Pittsburgh & Washington


 Tuesday, 22nd July 1986

At 6:50am we arrived right on time at the Pittsburgh Bus Station on Liberty Street.  I got off the bus and waited whilst chatting to a couple of students from the Isle of Man and a guy from Denmark.

After about a 15 minute wait Mike’s father and younger brother Carl, who was the spitting image of Mike, arrived to pick me up.    Mike’s father introduced himself as Mark and explained that Mike was working in a part time summer job and couldn’t get away to meet me.

In my last year at University there had been two American exchange students, Mike and Glenn, living in our house.  I had got on well with both of them, but particularly well with Mike, an Italian-American.  Along with the other English lads in the house, I had taken my turn in showing Mike a part of the UK in the holidays.  We had had a laugh driving in my car over to North Wales and Lancashire together.  I had always promised I would look him up in Pittsburgh if and when I visited the USA.

The journey back to the house was about 25 miles and we spent it talking mostly about my time in New York and Boston and my impressions and experiences so far.  Mike’s father caught me off guard with a question “Do you think you could live in the USA?”  I struggled with an answer, although I said that I knew I wanted to spend more time in New York.

The house was beautiful and was located in an attractive outer suburb known as Trafton Park.  Although he had claimed to be living in Pittsburgh, I now realised that Mike actually lived deep in the countryside.   The house was huge even by the standard of the one in New Jersey and it had over an acre of land with it.

I had only just arrived at the house when Mike walked in.  We hadn’t seen each other for a year and it was great to see him again.   I was immediately surprised by Mike calling his father by his first name. It seemed very odd.  Nobody in the UK ever called their parents by their first names,  no matter how old they were.

Breakfast was ham sandwiches with mayonnaise instead of butter; the first time I had ever seen such a combination.  I was shown to a single room with a single bed and began to unpack.

We went out again in Mike’s Volkswagen Rabbit (the US name for the Golf) car and headed back to his job.  His summer job was going around the various road construction sites in the area and making sure they were complying with safety regulations. We spent the morning touring road works.

I thought it amazing they would give such a job to a student, and I was even more surprised to see Mike telling off a few of the workers, who were probably twice his age, for their lapse standards and lack of signage.

We got some ice cream from a shopping mall and then headed back to the house for some more ham and mayo sandwiches.

Mike only worked early morning to lunch time, so we spent the afternoon relaxing with his girlfriend, Kim. She lived nearby and her house was as large as Mike’s but it also had a pool in it.  Later we went to Mike’s weightlifting class and I was asked to join in.  I was tired and struggled to lift anything.

We went  back to the house for a lovely family meal of broiled fish, zucchini and corn on the cob.    Mike and I had beers in the back garden and smoked a bit.  I was struggling to stay awake though and, after a bit of television, I went to bed at 10:30pm


Wednesday, 23rd July 1986

I woke up late at 11:30am. Mike was already at work, but the family seemed relaxed to let me wander around the house.  I made myself breakfast.  The ham and mayo sandwiches had already become addictive.

I watched television for a while.  Again the choice of channels was astounding.  There were well over 50 channels to flick through; that was 46 more than at home.

I went outside and watched Carl and his friends playing Frisbee in the garden.


Mike brought some friends back for lunch to introduce to me to and we all sat in the back garden relaxing and eating hamburgers.




In the early evening we headed off into Pittsburgh and to the Three Rivers Stadium to watch the Pittsburgh Pirates play the LA Dodgers.  The home team lost 5-6, but nobody seemed to mind much.  The atmosphere in the stadium was quite incredible. It was more friendly than rowdy and in that respect it was totally unlike a typical soccer game back at home.

We went back to the house for cake and coffee.


Thursday, 24th July 1986

I relaxed in the morning again and went for a run around the neighbourhood whilst Mike worked. In the afternoon we headed out to weightlifting and then afterwards back to Kim’s pool to cool off.

The evening was spent watching “Reckless” on the TV with quite a lot of beer.


Friday, 25th July 1986

As soon as Mike was back from work at 12:30pm we set off in the Rabbit to Washington DC.  There was Kim and Mike in the front and me and Carl in the back.  At 4:30pm, after 4 hours of almost continual driving, we arrived at the house of Mike’s Uncle Earl and Aunty Jane on the outskirts of the city near Dulles airport.  Earl was Mike’s father’s younger brother and, although he was obviously older than Mike, the relationship felt more like they were brothers.


We all went out to eat, surprisingly I thought, to Dulles Airport itself. We had Barbecue food and a lot of drinks in the bar there and then took some beer back to the house.


