Faded Class (A Visit to Pittsburgh’s Mallorca)

We went to Mallorca this evening to celebrate our anniversary/Valentine’s day, and while it was good enough, it had that vibe that a lot of older restaurants that have had a good reputation for a long time do:  It was a dusty, dingy old place with mediocre food.

I’ve been to a bunch of these places around the city although they are by no means solely the domain of Pittsburgh.  The waitstaff is well dressed, usually in service tuxes.  They have a nice wine list and linens.  They have valet service and a coat check. You see a lot of young, inexperienced couples as well as handfuls of older locals who seem to know the staff.  The decor is wallpaper and painted wood, and in this case the paint was chipped.  Around the room lights had burned out and were not replaced. The hallway to the restrooms was filled with hardware and the men’s restroom itself had that vaguely damp, shiny painted floor and unkept toilets.

When our waiter rattled off a huge list of specials, we were intrigued.  Tons of seafood, wild boar, lamb shanks, duck.  I had the lamb shanks and Dawn the duck, and when it arrived it was…eh.  I’m not too well schooled in lamb but what I received was too fatty, not very well seasoned and just kind of blah.  The duck was ok.  Our salads were smothered in thousand island dressing, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was eating a Big Mac.  Sides came eventually and while the rice was good, the mixed vegetables seemed thrown together and old.  They also served homemade potato chips and they tasted fine but by the time they got to us they were soggy.  And why chips anyway?

Ultimately, it was a fine dinner, but I was struck by how restaurants of a certain vintage seem to fall into this trap where they stop caring about how the place looks or how food culture has changed and are content to do things as they always have.  They coast along on their reputation as the place literally falls apart and then one day the lights are out and the doors locked, as they’ve idled their way into oblivion.

In Good Company

Nice to see our Mayor decided to take a page from the Bush administration’s handbook with his unchallenged response regarding why he left town on the night a huge storm was about to bring his city to a halt.

No one?  Did anyone laugh at him when he told reporters no one thought there would be more than 4 to 8 inches of snow?

Road crews prep for possibility of major snowfall (Feb 4)

6 to 12 inches of snow predicted by national weather service (Feb 4)

Western PA prepares as big storm begins (Feb 5)

6 to 12 inches of snow to hit Pittsburgh (Feb 4)

Hope you can live with it, Mr. Mayor.

Shouting Out to Project 52

` Glitter and Stone

Corey Layman, the songwriter behind the project Developer, has been active in Pittsburgh since the 90’s and he’s always been one of my favorites.  Early on he fronted the band Hovland, who were one of the few local acts I really followed out of not just a sense of kinship and community but because I thought their talent could reach far beyond Pittsburgh.  Like so many acts with a lot of potential, they made a big push and then things seemed to slowly fall away.  But Corey has been plugging along since, writing and performing as Developer (both as a full band and solo) as well as playing in the legendary local act the Karl Hendriks Trio and myriad other projects.

He started Project 52 in September and it is awe inspiring.  The plan is one song a week for an entire year and so far he’s made good on it: Week 18 just went up.  He’s also managed to compile the first 13 weeks into an album, appropriately titled Project 52: Volume 1 and put it up in all the usual places.

The music itself is definitely of a mid-90’s indie rock vintage; guitar driven and emotional with vocals that are almost plain spoken until he invokes some melody and puts a soaring harmony on top of it that strike right in the heart . His best songs are nostalgic and almost mournful, with a really solitary vibe and there are no shortage of his best on Project 52: Volume 1.

Check it out and buy it, and make sure you read his blog posts about each song- each entry runs down not only how you might go about creating a song a week but the tools he uses and the limits he’s constantly got to push against.  Signs the world has changed: The majority of recording is being done on his iPhone!

Well done, sir.

This happened in 2009 (part 1: Marathon)

Looking back on the year, most of it seems like a blur.  Although waiting for the birth of the boy seemed to take forever, now wonder where the time went.

So while I will get to that bigger story of my life in 2009, I just wanted to reflect on the other events of the year.  The first (and maybe only  one I write about): Running the Pittsburgh Marathon

Running the Marathon

All told, I trained a good six months to tackle this beast, but prior to hardcore marathon training, I’d begun running 10Ks and just trying to get into shape since the beginning of 2007.

