Discover more from Breathing Space
Getting drunk on Megan Rapinoe in Lawrenceville
"Today in Pittsburgh traffic ... bees!"
Editor’s note: It’s late! It’s long! You might have to click a link to view it all. The writer does not apologize because the writer is the editor.
Yesterday I went to my first baseball game since before COVID arrived on our shores to eff all our shit up, and I watched the Pittsburgh Pirates take to the field only to have the Cleveland Guardians eff all their shit up.
The only stain on an otherwise lovely evening in a stunning ballpark with the skyline canvas awash in the glow of the golden hour was the uninspired, lethargic product on the field reminiscent of a team of tee-ball players who just wanted to grab their post-game bag of orange slices and go home.
I can’t believe a local news outlet hasn’t offered me a job as a sports beat writer yet. That’s gold. Slap a headline on it* and go to press.
Anyway, yesterday’s game: F-, 0/10, would not pay to see (which I didn’t as a friend gave me tickets).
* “Pirates suffer second humiliating bed-shitting in a row as hopes for season fade. Confused fans chant “Relegate! Relegate!”
1. Well, that took an unexpected turn
Please look at this image of my gorgeous friend, WTAE traffic reporter Elena LaQuatra, and read the text on the “EVENT” graphic until you get to the very end …
I mean, first, yes, of course my new band is the Aggressive Bees and we sing songs about climate change to grade schoolers, but second … excuse me, did you say BEES?
The Elizabeth Township Police Department said a tree that came down and was blocking part of Rainbow Run Road on Wednesday morning was being guarded by an aggressive swarm of bees.
Listen, there were yellow jackets ground-nesting under a stone at the bottom of my mailbox until just last week, and let me tell you, those assholes are downright mean when defending their territory. I realized something was up when every evening when I went to get my mail, it looked like the mail carrier had violently yanked open the mailbox door, further separating the box from the post each time. Then one afternoon I went to grab the mail and they came after me. This is what my neighbors saw:
It definitely looked like I was fighting a ghost. After the swarm stung my nephew on his leg, it took two cans of liquid death to kill their nest. So I had to ask, what the heck do authorities do when a swarm of bees is defending a road-blocking tree?
The fire department said a crew was being brought in to address the situation.
Sounds to me like this became the first time a crew of Pittsburgh firefighters was dispatched to shoot fire instead of water.
Question. Can I volunteer to be on the crew that’s called out to shoot fire at pigeons? I assume that’s a thing?
2. “Look how beautiful; I hope it dies.”
Speaking of bugs, while you shouldn’t kill honey bees, you should kill the gorgeous spotted lanternflies where they stand. If makes you feel better about it, you can compliment them and tell them they are all God’s creatures before you stomp their guts out.
Last year was awful. Truly felt like a Moses-predicted biblical plague. How bad is the problem this year? As Elmo says, “Let my people go.”
Kristine Masta starts her mornings with a fly swatter and heads to her backyard and to trees just outside the fence, covered in spotted lanternflies. "It's just bam bam bam," said Masta. "You're killing them all day long."
Masta said she kills about 1,000 flies a day.
I know I say this a lot, but, truly, your butts. Hold on to them …
Inside, I’m screaming. Like, yes, singularly, they are pretty and they look like bugs Pixar would design. But put 500 in one spot and it’s suddenly the skin-crawling opening scene of a SyFy Channel horror movie starring Christian Slater.
My photographer friends on Insta who spend lots of time out there snapping the city skyline have shared videos of their equipment and their actual human persons crawling with the invaders. It’s starting to feel like we’ve already lost the war against this bug here in Pittsburgh.
I hope you’re killing them when you see them, but our only hope now might be the bees. Can we train them to become aggressive toward the lanternflies? I know it seems drastic, but like Elmo says, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Eff them bugs.”
3. Today is brought to you by the letter W, for WASTED
I was not aware until today of the Cork Harbour Pub, an Irish pub in Lawrenceville. As you know, the Irish love their
soccer football. And as you know, the Women’s World Cup starts tomorrow. To celebrate, the pub has got some inventive US and Ireland-themed drink specials! Look!
I found this on Twitter; this is not an ad; they have never heard of me; I plan to go and try them all, including the flag shots, whatever those are. I have never been truly drunk in my life, but this here might be the end of that road for me.
As Elmo says, “The more I drink, the less there is for the kids to drink.”