Saturday, 26th July 1986

We got up relatively late and made for the centre of the city.  It was a whistle-stop tour visiting most of the key sites. In the morning we took in the Washington Memorial, the Capitol Building, the botanical gardens and, perhaps best of all, the Air and Space Museum where we had a lunch of salads and burgers whilst sitting amongst all the historical planes.

In the afternoon we continued with the Museum of American History and a walk past the White House.




The evening was spent at a bowling alley. This was the first time I had ever attempted ten-pin bowling and I managed not to make a big fool of myself.   We went back for more beer and smoking and a relatively early night. The house was great but they had two cats and my cat allergy played havoc with my sinuses.






Sunday, 27th July 1986

After a very lazy morning doing nothing much, we sat around with the aunt and uncle. We ordered some large pepperoni pizzas for lunch.  We finally set off back at 3:00pm and, after stopping at Breezwood for coffee, we made it back by 7:30pm.

We went to buy beer and Mike’s mother made a wonderful chicken dinner followed by butterscotch pie.

I took myself off to bed early and read until midnight.


Monday, 28th July 1986

I got back into the routine of relaxing by myself in the morning and then heading out to weightlifting class with Mike, Carl and Kim over in West Newton in the afternoon.

After the class we headed to Pizza Hut and made the most of their all you can eat for $3:49 offer, which included limitless pitchers of Pepsi-cola.

Mike and I headed back and picked up a case of 24 bottles of Michelob on the way back. We drank the vast majority of them whilst chatting overlooking the baseball courts around the corner from his house.

My head was buzzing by the time I got to bed at 12


Tuesday, 29th July 1986 

I woke at 11am and Carl took me in his own VW beetle for a very interesting 3 hour tour of the sights of the Monogehala Valley taking in Monessman, Monogahalla, Union town and Lafayatte City.  It was a beautiful scenic area of river valleys mixed up with the decaying installations of the iron and steel industry.

We met the others for weightlifting.

I wondered if I had put on any extra muscle yet with all the lifting.

We headed home for a night of TV and beer.

I wondered if I had put on any extra weight with all the beer.


Wednesday, 30th July 1986 

I was now in a set routine of waking at 11am.  Carl took me again for a ride in the Beetle, this time into Pittsburgh itself. We visited his girlfriend’s house and then, after a chicken sandwich for lunch at C J Blarneys, on a tour of the city. We took in “the point”, the PPG building and the 62 storey steel building. It was all interesting and I was quite impressed with the amount of regeneration that Pittsburgh had obviously undergone.

We met Mike and Kim in the late afternoon at the Station Square area.  This itself was another example of regeneration. It was an area of spruced up old industrial buildings that now housed shops and restaurants and was decorated by old American steam locomotives.  It was not unlike what they had done to Convent Garden in London.

We all dined at Hoonihan’s Restaurant and the food was, yet again, delicious.  It was clam chowder followed by stuffed chicken and rice pilaf.

After dinner we climbed Mount Washington on the little incline train and enjoyed a lovely view of the city of Pittsburgh from the top. It really did have a great setting for a city with the three rivers coming together.

We continued the evening back in Oakland and a trip to Zelda’s bar.  It was a nice atmosphere with Becks and Moulson beer and they had a harmonica-playing live singer who entertained us with classics from Cat Stevens and Jim Croche.

We left at 11pm and went to Dennys (a 24 hour family restaurant) for a coffee and a slice of Boston crème chocolate cake. It was much needed after the amount of beer we had drunk.

We made back by 1am.


Thursday, 31st July 1986

I woke up, almost automatically, at 11am.  The house was empty so I made myself a, not entirely healthy, breakfast of toasted frankfurter sandwiches and Clix breakfast cereal.

I went for a run and with Mike once again headed over to weightlifting class.

On the way out of the fitness class we found a small black kitten looking terrified and alone underneath Mike’s car.   Mike and Carl decided to adopt him and take him home.

Mike and Kim washed the car and I went with Mike’s mother to do the weekly shopping at the Giant Eagle supermarket. It was my first experience of an American supermarket and once again I was amazed by it, especially in comparison to the supermarkets back home.

It wasn’t just the size of the place, it was the extensive choice of things on offer as well as the extra large portion sizes.  I couldn’t get over the size of the gallon milk cartons. I had never seen anything bigger than a pint before.   We picked up things I had never really seen in a supermarket at home before like cantaloupe melons, zuccini bread, giant waffles and bagels.


