Bike USA: August 9-29, 2000 – Into Pittsburgh

Max’s stuff in black, Mark’s in brown.

Into Pittsburgh

I started to feel the weirdness in Chicago, but it didn’t REALLY hit me until going to the Metropol nightclub in Pittsburgh. To see scantily clad young professionals mixing with frat boys and goths brought me quickly back to the urban nightlife we’ve been lacking this entire trip. It wasn’t country or Hispanic music. Were we really just biking across the US? It was hard to imagine this same group of hip grinding bipeds had ever gone camping or biking since early childhood if ever. Did I blend in? Would my brother and I be allowed back into normal society? After dancing for a couple hours I rode back to our Great Uncle Seven’s house and really sat down and reflected.

During this whole trip I kept thinking to myself that I was becoming more and more patient (and, correlated with this, that I was becoming more and more tolerant – which I later found not to be true as soon as I got back home to Portland to find that Robin has become engrossed in, what I think is, horrible TV). I was not in a hurry to go anywhere. This was most evident when Max and I sat in the back seat of a relative’s car when we went out to dinner or whatnot. In some cases, like with our Great Uncle in DC, abject fear took over, but most of time, like when Leo, our cousin, was driving, just a sense of why-the-hell-are-we-going-so-fast-when-we-don’t-really-need-to syndrome. I didn’t mind so much with Leo since he is a confident driver, but all around us ever since we reached Chicago, we could see the implied hurriedness of everyone around us. This was one aspect of our fear that we wouldn’t fit in anymore.

Another, kinda bigger, aspect (at the time anyway) was that our lack of social etiquette would make us stand out. In Idaho we met a man, Johan, who had been biking around the US as a lifestyle. He has no job, no cash on him, just a bike and a trailer. He looked like a bum, but not one of those alcoholic, total wretches, more of an anarchistic, hippie type. While talking to him he would scratch his balls and fart, who-gives-a-crap-what-people-thought-of-him kind of an attitude. By the time we reached Chicago/Pittsburgh, we had become accustomed to that attitude, maybe not to such an extreme. Would we be allowed back into normal society when we obviously didn’t give a crap about the formalities of etiquette. For example, our Great Uncle in Pittsburgh’s wife would have leftovers in the fridge and when we wanted to eat something we had to have a different plate for each thing of tupperware because obviously food shouldn’t be served out of tupperware, and we had to each have about 3 plates or bowls because you can’t have rice and meat and veggies and then when you’ve finished put fruit on the same plate. All the while we’re trying to explain to our auntie that we only needed one plate to save the hassle of doing more dishes. When we said that for the last two months we’d been eating out the same bowls that hadn’t been washed with soap for weeks and using the same spoon that we licked clean, she only assumed that we said this to illustrate how crappy a way of living it was and that of course we wanted a whole production for lite snackie leftovers because that’s how civilized people act.

And so we worried that we no longer fit in. It didn’t bother us that we were wearing the same clothes for a week and that our showers usually consisted of a river or a sink in a fast food restaurant. But now that I think about it, I stipulate, that when Max and I were questioning our chances of being let into normal society, we were in the wrong frame of mind. To paraphrase the Tick, “We’re not crazy! We’re sane in a crazy world!”

All those people we met way back in Wyoming, like super tanned ex-Navy Alex, who we watched and listened karaoke while his laptop got stolen. He biked for something like 36 hours with 4 hours of sleep to get to the youth hostel in Jackson because he was afraid bunkbeds might run out. While we just arrived and casually checked in without knowing how incredibly lucky we were. I thought about the desolation of Eastern Oregon after we broke off the Adventure Cycling route. There were days of abandoned barns along ruler straight roads, and me trying to pick up a radio station to prevent from going mad. I thought about the nightly rodeo with crazy bull riding in Cody, Wyoming. The rodeo and the dance club – two utterly different nocturnal worlds, not too far from each other.

One really cool thing about the Metropol that night – I met a model for the Kabuki comic book. She was dancing with a Kabuki mask on and I talked to her ever so briefly. To all those people out there who think comics are for kids and they are all like X-men, read David Mack’s Kabuki. He really shows that comic books are both an artform and an unique storytelling medium. The man’s a bloody genius.

I opted out of going to Metropol because, unfortunately for all the ladies out there, clubbing is not my scene. Instead I went back to our PGH HQ and watched the Wallace and Gromit trilogy.

Cathedral of Learning
Cathedral of Learning
Non-denominational church where our parents got married

While in Pittsburgh, which I should emphasize ends in ‘h’, we stayed with our grandmother’s brother. The twin brother of the crazy driver we would later meet in Washington D.C. He and his wife are incredibly nice and they pampered us like toddlers. It was great. We had dinner with both of them and Alice, our mom’s college dorm mate, and Alice’s boyfriend. Everyone was in academia, which probably explains why they all had good humor and were missing that glazed over look salarymen often have. Bo and I also visited the beautiful church our parents got married in.

We went to the Carnegie Science Center one day and Carnegie Mellon the other. My brother thought it was so cool that THIS museum had a SELF guided tour of the submarine. So cool in fact, that he made it his personal mission to turn every knob and pull every lever that wasn’t zip tied in place. Once, he didn’t see the “do not move levers” sign and low clunking sounds were heard from the deep underbelly of the beast. We kept moving.

our stay in Pittsburgh
Great Uncle
our stay with our Great Uncle

Carnegie Mellon was really neat. There are three programs there I’m interested in: wearable computing, robotics, and green design. I got to talk to some faculty and the robotics program gave me a snazzy video. Do I see grad school in the Max Chen crystal ball?

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