4. The most grueling sport to ever come to Pittsburgh?
Recently while listening to my favorite history podcast, “Our Fake History,” I learned of the turn-of-the-century sport known as pedestrianism and it is exactly what it sounds like … walking. Competitive walking. But like, not what you’re thinking. Not race-walking, per se. Many of the pedestrianism events involved walking in circles inside of an arena, track, or event space of some sort. Some, called “go-as-you-please” pedestrianism contests, meant you didn’t have to walk. You could do whatever you wanted. Skip. Run. Leap. Dance. Walk.
I found this hilarious and therefore I set out to see if any pedestrianism events ever happened in Pittsburgh and OH. MY. Are you still holding your butt? Continue to do so.
Pittsburgh was one of the cities where pedestrianism really began to take off, so I hunted down the descriptions of some of the races here. They are a delight! But I want to focus on just one. A famed international six-day “go-as-you-please” race that took place in November of 1901 at the “Old City Hall,” in today’s Market Square.
Champion racers came from as far away as Germany, Ireland and Mexico to join local pedestrianism athletes to walk for six straight days on an indoor track inside that building up there. The track was 1/20th of a mile. That’s right. A tiny track that took 20 laps to make just one mile while spectators filled the stands and enjoyed the spectacle of men trying not to die.
The race started twenty minutes after midnight on November 11, 1901 with 22 racers, the top 8 of whom would receive a percentage of the purse. They had amazing names like Kid West, James Dean, Sam Day and Buzz McCune. (Incidentally, Buzz McCune is my stage name as the lead singer of the Aggressive Bees.)
The local media coverage of this event was full of breathless wonder:
“World-renowned pedestrians.” I am GIDDY with history excitement!
At the end of the first day, an Irishman named Cavanaugh is in the lead after a grueling 24 straight hours with none of the pedestrians taking any lengthy rest. But in front of cheering crowds, the men were “bleary-eyed, foot-sore and weary.” I’ll bet! And they still had five more days to go!
It is on this day that I learn there is a LIVE BAND PLAYING MUSIC DURING THE ENTIRE RACE and that sometimes trainers would request certain patriotic songs sure to give their runner an injection of energy.
I’m so happy.
The men have tents to nap in or rest if so desired. Also, one racer, Gilbert Barnes is aged 60! That’s impressive.
At the end of the day, Cavanaugh leads having walked 121 miles while James Dean, a young Black stenographer and the only contestant of color, is in second place with 110! My goodness! I once walked 20 miles in one day and I truly thought I would never be able to walk again and I’m positive I saw the portal to Narnia at least twice. (You can read about it here. Rest in peace, Tunch Ilkin.)
There is some trouble on day 2 as one of the racers has already begun to hallucinate. E.C. McClelland insisted he already won the race and demanded his prize money. My guy, it’s only day two. You still have four to go. You are screwed.
By the end of day two, every man is reported to be a “physical wreck” and there are only 16 left as the race enters the traditional “cranky spell.” Basically all the racers are super pissed off they have decided to engage in the race, and the spectators are LOVING it. This is what they came for. Pissed off delirium. (Shit. Okay, my new band name is Pissed-off Delirium.) One racer turned violent, demanding he be credited a mile after every lap. MY GUY, YOU HAVE 19 MORE LAPS TO GO LOL GTFOH. He left the race.
At this point in the race, Cavanaugh still leads and STILL HAS NOT SLEPT. He’s at 208 miles while Dean is close behind at 193. If Cavanaugh sleeps, he’s toast. He will never wake up. In their “daffiness” one racer asked for a hammer and nails because he kept hallucinating that the track was floating. Oh dear.
12 men remain. Cavanaugh is still leading and “the men are going insane.” When Pittsburghers hear this news, they flock en masse to the race to watch the literal madness. The racers are deliriously walking in a single file line until the band starts up, at which time they start running like chickens sans heads. The Burghers love it!
I would pay to watch that. One of the racers has now accused his trainer of poisoning him, so that’s fun. Another, given a bottle of ginger ale, began hallucinating that people outside were throwing stones at the windows, so he screamed and whipped his ginger ale bottle at the window, shattering it. Ooops.
Cavanaugh is at 290 miles and still hasn’t slept. This is WILD. Dean, 273.
It’s now November 15!
Still 12 men, now with reportedly destroyed feet full of grotesque blisters. Cavanaugh leads but the old man Barnes has taken over second place! Dean, the stenographer, is fading and in super bad shape.
