dog in this race, but “Heinz Field” sounds far more authentically Americana than the new alias.

Fun childhood memory trivia: once upon a time, I tried liking football for about five minutes. When my mom went through a phase of signing me up for all the things, such as subscriptions to every kids’ magazine in existence, somehow she roped me into the NFL SuperPro fan program, which required you to pick a favorite team. I chose the Steelers because they were the popular team you were supposed to like. They were mentioned so often on TV that I even knew some of their names — guys like Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, Lynn Swann, and “Mean Joe” Greene, star of that classic Coke ad. I never watched a single game, but Mom paid them to send me Steelers stickers, a tiny plastic Steelers helmet, and other Steelers merch that never meant much to me. Their outreach was a nice try.

And yet, by contrast, I’ve never been able to name more than two Indianapolis Colts in any given year of my life. Make of that what you will.

Also through our hotel window, on our left…

PNC Park!

Our next-door neighbor, PNC Park, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

sports memorabilia!

Down in the lobby, our hotel appeared to have a sports memorabilia auction in progress, which was probably cool for lovers of that sort of thing.

Steelers coin!

A souvenir Steelers coin, in honor of their awesomeness.

We had time to wander the streets before our evening appointment. Dinner was a block away at Taps and Tacos, whose site describes themselves as follows:

We have no story. Our mom did not make tacos for us every Tuesday when we were little. We have never been further south than Virginia and all of our relatives are from up Route 28.

Long story short, we love beer and margaritas and nothing goes better with those than kickass tacos featuring only the freshest, seasonal ingredients.

Pittsburgh Taps and Taco evokes a visit to the North Shore…of Pittsburgh and creates a casual, fun experience for lunch and dinner, pre-game and post-game.

As luck would have it, their fare was perfectly fine for a non-game dinner as well. Football was between seasons and the Pirates were away at Tampa that weekend. The North Shore area was deserted on this Friday night, which worked great for anyone looking to avoid crowds. Alcohol isn’t our thing, but tacos would do.

Taps & Tacos!

We definitely didn’t need reservations. Tables were less than half full.

Taps & Tacos Pops meal!

Anne had the Pops’ Tacos — a pair with pulled chicken, cojita, Napa cabbage, cilantro, chipotle-avocado ranch, and additional veggie matter on the side.

…and I had their Sow Side Burrito — slow-cooked pork shoulder in tomatillo sauce with rice, black beans, cotija, pico de gallo, and lime crema. I took a photo for posterity, but it just looks like a burrito. You’ve seen burritos, yes?

The other nearby businesses were a mix of parking garages and boring financial services. We walked past the entrance to PNC Park and on toward the shores of the Allegheny River to pass some time with scenery and tourism.

Left Field Gate!

PNC’s Left Field Gate, where the Stargell statue stands guard.

Stargell star!

Stargell’s autographed star in the PNC Park Walk of Side.

Let's Go Bucs!

Park signage includes their schedule, a photo of the Pirates Parrot (they’ve denied him a real name), and the team’s local nickname, the “Bucs”.

PNC Park deserted path!

Our clear path to the riverside. I presume this is normally swarming on game nights.

Roberto Clemente statue!

At the end of the path is another Hall of Famer statue for Roberto Clemente, a.k.a. “The Great One”.

Roberto Clemente Bridge!

Just beyond his statue, the Roberto Clemente Bridge was closed for construction.

construction equipment!

Past the construction equipment, we could see tops of the distant downtown skyline.

Honus Wagner autographed baseball!

Features along the PNC Park shoreline included giant autographed baseballs saluting other famous players such as Honus Wagner.

Pirates number graveyard!

This looks like a graveyard for the Pirates’ retired numbers. #33 is Honus Wagner; behind it is Clemente’s #21, and Stargell’s #8 is back and to the left.

Allegheny River!

Our view of downtown directly across the Allegheny.

Three Rivers Queen!

Moments later, along came the Three Rivers Queen, part of the Gateway Clipper Fleet.

Wide public paths stretched all along the riverfront, where bicyclists and scooter users far outnumbered the joggers and the walkers like us, though no one group exactly abounded. We headed northeast away from the ballpark decor and toward Allegheny Landing, a value-added park bedecked with greenery and art.

Pittsburgh Variations!

A portion of Pittsburgh Variations by George Sugarman, 1984.

The Forks!

The Forks, Isaac Witkin, 1984.

The Builders

The Builders, George Danhires, 1984.

Piazza Lavoro!

Two installations combined into one: the upright Piazza Lavoro combined with the ground mosaic Mythic Source. Also: bonus doggie, mid-Instagramming.

Allegheny Landing bunny!

Speaking of animals: live bunny!

Andy Warhol Bridge!

Farther upstream was the Andy Warhol Bridge, which carried cars and a bit of foreshadowing.

By the time we walked this far, we still had well over an hour before our appointment. We could’ve kept going, but we didn’t want to arrive hot and sweaty. and the the mood for aimless wandering had passed. Instead we adjourned to our hotel room, tried some of that “relaxing” we told ourselves we’d do more of this year, and saved our energy for the aimful wandering soon to come.

To be continued!

* * * * *

[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for other chapters and for our complete road trip history to date. Follow us on Facebook or via email sign-up for new-entry alerts, or over on Twitter if you want to track my faint signs of life between entries. Thanks for reading!]

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