If you plan on driving in Pittsburgh, make sure you bring a map.
Not directions hastily copied down on a pad of paper.
Because in Pittsburgh, if you make one wrong turn, you’ll find yourself crossing and recrossing a river, always on the wrong side from where you want to be, as minutes tick by and the margin-of-error window you planned into your afternoon vanishes.
After a weekend with my sister from Texas, I was supposed to deposit her at the bus stop, under the Convention Center in downtown Pittsburgh. Google maps said one hour and 20 minutes. We gave ourselves two hours and thought it good.
But when the road Google maps said to turn onto did not appear to be there — or at least, not where Google maps led us to believe it would be — we started wishing for more time.
I wondered if Liberty Avenue was the same road as Liberty Bridge and Liberty Tunnel (answer: no). Now on the wrong side of the river (which one, I have no idea), I slipped off onto a fast-rising road and found myself in Mt. Washington before I could turn around. But coming back across the river I found signs: something about Consol Energy Center, which I erroneously thought was the same as the Convention Center.
So with 15 minutes before the bus was to leave Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C., and no way under the Consol Energy Center that I could find, I did what I should have done half an hour before:
Called the brother-in-law who actually lives in Pittsburgh and maybe kinda knows his way around.
I think I owe him my life at this point.
He took a while to answer, so when he finally did I was beyond panicked. I don’t think I even said hello.
“Are the Convention Center and Consol Energy Center the same thing?” I demanded as soon as I heard his voice.
“Well how do I get to the Convention Center from here?”
And for five or 10 minutes he stayed on the phone, figuring out where I was (wrong side of town) and directing me through a maze of one-way streets while I began hyperventilating, cutting people off, and thinking all sorts of curse words at every red light.
(For the record: I said none of them. Even though the situation warranted them.)
He didn’t get off until I could actually see the convention center. And he asked me no questions, which was good because those words might have slipped out if I was talking at all.
And we pulled in behind the big bus with five minutes to spare, and the sister grabbed her backpack and ran down the sidewalk with only a “maybe we should plan more margin next time” comment, and I tried to slow down my breathing.
And then, once again wandering in circles around Pittsburgh trying to find the road home (because return directions were no better than the ones there), I considered calling the brother-in-law again.
But this time I had all afternoon to find my way (which I did, fairly quickly). And since the brother-in-law talks to the husband fairly often, and since my independent-woman-who-can-can-actually-read-a-map status had taken a bit of a hit already, I decided against it.
And next time I drive to Pittsburgh, it will be with pages and pages and pages of directions and maps and contingency plans printed out.
And I’ll keep the brother-in-law on speed dial.