I basically used the Nike+ training regimen to begin, which starts with shortish runs and builds over time, with a long run every week.  It ended up that every sunday I’d do a long run- I remember my first 12 mile run, and about mid-way I was expected to do a 30 mile run but I completely failed at it.  That scared me into taking it all a bit more seriously.  Rarely did I miss training, which would see me running 4-5 days a week, during my lunch break at work if I had to.  By the end, my long run was 24 miles, and my “short” mid week runs were between 6 and 10 miles.

I got to see a Pittsburgh I never really knew, running through the puke-stained South Side at 5:30AM, through downtown and the strip as things were just starting to wake up.  I’d climb up to Bloomfield and then on to East Liberty.  Finally it was Point Breeze to Squirrel Hill and back home.

I’d take a clif bar, some clif bloks and pick up a bottle of gatorade on the way.  These runs would generally cost me about 2000 calories.

The Marathon

The day of the Marathon was rainy and cold.  I got downtown very early and ended up sitting in a stairwell playing Drop 7 while I waited for the race to start.  When it finally got underway I was surprised by how slow going it was, but things spread out quickly and I had to work to keep a good pace.

Longer than I expected

Although the race is clocked at 26.2 miles, my Nike+ registered nearly 30.  I’d assumed it was pretty accurate but I suppose I assumed wrong.  This affected not only my expectation for when the race would be over, but meant my training was not really sufficient.

Damn those hills

A lot of the race was up hill: Southside to Oakland, Oakland to Point Breeze, Point Breeze through Hazelwood, Hazelwood through East Liberty.  Let’s say miles 10-20 are practically all uphill.  This really fed the burn in my legs.

Too much energy.

By the time we reached the South Side groups of people (official and not) were passing out gels, pills, fruit and liquid with an incredible frequency.  As we ran down Forbes Avenue in Oakland Pitt students were handing out bits of peeled banana, soaking wet from the rain and right out of their palms.  I cannot think of a more disgusting thing.  I tried to restrict it to what I knew I needed but I think I actually ended up eating and drinking too much during the run.  I have yet to taste an energy gel that doesn’t hit the puke button on my tongue.

The Soundtrack

Initially I’d really hoped to run without headphones on, but I brought my iPod so I could track my run for nike+.  Running with headphones is discouraged in organized racing and its illegal in many marathons, but not so in Pittsburgh.  Lots of folks were using headphones and so when I finally gave in and realized that I would need something beside the people around me to keep me invested in the race, I put my headphones in and went with it.  I think I actually listened to a podcast but the one song that I kept coming back to, of all things, was a track from the Valkyria Chronicles soundtrack.  A video game.  That looks like an anime.   It really is a fantastic soundtrack to a truly wonderful game though.

Desperate Fight:

Bloomfield is awesome.

As I ran down Liberty Avenue, totally blasted from the rain and sheer exhaustion, my spirits were lifted by the Bloomfield revery.  Folks passing out beer and pizza, lots of cheering and just general good times.

The last mile nearly killed me.

Although it was a downhill grade to a flat run at this point, the last mile was probably one of the toughest things I’ve ever done.


When I finally reached the end, exhausted and looking for Dawn and my dad, I completely broke down.  They’d managed to literally muscle their way passed security and were waiting for me, and when I saw them, I just burst.  Physical exhaustion, elation, pure adrenalin, it all just started flying out.

After that we made our way to a nice brunch at Point Brugge and the rest is history.

In the end it took me about 5 hours, a run that is in no way respectable, but I did it.  I did it without stopping or walking.   It was so exhausting and painful I honestly don’t know if I’ll ever do it again, but I’m glad I can say I did it.

Marathon Stats
My Nike+ stats for the Pittsburgh marathon

In which we bike around Pittsburgh

Gmaps Bike Ride Around Pittsburgh

Gmaps Pedometer Map


Decided to take a long bike ride this morning rather than a long run.  I headed towards Braddock and then through Homestead to the southside, crossed the Smithfield Street Bridge, drove up through Larryville on Penn, East Lib, back to Braddock Ave, then home through Squirrel Hill.  27ish miles all told.  I’m interested to see if my legs hurt tomorrow because I didn’t really feel that tired at the end. Pics after the break… Continue reading In which we bike around Pittsburgh