Monday, November 05, 2007

Maneuvering in Western PA

Most of the time, when I am in greater Pittsburgh, I feel pretty confident of my ability to get where I need to go and accomplish at least a good share of what I need to get done. Signage on the city streets is pretty good and the people I encounter at school, in stores, and on the street are usually abnormally helpful.
There are times, however, when I do have the sensation of being, perhaps, lost in the Bermuda Triangle.
The first instance of this since my return was when I took Ms. Spots to the emergency vet last week. We had been there a few years ago, and I remembered that it was a bit hard to find, so I made sure to print out directions.
Of course, I then left the directions at home. We spent at least half an hour going back and forth on Hwy 8 (also known as Butler) trying to find the place before I stopped at a convenience store and got directions from the police. Technically it was indeed on Butler, but actually you go into the K-Mart parking lot (where the Long John Silver sign is larger than the K-Mart sign) and then over a little bridge to behind a filling station. I was very glad that the Spotted Character wasn't experiencing an immediate sort of emergency and that half an hour or forty-five minutes didn't really make a huge difference.
This adventure was a mere dress rehearsal for Saturday night's odyssey. Cindy's husband decided that she deserved a proper celebration for passing her dissertation defense, so they invited all and sundry to come out to the house. I would have known my way there by now, but I was sick for a previous party and for some reason they have cut back on their entertaining since becoming parents.
I went to Mapquest and printed out both a map (which did not print legibly in black and white) and street-by-street directions. It was allegedly about 10 miles and Mapquest opined it would take me under half an hour.
The directions looked plausible enough. One was to go toward the emergency vet and then veer northwest.
I am unsure whether to put more blame on Mapquest or on the peculiar ways of the Western Pennsylvanians. Let's just say that outside of Pittsburgh proper, it is not wise to trust to Mapquest, nor for that matter to one's AAA map of the area. What I learned on this expedition (which I should have begun to grasp the week before) was that if it is possible to give a Western PA road multiple names, it will have them, and if the road in question is any kind of main road, there will be no signs identifying it. After all, everyone knows where Evergreen is, don't they? (Every last bit of it in every possible part of the region.) Everyone knows where Babcock Blvd is, don't they? And Perry Hwy doesn't need many signs to identify that it is the true Hwy 19 after one has been led astray on Truck Hwy 19 which is better marked. Yep. And how many Birch Avenues ought there to be on the way from my place to my destination (which was on one of these Birch Avenues)? Somewhere along the way I despaired of finding Babcock or Three Degree, and concluded that the Birch Ave. nearest me surely ought to be the correct one. Of course, it was located in a rural maze of streets which had very few street signs, so finding this Birch and discovering it didn't have the correct house numbers took another half an hour or so. And I don't want to know how many times "Old Perry Hwy" intersects with the newer Perry Hwy.
Suffice it to say that after close to two hours, I found the party and we all had a fine time. Cindy says that she has a hard time giving directions because, due to the lack of signage, she doesn't know what most of the roads are called and has to resort to locutions such as "turn left at the BP station." She says that the natives use this method exclusively, but prefer to say things like "turn left where the old J.C. Penney's used to be," which is of no use to people like us who haven't got the faintest idea where the old J.C. Penney's used to be. She is quite correct, though. A guy I encountered on Birch Ave. the first gave me detailed direction that began with "You know where the Giant Eagle is?" (No, I've never been here in my life. I know where four Giant Eagles are in Pittsburgh itself.) These directions were replete with references to various stores and restaurants that I had no hope of remembering.
I experienced a different version of the Bermuda Triangle this afternoon. Next week's AAASS conference, which I assume must be the largest Slavic conference in North America, regards digital projectors as too expensive for their budget, meaning that presenters have the choice of regular slides, overheads, or handouts. Well, being an art historian, I said we would do regular slides for this panel. I knew that the university's photo people could make slides from PowerPoint images because their website told me so. And, being an art historian, I used to do all my talks using regular slides, but as everyone was switching to digital and I don't like carrying two carousels everywhere, all my dissertation images are digital.
So... I spent this afternoon putting together my images and put the whole thing onto a CD, and then hastened over to the photo people. The website said they had 48-hour turnaround, but since I'll be out of town from Tuesday to Sunday, I wanted to get this underway.
Imagine my horror when the photo staff informed me that they haven't done this for years and that the machine they used to use is broken. They did call someone who does still do it, who provided a quote of $5.99 per slide, or 8.99 per slide for rush service.
One of the photo lab people suggested that I rent my own digital projector, as this was doubtless cheaper than having slides made. Dang, I could probably almost buy one, although not a very good one, and why would I want to buy a low-end digital projector when image quality is vital to what I do?
I ask you, am I some sort of plutocrat? Certainly not, I am a graduate student on a limited income! Going to conferences is expensive enough and I might not do it were it not a professional necessity. If worst comes to worst, I suppose I will print out handouts on the departmental color printer, although I have no idea how many people might show up to our panel.
I will retreat into that other Bermuda Triangle of trying to get everything packed and ready for me to take the very VERY early train to Our Nation's Capital.

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Blogger Kristen said...

Oh dear. Very sorry!

Try asking those of us who have been in da 'Burgh for a long time, but are nonnative, for directions next time. We're fairly friendly. Though some of us do definitely prefer the landmark method of giving directions... ;)

November 06, 2007 11:15 PM  
Blogger Princess Haiku said...

There is only one thing to be done. I am sending my pink limo to you ASAP.

November 07, 2007 6:21 AM  
Anonymous Amy said...

I know just what you mean about the emergency vet clinic location! When we lived there, I drove around in the rain for an hour trying to find it with our dog Millie. With MapQuest directions.
I remember wondering why they didn't have more obvious signage for the clinic on the main road, since trips to the emergency vet are not the time for a leisurely, scenic drive.

November 08, 2007 2:26 AM  
Blogger Karla said...

Fortunately (?) I don't explore the suburbs/outlying towns much!

November 13, 2007 3:24 AM  

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