ROMEO CULTURAL TOUR 2017
There were six of us; Tom Sibley, Marlin Baker, Lou Haveman, Jerry Kaizer, Rod Osner, and Steve Dooley. We are all retired, kinda, representing six different professions; juvenile court, probation, real estate, business, management, and air traffic controller. We range in age from 58 to 75. We departed on a Sunday, returning Wednesday afternoon, four days, drove close to 1,200 miles, and were still laughing. Three drivers took turns driving a 18-year old Fleetwood Flair motorhome. I wanted some back-seat time. I was envious of how relaxed Rod was stretched out on the couch and the dramatic conversations often initiated by Marlin or was it Marlina?
ROMEO stands for Retired old Men Eating Out. Every day somewhere in Grand Rapids a few of hard core members of ROMEO meet for coffee. There are probably twenty plus ROMEOs but I only know about eight of them well. I make it a point not to miss Monday mornings at Panera. I share several magazines and the Wall Street Journal with a couple people and I always walk away, not always wiser but certainly inspired. The rest of the week has to be better than the last hour with these clowns. Not to appear over complementary nor sucking up to them, but I would not miss this group for anything. Proud to be a ROMEO…most of the time!
Day One: The sun had not yet risen as I heard Jerry walk up our drive asking if we were planning on leaving on time. At six fifteen we were on the road even though Tom got lost. We were headed to Donegal, PA, about 45 miles east of Pittsburg. We stopped at the Fowlerville for some breakfast at a Family restaurant, a recommendation by Jerry.
Mid-afternoon we were walking the streets of Lawrenceville, PA, an emerging renewed suburb of Pittsburgh formally looking for a place to eat. We walked a half a mile one way passed several restaurants thinking there had to be a better place just up the road. Then, back to the RV and another quarter miles in the other direction. Several of us wanted to stop at one of the newest and most popular places, a local ice cream shop but that did not happen, a mistake we would not repeat.
Twelve hours from our early morning departure we walked into Brady’s Restaurant. It was a perfect meal. An hour later we were at Day’s Inn where five of us slept in the hotel and I stayed in the RV. Four of us spent time at the pool. The rain dumped on us all night.
Day Two: We were on the road at 8;00 A.M. driving to Stoystown, the location of Flight 93 National Memorial. This is a thousand-acre site. It truly captures the quiet yet powerful and courageous characters that brought that flight down before it could do damage to our nation’s capital. The Boeing 757 200 passenger airplane disappear into a million pieces as it hit the ground nose first, upside down, at 563 miles per hour creating a 20-foot crater, vaporizing all 44 persons on board. It was a powerful two hours listening to the life stories of people who lived in the area and are still engaged. Nothing could prepare us for listening to the actual recorded phone calls made by several of the passengers to their loved ones knowing they were in the last minutes of their lives. This is living history. It happened on our watch. Here are a several things we discovered:
- Local people are taking “ownership” of this memorial given it happened in their community. This site is a part of the National Park System.
- The crash site was an abandoned surface coal mine.
- The delay of departure (25 minutes) of this flight out of Newark gave the passengers (Thirteen people made a total of 37 phone call) an opportunity to know this was part of a larger hijacking, hence they decided by vote to attack the hijackers and spoil their mission. The crash site is only 18 minutes flying time from Washington D.C.
- This was the largest investigation ever by the FBI.
- Forty groves of local tree varieties of forty trees each are planted representing the forty-innocent people killed.
- It was worth the trip to just experience this.
At one thirty we arrived in Ohiopyle/Mill Run, visiting Falling Water, a classic of Frank Lloyd Wright, constructed over the Bear Run River falls. It once was nominated as one of the wonders of the world. This home was built in 1935 for the Kaufman family. It only cost $155,000 in the days when people would work at 25 cents per hour. It now is owned by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. The American Institute of Architecture stated “Best all-time work of American architecture.”
It reminded me of The Rock in Wisconsin where nature embraces and incorporates itself into the structure both inside and outside the home. I think I was impressed as much by the footpaths surrounded by Mountain Laurel than the home itself, as impressive as it was. I would not trade it for the home we live in today.
Day Three: Although Steve has directed thousands of flights to land safely in some of the largest airports, all we could do was circle around. We were not lost but we could not find our destination in Pittsburgh. Too late, we discovered this is not uncommon. Jerry told us about his wife’s father when he moved his family to Pittsburgh he would set up sales appointments and then return home in the evening reporting he was unable to find even one appointment. After driving past several potential parking areas, none of which would accommodate an RV, a vehicle stopped in front of us. A man approached and asked if he could help. He told us to follow him. Six blocks later, we were parked in his lot paying $28.00 for all day parking. He then proceeded to give us directions on using the subway and how to get out of town. We do not know his name but he gave a great name to the people of Pittsburg.
The city center is at the confluence of the mighty Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers. It is here the Ohio River begins. The city has 446 bridges within its borders. It is easier to build a bridge than to build a road over the hills and ridges of the terrain. Our first president, George Washington, dreamed that the forks of the Ohio River would connect to the Potomac and Chesapeake Bay. Canals, railroads, and the access to coal and coke were the driving forces for early development. Today, the region is driven by history, tourism, and the beautiful forests and wilderness attractions.
We had lunch at Grill 36 owned by Jerome Bettis, a star Pittsburgh Steelers star called The Bus because of his size and effectiveness on the field in the shadow of Heinz Field. Then Eugene, the manager, came out and talked to us about him and sports in Pittsburgh. His directions to our next stop were spot on. We never did stop eating this entire trip.
We discovered the subway (tunnel under the Allegany and above the Monongahela) was free for those over 65 as was the Duquesne Incline, a rail cable car that rises 400 feet to Mt. Washington escarpment, formally called Coal Hill. On the ridge, we met Gino. Born and raised, lived, and now retired, presently doing his daily walks about, he gave us detailed sketches of life during Pittsburgh’s glory days of steel, smog, smell, and smoky days to the green city it is today. Walking about overlooking the city from the escarpment, Tom and I spotted a Dairy Queen. We did not miss this opportunity.
We ended our time in the city with a ride on the Duck. It drives, floats, and is fully narrated. Rod and Lou took their turns at the wheel. We departed and returned to historical Station Square. I learned and forgot more about the city in that hour than I have in a long time. Here are a couple highlights.
- When the British cut off the supply of goods in the War of 1812, the nation turned to Pittsburgh which became a center for manufacturing of iron, brass, tin, and glass.
- Pittsburgh became a railroad hub in the mid 1800s.
- Some of the nation’s first skyscrapers were built in Pittsburgh
- Pittsburgh has made one of the most significant transitions in our nation’s history from contaminated waterways and smog filled air to a green city.
We wrapped up the trip with a quick stop at Cabela’s in Dundee. As we entered Michigan again we spent a good hour reflecting on what it all meant from the tragedy of Flight 93, great architecture, history, and the terrific people we met. Steve perhaps said it best. It is not a perfect quote but it is what I heard. “We think we control our plans, but in the end, God directs it all!” Our only regret was we did not have time enough to enjoy it all. However, discussion is already beginning for our 2018 ROMEO Cultural tour. Special thanks to Marlin for the fine pictures. Who is this guy anyway? LJH