They had christened the cat “Buckwheat”, but I think “Jaws” might have been more appropriate as he never stopped biting me the whole evening.    He took a particular interest in the waffles I was eating for dinner, jumping on my lap, clawing my legs and biting my hands.


Friday, 1st August 1986 

My routine continued. I woke up late and lazed around and then headed out to weightlifting.  They set me up with big Dave (a very large black gentleman) in an arm wrestling contest to see if I was getting stronger.  He nearly ripped my arm off.

We had a meal of broiled fish, broccoli and salad at home before heading out early into Pittsburgh for a Friday night of entertainment.  We headed first back to Zelda’s bar where we met Mike’s 38-year-old biker friend, Steve.

Steve looked as though he was straight from the cast of the Deer Hunter. He had been a Pittsburgh steel worker, working in a few of the mills around the area, and he had been in Vietnam.  He was re-married to his ex wife.  We had three or four rounds of beer together and found we all got on really well.


After some refreshments we went to another place on 5th avenue where the barmaid had a lot of fun with me using my British Passport as a form of ID.  We had another two rounds there, and then after a quick pee outside the cathedral of learning, we headed back into Zeldas.  That turned out to be our biggest mistake.

We had a further two rounds of beer and followed these with whisky chasers.  We struggled back out at 12:30am and we could hardly stand up straight.  I was amazed to see that Mike was proposing to drive home.

After a smoke he got in the car and started driving us back.  I couldn’t stand the motion. I opened the window and was sick out of the window down the side of the car. Steve asked that we stop and then he was on the floor being sick next to me.

We dropped Steve off and then made it back to the house at 2am.  We were both sick on the lawn outside.  We went inside, staggering up the steps together and threw Carl off the sofa where he had obviously fallen asleep.  I spent the next two hours on and off the sofa and in and out of the bathroom “calling for god on the porcelain telephone”.  I finally fell into a dizzy stupor at 4am.

Could it have been the broccoli I wondered?


Saturday, 2nd August 1986 

I managed to sleep in. I didn’t even get up at 11am.  I made it to 1pm instead.  Fortunately, Mike’s parents had gone away for the day and that afternoon, as we cleaned the vomit off the car, we hoped they hadn’t seen it.  We took our fragile heads to Robbie’s Sandwich place around the corner for some soothing milk shakes and fish sandwiches.

We went round to Kim’s in the evening to watch Witness on the TV and came back to find that Mike’s father certainly had noticed the vomit.

It hadn’t gone down too well with him either.



Sunday, 3rd August 1986

I woke at 11:30am and had a wonderful breakfast of cantaloupe melon, zucchini bread and coffee.  We picked Kim up and headed over the West Virginia border to a place called Ogalby Park.  It was about 70 miles south of Pittsburgh.  We had lunch at 4pm at Elby’s restaurant, enjoying Philadelphia cheese steak sandwiches with french fries and a salad bar.  They had the usual American bottomless cup of coffee system that I was really enjoying getting used to.

We spent the early evening at Kim’s watching the horror film Children of the Corn, which was apparently set in Nebraska.

We went home to wax the car. This was an extra request from Mike’s father to punish us.

I managed to get an early night for once.

The next day I was planning a little trip by myself out of Pittsburgh.  I was going to go up to Niagara and possibly even Toronto. I planned to be gone just 2 or 3 days.


Monday, 4th August 1986

I woke exceedingly early at 10am.  I went shopping with Mike’s mother. I took my sick- stained trousers to the dry cleaners, bought an adapter plug for the hair dryer and another roll of slide film.  We went in the giant K Mart supermarket which was even larger than the Giant Eagle one, although I was told that the quality of the stuff they had there was as good as Giant Eagle.

I grabbed a Burger King lunch with Mike and went back to the house to pack for my trip to Buffalo and Niagara.   I spent the whole afternoon arranging my gear. I was intending to leave a lot with Mike as I planned to come back to Pittsburgh once more after seeing the falls at Niagara.


After a lovely dinner of steak and potato with the family, we went, via Kim’s, to Charleroi.  As we were a little early for my bus, we browsed in the jean shop there, I was amazed to find it still open at 8:30pm.  I picked a pair of jeans in the style I liked, but thought I would wait on the decision of which waist size until I got back from Niagara.



At about 9pm we moved over to the bus stop opposite the clock in the centre of the town and waited for the 9:10pm bus to turn up. This local bus would take me into Pittsburgh from where the Trailways System would take me onward overnight towards Buffalo.

Map from diary

Buffalo & Niagara