Fishman: Looking at the sun 

I can’t read a map worth beans. It’s a genetic thing, I’m convinced. So never, ever ask me which way to turn; my answer will always be wrong. And never make me the navigator. We will get lost.

When I’m by myself I don’t care. I’ll get there eventually, and sometimes the more circuitous route is the more interesting route.

My need to know east, however, is something else altogether. Sitting in my house, I like to know my four directions.

And like someone with a little bit of knowledge about something, I can be pretty obnoxious with that information.

“Think of Tybee,” I snap when someone is trying to tell me how to get somewhere with directions such as, “turn right,” “turn left,” “turn where Sears used to be.”

“You know, Tybee? The ocean?” I bite. “That would be east.”

That’s easy, right? Easy in Savannah. Chicago is easy. So is San Francisco. Find Lake Michigan. Find the Bay. Find your bearings.

Pittsburgh is not so easy. Instead of one body of water, there are three -- three lakes that converge from three directions.

So what’s the problem? my smarter interior half says. Check the sun or the moon if you really need to know east so badly.

Hold on, tiger. That’s not so easy either. What sun? What moon? In my first 10 days of a sabbatical in Pittsburgh, I never saw the sun, let alone the moon.

While Savannah can count on 104 days of sun (although it seems like more), according to some site on Google, Pittsburgh gets 58 -- one less than Seattle, four more than Buffalo. For the most part, the sky cover in this part of the world looms a monochromatic, unchanging, unforgiving white.

“That little smudge in the sky?” someone pointed out the other day. “That would be the sun.”

Except it was noon or 1 p.m., which didn’t tell me much about where it came from or where it was heading.

My first directional clue showed up the other night when my dog Charlie and I were walking home single file down a curvy, snaking sidewalk from a Thai restaurant up the street. in between a couple of towering oaks, a few cigar trees, some giant blue spruce and thick rose of sharon hedges pruned to look like a ski slope, I saw another curve, a brilliant yellow/orange  sideways semicircle that looked suspiciously like the top half of the moon.

Bingo! I have located east. In the morning, on the second of our 58 sunny days, I looked the same direction and saw the sun.

Now I can relax.

Especially since I know how to find the city’s one emergency med clinic. For a city that prides itself on retooling and replacing its erstwhile steel industry with a strong medical focus - schools, research, specialized hospitals - it is woefully without a doc-in-the-box resource. So when I developed an irksome sty in my upper eyelid it took some doing to find out where to go - on Labor Day, yet.

Very few people could give me an alternative to an emergency room - and a certain $200 bill. Besides, it wasn’t an emergency.

Finally one pharmacist not too far from the revered University of Pittsburgh thought there might be something in an area called Monroeville. And where is that? I asked. “Next to Panaras,” the restaurant, he said.

Thanks a lot.

I’ve never had to use a commercial health clinic in Savannah. I have a primary physician. But I know they exist.

I just hope the Chamber of Commerce and other such places don’t cave in to pressure from Memorial, Candler and St. Joseph’s and not make the existence of these doc in the boxes known to tourists or newcomers.

That’s really important to a city. So is finding good cup of coffee.

Yesterday, during the third sunny day in a row I biked along Penn Avenue and found the Quiet Storm coffeehouse, which, like Savannah’s Sentient Bean, serves fair trade coffee, a term that means a fair price for the world’s coffee growers. and a term I’ll never forget after once calling it - in print - “free trade” coffee.

Finally, on my bike ride, I rode past the striking Allegheny County Courthouse and Jail. It was striking because I could have been standing in front of Savannah’s Cotton Exchange on Bay Street or the Savannah Volunteer Armory - previously Preston Hall, now SCAD’s Poetter Hall - on Bull Street or Alvin Neely’s imposing, signature house on Hall Street.

It was the same Romanesque architecture with the signature red brick, wide round arches, turrets and towers.

Sure enough. When I got home and did a little research I discovered the Savannah structures were designed by William Gibbons Preston, a contemporary of H.H. Richardson, who designed the Pittsburgh building and coined the phrase Richardsonian.

But don’t ask me where it is or how to get there. That I couldn’t tell you. 

About The Author

Jane Fishman

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