Thursday, August 30, 2007

Well weathered wanderlust

Summer ends on September 15th. Technically, it ends on September 21st, but for me, it ends on the 15th. I have a plane ticket meant to depart that afternoon. With the oppressive St. Louis summer scorcher ebbing toward Seattle's September sixties, the beginning of my trip spells the end of this summer. So bring on the Fall.

The tentative plan is to explore the western coast. Starting in Seattle, I hope to migrate southward along the coast to places including Vancouver, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego. It may happen just like that, or I might find myself in Alaska in a few weeks. Or maybe even back home in three days. Either way, there is no adventure without a definitive sense of the unknown. So bring it on.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Here I dreamt I was a bus driver

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. USA

Here I dreamt I was a bus driver. Just one in ten thousand. Yes, there are that many. When so many residents opt for public transport, their chauffeurs are in high demand. All of my friends are bus drivers. All of their friends are bus drivers. But it wasn't always this way...

Once I worked in a factory--a steel factory. Not forty years ago, I was part of the grandest industry on the planet. Hell, we built this planet. Well, we built this city. We built every city. "Pittsburgh steel," they would say. If you want to build them tall, you need that Pittsburgh steel. And for that, you come to me.

I was the mind behind the machines that built the machines. My job was to control the emptying of the LD Converter (you know, the machine that replaced the Bessemer converter in the smelting process). At my command would the giant vat of steel lay down and give up it's payload. I direct it into a mold to form parts of a crane, a girder, or a bulldozer. At times, I would even guide the molten metal into a smaller vat, from which is poured the block of the very engine driving my bus.

Those days are no more. When the red day came, none of us were left standing. I think I saw it coming but refused to believe it. I was the last of my friends to go. In the end we were all gone, and so was the industry that built America.

At the time, I remember so many people protesting outside my industrial office. Cleaner air is what they wanted. Is that worth a man's livelihood? How about the livelihood of ten thousand men? Say nothing of their families... I remember hearing a picketer speak of 21 people who lay dead from the polluted air. Surely it was an exaggeration. An anomalous weather pattern supposedly failed to blow away the "Pittsburgh Cloud" and over just two days, he said those people breathed in enough steel smoke to breathe their last. Surely that can't be true.

Talk of death always make me think of religion. There is a church I pass on my route which comes to mind. I always wondered what the inside looked like--the exterior demands that much of me. It's a black stone like none I've ever seen. It's beautiful, not in the least for it's uniqueness. Although, when I try, I remember seeing several others built of this same stone. But let me not get side tracked. This church I finally entered last week. It was a happy occasion, mostly. A friend was getting married, again. But what I remember of the ceremony was the inside of the church--built in a beautiful limestone, almost white. It was such a contrast to the volcanic black of the exterior. As I left, I touched the stones and found them disturbingly similar, inside and out. Both limestone, but the inside shown in it's naked beauty. The outside wore the mourning veil of one hundred years' soot.

My city wears the scars of our nation's progress. Someone had to do it. No one said they did it. Now many are undoing it. I am undoing it. Pittsburgh saw it's own Renaissance. In fact, we saw two. The government rallied, the populous voted and spent, then "The Smoky City" was reborn from its ashes. With successions of public works and cleanup programs, this old fort towne is alive again. Her economic lifeblood flows through the arteries of mass transit. We all ride the bus and cough a sigh of relief. The dark clouds have left alright but left their mark.

I am a priest of the new Renaissance. Each day, I atone for the sins of many; I atone for the sins of one--to propitiate the pollution we all produce. Come worship in this temple and sing the praises of our mother, the city. Generations past have made her live, but it was this generation that made her livable.