The men remain in a fragile emotional state and by that I mean “absolutely crazypants.” The dude who broke the window, on this day attacked an advertisement display of a tin soldier and proceeded to beat the shit out of it. Pittsburghers remain raucous and delighted by the shenanigans, reportedly cheering and stomping so hard that the building shakes. Cavanaugh has now walked 367 miles to Barnes 332. Cavanaugh has still barely slept because he is now afraid if he does, his body will seize up. Smart.
November 16. The last full day!
Only 10 “plucky” men are left to pedestrian in front of a “packed and howling” Pittsburgh crowd. Cavanaugh is at 452 miles. Old Man Barnes is at 414. Many of the remaining are zombies, staring “hollow-eyed” into the middle distance as their bodies robotically march on dead swollen legs and destroyed feet. Dean had been walking crookedly while eating “box after box” of ice cream. (I support that tactic.) But at 2:00 p.m. he was so zombified that he walked out of the building and was taken to the hospital where he went to the bathroom and escaped out a window, likely trying to make his way back to the race. He was eventually found wandering the streets of Pittsburgh with blood on his clothes and a hemorrhaging nose bleed.
At 10:30 p.m., 2,500 spectators are on hand, packed in the building, cheering and waving as the race is in the final stretch and the last minutes tick by. In first?
Cavanaugh wins the Pittsburgh international pedestrianism race with 506 miles covered in 142 hours, breaking the U.S. record. Barnes, the old man of the group, takes second with 478 miles and there’s a picture oh my god I’m so happy:
Look at them marching along. Look at all the old-timey Burghers!
All told, Cavanaugh, who was well enough to go to church the next day, won nearly 500 dollars. James Dean, the young Black stenographer, remained hospitalized for several days, but was set for a full recovery. He still took 5th place and won a nice chunk of change.
I think the biggest lesson I learned from this is that while it might seem like something to make fun of, pedestrianism was a grueling, dangerous sport and that 100 percent I believe there were yinzers who tailgated it wearing three-piece suits while drinking straight from the whiskey bottle and calling each other chap and old fella.
5. A few loose ends!
I was fortunate to have a sit-down interview with the Trib’s Shirley McMarlin to talk about my debut novel and the result was an article that ran not only in the regular edition of the Tribune Review, but also on the front page of the Norwin Star, the neighborhood edition of the Trib.
That is obviously extremely cool and I hope you’ll go read the article, as I do share some personal stuff in it. Then this past Sunday, my mom and dad were on their way to church or to lunch after church or to church after church — WHO CAN KNOW WITH THEM! THEY LOVE CHURCH!— when my mom texted, “Gin. Do you know your face is on an electronic billboard on Route 30?” and I was like, “WUT.” She sent me this picture
Oh my goodness! I had no clue how it got there, but I was touched. So a few days later I swung into Hamilton and found a mostly empty space as the business was in the process of moving. But there was a kind young employee who probably at first thought I was there to sell something. As he sat at his desk, I lowered into the seat across from him and said, “Yeah. My face is on your billboard.” And he got a look of recognition as emotion washed over his face. I saw a bit of shock, then happiness, then back to shock. I told him I wanted to leave my book as a thank you, and he mentioned his dad, the owner, was the one who had my message put up. How amazing is that? Yinzers rule. This is not an ad, but also, it kinda is??
My first-ever author talk (post-publishing) is coming up and since all the original 50 seats were filled, Cooper-Siegel Library has added 20 more chairs to the space! So if you’d like to come and chat with me and ask me questions about the book or how I wrote it, please come! Register for free here!
I do have two other library appearances and signings in the works, but I won’t share those until they are public. Remember you can still pick up a signed copy of my book at City Books on the North Side or the Heinz History Center gift shop in the Strip. I’ve heard other local bookshops are carrying it as well. And of course, all the links to purchase online are here and you can ask any bookshop to order it for you if they don’t carry it. There are also now 14 copies circulating or in process in the entire Allegheny County Library system including the Carnegie Libraries.
If you pick the book for bookclub, invite me. I don’t care if its 3 or 5 or 50 people. I’d love to come and chat with your club about the book.
6. Wrap up!
This is super long and it’s late in the day and I hope you made it to the end of this. I didn’t have space to share a Burghy product for sale, but I’ll just share two next week. I’m always open to suggestions for things to share on that front. Have a fabulous week! Be kind! I hope to see a bunch of you in Fox Chapel on July 25!
And remember what Elmo says, “Boy, do the Pirates stink.”