Navigating Pittsburgh is like trying to solve a Rubik’s cube while being hit in the head with a shovel. Despite the fact that I’ve driven there on several occasions, I have thus far been unable to untangle the massive labyrinth of pavement that the city refers to as roads. It’s a little-known fact that some NASA scientists went to Pittsburgh, and, after failing to get to their destination for several hours, they gave up and decided that flying to Saturn in a sardine can would be easier.
Just in case you do go to Pittsburgh (which really is quite a fun city), it might be useful to know what to do when you get there.
As you approach Pittsburgh, you’ll see a fairly impressive skyline, which exists for the sole purpose of distracting you from the unpredictable hell that awaits. The exit and on-ramp system in Pittsburgh is even more complicated than a David Lynch movie. It’s the only city I’ve been to where you can see your destination, but you can’t get there.
After doing no tons of research, I discovered the road system was designed via the “extemporaneous amalgamation” method. If, like me, you don’t know what that means, a footnote helpfully explains it: “The city planner blindfolded himself, then played a game of ‘pin the one-way roads on the map.’”
I fondly remember going to a concert, and my GPS told me to turn right as my destination was three hundred yards in that direction. However, I could not turn right because it was a one way street going the other way, as if the city itself was mocking my attempts to find some peace in my life. After taking a complicated series of turns that dropped me in West Virginia for about an hour, I ended up at the concert venue just in time to have nowhere to park. But more on the GPS later…
I should point out that my navigational woes occurred after I went through Pittsburgh’s complicated bridge system. If you’ve never seen Pittsburgh’s bridge system, it’s basically what would happen if a giant started playing Jenga, then got bored and wandered off. Bridges are stacked awkwardly on top of each other, all in the name of efficiency. This poses a problem because the bridge stacking is so tight that there isn’t room for road signs.
Fortunately, Pittsburgh found an antidote for that problem. Some enterprising engineer saw the crossbeams on the underside of the bridges (which run perpendicular to the road) and had an idea. “What if we put all the signs on those crossbeams?” he said. “Since these beams are about three inches apart, people will easily be able to see them while driving along at highway speeds.”
That engineer was immediately promoted, but he quit and got a job designing airplane seats.
As you merge onto the lower bridge, you catch a half-second glimpse of a sign and discover that you have ten feet to cut across five lanes of traffic to get to your exit. This maneuver wouldn’t be too taxing if not for the thousands of other drivers in those lanes, all of whom are auditioning for the latest Death Race movie. In case anyone doesn’t get that analogy, I’m saying that people in Pittsburgh drive with the nuance and precision of a pyromaniac napalming a rainforest.
But the best part about the stacked bridges is the emotional toll it takes on your GPS (see? I didn’t forget). GPS, as we all know, involves an intricate series of communications between a moving unit in a car with a number of satellites whose sole purpose is to ease the burden of travel. The inventors of GPS figured no one would be crazy enough to stack roads on top of each other. As a result of that oversight, my GPS convulses loudly whenever I put in a Pittsburgh address. I try to calm it down with some heavy metal, but that only seems to agitate it more. At one point it did start reciting one of Hamlet’s suicide speeches, but I figured it was nothing to worry about. Plus, who doesn’t want a cultured GPS?
I did hear of one GPS unit that quit to become a bomb defuser. He said it was less stressful.
Now, I don’t want people to think I hate Pittsburgh. Quite the opposite really. Random fact: Pittsburgh is the only city where the hockey team, baseball team, and football team all have the same colors. Random fact #2: Pittsburgh’s business district is on a triangle of land, flanked by two rivers that become one (the Allegheny and Monongahela combine to form the Ohio). Cultural districts, concert venues, tourist attractions, and great scenery abound. It really is a great city. I just hate going there.
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