At my graduation party about a month back, one of my professors stopped by with her husband. He and I were talking about Pittsburgh, and he asked me where I lived, specifically if I lived in a neighborhood.
I was happy to tell him that I do and even happier to tell him that my neighborhood has become more, well, neighborly since we moved in over four years ago.
We moved to Brookline for two main reasons: it was still near a grandparent (free babysitting is key) and we could buy a big house there at a ridiculously cheap price. The offset, especially for that latter reason, is that we were nowhere near the central “cool” areas of the city. Despite being only a block away from the main drag, there was virtually nothing within that short walking distance that was worth the effort of putting your shoes on…unless you needed to get drunk, get pizza, get a spray tan, or get your nails done. In which case, you could conceivably do all of those things at the same time. So, it sucks when you want to support your local businesses, but instead find yourself headed to another area of town or worse, the mall. (I’m not diametrically opposed to malls, but I like them to be a last resort. Like that time I needed both a VHS copy of American History X AND some Monistat at 1 a.m. on a Sunday night and good ol’ Wal-Mart was there for me.) (Don’t ask.)
But in the past year or so, my neighborhood has been slowly working its way out of whatever rut it had been in and we’ve really been taking advantage of it, which has been wonderful.
Last weekend, my sister-in-law was in town. After the baby’s afternoon baseball game, we went down to the main drag and stopped at Las Palmas, where we bought fresh, homemade tamales, tacos cooked on the grill right in front of us, and Mexican Coca-Cola, which is the kind made with cane sugar and is so much tastier than regular Coke, it’s ridiculous. Maybe it’s the glass bottle and the inherent dose of nostalgia that I somehow manage to conjure up, even though cans were the norm by the time I was a pop-drinking American, but Mexican Coke is refreshing and filling without being too sweet or heavy. And when I’m done drinking it, I don’t fiendishly crave another, like I do with regular Coke. I’m satisfied by the treat and get on with my life.
After polishing off our lunch at home, the sister-in-law and I went back down to the Boulevard to get pedicures (nail shops in excess may be tacky and a sign of a suffering business district, but having one good one is essential). When our toes were dry, we went down to Geekadrome, a little comic book/nerd emporium, because the baby had stopped in a few weeks ago to ask about getting a beginner’s Dungeons & Dragons set. (No luck yet, much to my growing dork’s dismay.)
We made another stop at Cannon Coffee to caffeinate before deciding to go to the tiny, BYOB Italian restaurant, Mateo’s, for dinner.
All of this on one street, walking distance from my house. (And basically the perfect counter-argument to my farm longing.)
The husband joked that I am becoming the most Brookline person he knows, especially when I suggested that we go to Moonlite Cafe, also on Brookline Boulevard, to celebrate our fourth wedding anniversary last week. Moonlite, if you’re at all familiar with Italian cuisine in Pittsburgh, is one of those restaurants that serves big, hearty “immigrant Italian” food. No Tuscan this or fancy cheese that. Spaghetti. Meatballs. Marinara sauce. Mancini’s bread. And lots of it, dammit. This is America! And that was exactly the kind of meal that I was in the mood for.
That? That is the platter of rigatoni that they placed in front of me. It had to have been close to a pound of pasta and I took that picture after I had been shoveling noodles into my mouth for twenty minutes. As you can see, I was only able to clear away one tiny corner of the plate. Obviously, we took the leftovers home which fed all three of us for dinner the next night. Seriously.
But all of these things are part of what make living in a city neighborhood so rad. People can mutter about how Pittsburgh is just a big small town, but there’s plenty to be said for having all of these things at your fingers.
As if I wasn’t already so chamber of commerce about it, the baby wrapped up his little league season last weekend. They came in second place overall, which bummed them out, but the coaches treated them to a big picnic afterward that was really cool.
That’s my kid, just prior to the pie-eating contest. After I successfully pushed all traumatic images of the blueberry pie eating contest from Stand By Me out of my head, I was able to enjoy their scaled down and less barfy contest. Also, this picture immediately makes me go all Holly Hunter-in-Raising Arizona: “I luhuhve him so muhuhuhuch!”