Once upon a weekend, I made a road trip to Chambersburg, PA (think peaches…).

Once upon a weekend, I made a summer road trip to Chambersburg, PA (think peaches…). 

Coming home via the Pennsylvania Turnpike was easy despite traffic to go with the on and off rainy weather. With my iPod shuffling, I enjoyed tunes I don’t always listen to, singing along at the top of my lungs. I sing in the car because as my kid sister asked at age seven, “Can you hum? You can’t sing.” No, I can’t and yes, Griffiths are raised with a great deal of sarcasm at the helm of our personalities.

Life was good until I got off the turnpike and started the trek into Pittsburgh via the infamous Parkway, aka 376. 

Shall I Tell You How Much I Hate the Parkway?

I hate this road more than farmers hate Japanese Beetles, allergic dogs hate bees, even more than cats hate water. Leaving my parents’ house one weekend—70 miles east of Pittsburgh—I stretched out my road map out the table. Mom rolled her eyes. Dad leaned over the map with me, saying, “They haven’t built any new roads since the last time you had that out.” Did I mention the sarcasm?

Sigh. I began my drive, with the invariable construction going on around town, my only possible detour was not an option. When the sign blared a delay at the Squirrel Hill tunnel, there was nothing to be done but groan.

Pittsburgh is a Beautiful City

ciate the gorgeous city view no matter which highway leads you into town. New York’s grand skyline has nothing on Pittsburgh’s compact downtown with it’s unique collection of buildings. The rectangular U.S. Steel Building, the pointed Highmark headquarters, or the pyramid-like Gulf Tower. Daytime or a nighttime of lighted structures—the cityscape is attractive.

Pittsburgh’s cultural district is phenomenal and offers a wide variety of venues for theatre goers. The Heinz, Benedum, and Byham buildings and newer Cabaret and O’Reilly, there is a theatre for whatever shows you fancy.

Speaking of tastes, when I first moved here from cattle-country Montana, I was astounded at the lack of vegetarian choices. Topping that, I received a gorgeous salad with French Fries dropped on it. Yech. Restaurant choices have continually expanded, making life easier for food lovers to fulfill their taste bud yearnings for any cuisine.

Driving in Poorly Signed Pittsburgh

There is one thing that aggravates me in the Steel City. Every time this place makes the Best Places to Live in America list, I ask, “Have these people driven here?”

I don’t know where they got their driver’s licenses, but it’s not the same Commonwealth I got mine at sixteen.

The Squirrel Hill tunnel is the epitome of what is wrong. I remember when a friend moved here in the early 1980s. She wanted a laser, planning to wait at the tunnel exit, vaporizing the first driver emerging under the speed limit. A drastic approach to be sure. I laughed.

Now I weep, wishing for a Star Trek transporter so I can beam those horrid drivers to the Sahara Desert.

There are tunnels throughout the city.

Some of them have traffic signals at each end or near the exits. One even sports a 90 degree turn—go figure. The Squirrel Hill tunnel is part of the aforementioned dreaded Parkway—an Interstate highway. It’s a wide-open four-lane road with nothing but wide-open tarmac on either end. Why these drivers invariably slow down when entering this tunnel from either direction is beyond me. There’s not a single reason for it. It took me twenty minutes to go 1.5 miles to get through the tunnel. For no reason. None. Zippo.

I pray for patience every time I’m stuck in this mess. Begging God, “Please make this the time I learn patience from you; don’t let me get mad at these lunatics.” Using aggravating words under minds my deep breathing and restraint from yelling at drivers who create the slow down problem. I avoid pointing at the Penn Dot signs, “Maintain Speed Thru Tunnel.” None of these exercises work as my blood boils while I wait, and wait, for no good reason. Non-eloquently put, the Squirrel Hill tunnel sucks.

Then there’s Route 19.

