When we walk Julep to and from her favorite park, we always keep an eye out for the older woman from the brown house. She’s a friendly older “yinzer” woman who throws out the occasional funny, snarky sort of old lady comment. More importantly, she’s an older woman who misses her trusty dog who passed away a year or two ago, and for that tragic loss, my heart bleeeeeds.
On a recent visit with said older neighbor, we talked about the neighborhood church’s homage to the Vietnam War Veterans. She reminisced about sending bras to her friend who was deployed, and this bit of unexpected, “racy” humor from her had us laughing. Kyle asked her if she had seen the Vietnam War exhibit at the Heinz History Center, to which she replied, “Nah, I live in Pittsburgh, I don’t tour it.”
She went on to describe how she had taken multiple trips across the United States and had made so many efforts to see national parks and monuments, but she somehow neglected her own city. It’s all too easy to do. It’s too easy to get caught up in work, in laundry (ugh), in life and miss what’s right in front of us.
So in the spirit of touring my own city, slowing down on weekends and trying to create more memorable accents to my summer, Kyle, Julep and I did a little touring of our own. We went to one of my favorite neighborhoods, Pittsburgh’s North Side, to put our worries into a box, forget about them and follow a path of curiosity.
I’ve seen Randyland’s founder, Randy Gilson, around the North Side on multiple occasions. With his grunge-era blonde hair and his uniform of vibrant, paint-splattered attire, he’s not hard to miss. But what really makes him stand out is he legitimately exudes happiness and wants to spread joy wherever he goes.
I knew of Randy’s colorful corner on Arch Street, but I had always put off experiencing Randy’s colorful corner on Arch Street. It’s over stimulating to say the least, but it’s overstimulating in a really playful and exuberant sort of way. With the unintentional prodding from our old neighbor, I suggested we should stop procrastinating and finally pay the colorful corner a visit. So, on a gray, summer Sunday, we went to a manmade source of sunshine!
Randy Gilson bought Randyland on a credit card in 1995! Every day after waiting tables, he came home to paint and bring happiness to his neighborhood. Now people travel all over to share his dream. Much like Isaiah Zagar’s Magic Gardens in Philadelphia, Randyland is an overflow of personal art that gradually became a quirky and magical public institution. It’s a place to which you could return again and again and continue to see something new every time.
But unfortunately, you won’t always see Julep there. 😉
And because humanity will always be steeped with the humor of adolescence….
Two middle-aged women attempted to censor the inappropriate word choice, but the best they came up with was “croneb,” which is not a thing, so I guess the teenagers won this round, as they usually do.
As exhibited by the t-shirt in the upper right corner, Randy also sells merch (smart!), but he sells it via a kiosk and the honor system, much like a roadside produce stand (endearing!).
Continuing our walk….
We took a moment to pause and enjoy the grounds (and the installation) at the Mattress Factory, which is our favorite museum in Pittsburgh. I had the chance to interview the Mattress Factory’s founder and co-directors for Design*Sponge before the founder passed away. It was a true honor, and I’m grateful for the peek I had into their lives.
If you’re visiting Pittsburgh and wandering the North Side, the museum is easily digestible and worth a visit, but on a more leisurely, aimless sort of day, it’s calming to simply stop by the grounds and just take a minute, then continue walking to one of my favorite espresso bars.
Commonplace Coffee Mexican War Streets
Commonplace Coffee is a local business with several locations. They’re one of the most consistent, high-quality espresso bars in the city, which is no small feat for how much they have expanded.
Commonplace’s N0rth Side location is situated within The Mexican War Streets, an historical district with enviable row homes that feel reminiscent of old Philadelphia architecture. There’s a lot of neighborhood pride, which translates into community gardens, corner parks, art installations and well maintained facades.
On a nice day, the adjacent garden, which is maintained by neighborhood volunteers, is the perfect setting for an ice cream sandwich and coffee date (both available at Commonplace).
Leona’s Ice Cream Sandwiches = Hand Held Happiness
Leona’s ice cream sandwiches are made with local dairy and often with local, seasonal ingredients. They’re sold at different locations around the city, so one of our favorite dates is a good ol’ ice cream sandwich date because those suckers are definitely big enough for two.
From our ice cream sandwich locale, we could hear live music, so we followed the sound and stumbled upon Pittsburgh’s Pride Celebration in one of the city’s most impressive parks.
I’ve come a long way from my upbringing, which taught me to fear homosexuality, that it was a sin and an affront on family values. I no longer see this to be the case at all. The world is not black and white. We don’t all fit in neat boxes, but love is love, and more often than not, the best examples of love are not coming from the church. I’m grateful we stumbled upon the festivities and had a chance to celebrate that.
Here’s to exploring your own city, or perhaps, venturing to visit mine.