the era of blustering industry. I blew by old factories and unmarked buildings, some indisrepair, some used for new endeavors the original owners could never have imagined,and some still toiling in their ancestral labor, slowly, tiredly crapping out metal piping or cement in trucks, one at a time, eking out the bare minimum profit required to stay alive.I passed the South Side shops and crossed the river on the Hot Metal Bridge,riding west now on a narrow strip between the Monongahela and the highway. Above meon a rocky bluff sat Duquesne University and the Boulevard of the Allies. Everything inthis town is named after either heroes of war or great captains of industry—GeorgeWashington, Andrew Carnegie, the Allies from the War to End All Wars. More recentnames honor the heroes of the stadium, like Roberto Clemente. Duquesne Universityitself is named after the governor-general of New France who first brought Catholicism tothe region. In the colonial days, both the British and the French had laid claim to thearrow of land at the head of the Ohio; the governor of the Virginia colony in 1753 sent ayoung, unknown envoy by the name of George Washington to ask the French to leave. Of course, this didn’t work. The British then attempted to build a fort at the river fork, whichthe French subsequently knocked down, replacing it with their own, bigger fort, FortDuquesne. During the French and Indian War, however, the British returned, took over the recently deserted Fort Duquesne, and erected a still larger fort, Fort Pitt. History is thenever-ending process of knocking down small structures to make way for newer, bigger ones. The latest ones are skyscrapers bearing the emblems of big banking, law, andmedicine, and the city’s first casino, set to open in a few weeks.The cars on the highway screamed eastward not twenty yards away from me,leaving trails of noxious dust in their wakes. There was something
on the sideof the road; it tried to slide away, into the corner of my eye, before I could see it properly.A low concrete wall separated the bike path from the highway, and on it were scribbledfurious and hurried manifestos, contrived and conceptual “urban art,” and mysteriousmonikers left solely as testimonials to presence.
MOOK. CLASS WAR. TRANSPORTATION NOT RECREATION
(most likely referring to the millions of dollars spent by the city on newstadiums for its pro football, baseball, and, most recently, hockey teams)
. FUCK ART.WAKE. TAG THE WORLD COUP. NICE WORK, ART STUDENT
(this one next to a particularlyvirtuoso piece that depicted the profile of a warped, cartoonish, big-nosed white faceoutlined in black)
. KILL YOUR TV. IN MEMORY OF
The wall of graffitiwent on and on, seeming to stream past me as I pedaled in place, unreeling like a surreal,endless comic strip that never jumped down to the next line. I wondered about thedowntrodden youth of the city who felt they had no recourse in this world but to venttheir frustrations by painting a wall—wondered what they were like, what their dreamsand blasted hopes and aspirations…people I would never meet. I was cut off from their world, as they were from mine.I passed a parking lot filled with dozens of empty Greyhound buses. There wasn’tanyone around to watch them; no sign of even a hut from which the rental company couldsupervise the fleet of landships. They were domesticated, but they still retained vestigesof the free, roaming herds from which they had descended. Right now the beasts all laydormant, parked neatly in rows and all pointing the same direction, the same way I wasriding. They sat on their haunches and were ready to spring to life at a moment’s notice,roaring off into the west with humanity in their bellies like the covered wagons that usedto set out from here for California and Oregon.