Route 19 in Pittsburgh plays an integral part in traffic flow. It also wreaks havoc with newcomers to the area or anyone without a GPS. Why? In this case it’s not the drivers. It’s whoever decided that Route 19 should have multiple names:

McKnight Road
Perry Highway
Liberty Avenue
Cochran Boulevard
Beverly Boulevard
McFarland Road
Truck Route 19
Banksville Road

I experienced any number of interesting events until I finally highlighted every single Route 19 in my map book (pre GPS days) and committed them to memory.

Driving in the city of three rivers (and a zillion bridges).

One wrong move in your Pittsburgh driving adventure can catapult you downtown (dahntahn), keeping you lost for days. If this in fact occurs, do not base getting un-lost on route 19 or any of its affiliates. Head toward the airport—freedom lies following 60 West (22-30 West, adding to the confusion—the Parkway West 376).

In my early days here, I left Cranberry—north of the city—on 79 South. Happening to change the CD player at my exit to stay on 79 South, I ended up on Interstate 279. Driving into the city, I drove into the Hill District, crossing the Fort Pitt Bridge three times. The signs said airport and I didn’t want to go there, so I kept getting in the wrong lane. Little did I know that heading toward the airport provided a chance to get to to the South Hills and….

Do you get the idea? I was so lost it was aggravating beyond words. Shortly after that adventure, I got my first cell phone.

As if having bridges, tunnels, hills, and missing street signs aren’t challenges enough, then there’s the general lack of local knowledge as to how to proceed at stop signs. Pittsburghers don’t go by the “who got there first,” or “driver on right” gets to go rules. Nope. They do whatever they feel like making it an eternal challenge to know what to do when you reach a stop sign. If I’m approaching one and see another car coming, I slow to a crawl so that the other car will arrive first, clearly indicating that they should go. I burst into tears when they start frantically waving at me to proceed and stubbornly shake my redhead no.

Yielding on the highways.

These drivers also stop in the middle of random roads to let cars turn in front of them. Our most recent experience with this was driving east on Route 22. A man in the far right hand lane stopped in the middle of the highway, holding up six cars behind him, because he wanted to turn left three lanes over.

Then we have the point of this entire tirade: The Reverse Yield. In fairness to Pittsburgh, I’ve begun to notice this phenomenon throughout our country. Are Pittsburghers moving to new cities and teaching this bad behavior by driver example?

Driving lessons.

Dad, taught us the proper way to yield. On the highway, someone is coming from a ramp to merge, I move into the left lane. If I can’t, the ramp-driver has to stop. Not so in this crazy city. Highway traffic buzzes at 65 MPH, drivers in the right lane seeing someone on the ramp, slow down to let them in—necessary or not. Invariably, the person merging onto the highway goes about 40. It doesn’t matter if the highway is backed up, with a dozen cars in the same lane with everyone going 65. The first driver stops and that’s it—a traffic snarl is created.

Could I sell my car and become a devoted user of public transportation? You betcha. I’d ride trains everywhere and enjoy trolleys and subways. But Pittsburgh’s metro system isn’t there yet. You can’t always get there from here and you can’t get over that-a-way at using the transit system. In my novel, Cold Cases of Pittsburgh: Murder at the Canalucci Creamery, I expand the trolley system throughout the city. Ah, glorious wishful thinking! My characters get everywhere on it.

Buzzing in my Rogue I go, ranting about cell phone leaners (elbow on window) blocking their view to the left. Or perhaps the cellphone crooked in neck, cigarette in mouth, coffee in hand setup that we frequently see.

All of this perplexes me and I’m surprised there are not more accidents on a daily basis. I can get distracted enough—remember that CD player glance that wound me up on the opposite side of downtown. While driving simply because my brain is always going, thinking of a million things at one time. Too add cell phones and coffee, ignoring the fundamental traffic laws … hindrances make our roads dangerous and scary to drive on.

Try Driving Differently This Week

When you’re out this week, remember when you got your license whether it was fifty years or five days ago. Remember the rules and start or keep following on them. If each of us does, we’ll raise driver-expectations, cut down on road-rudeness, and maybe save a life.

**

For a fun story about driving: Road tripping in the American west when you live in the east