Sunday, October 7, 2012

Coffeeneuring #1 and Brave New World

Coffeeneuring is the practice of riding some distance on a bicycle for the primary purpose of imbibing in a beverage at a shop whose primary product is caffeinated beverages. Whether you ride two miles or 200 miles matters not, but you have to do it on your days off, and can only count one such trip in a calendar day toward several such trips over a series of weekends.

Today was my first trip out, a very short ride to check out a bicycle following a repair. Because I wasn't sure of the bike, and with there being no bus service to speak of on a Sunday for a backup, I played it safe and stuck close to home, riding only to Coffee Buddha, about 1.5 miles south on Perry Highway. My preferred shop, Perry Perk, is not open on Sundays, and I was anxious to try out this new shop.

To pass the time once I got there, I took a copy of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World with me to finish. Once that was done, I wrote the little essay that follows.

To imbibe, I invested in the Tea of the Day, an oolong blend that had some fancy name that I promptly forgot as soon as I walked away from the counter, and a yummy muffin whose name lasted about as long.


Just finished reading "Brave New World". I find in reading it that I put to use much of what I learned in past literature classes, notably Miss Harp's British Lit class in Spring 1976, my Shakespeare tragedies course at SUNY Geneseo, and my Chaucer class which, IIRC, I took the same semester as Shakespeare. To make the best sense of a work, one needs to study sources and backgrounds, understand where the story came from, and what was the world like at the time this was written. In 1931, the world was in depression, a nasty European war was just over a decade in the past, a nasty war was just about to get going in Japan and China, with unrest in Europe and Germany still. The TV had just been invented (1926) but commercial TV was still in the future (the first commercial would not be aired until 1939). Radio was dominant, including overseas broadcasts via shortwave. "Talking" motion pictures were only a couple of years old. Transportation: trolleys everywhere, cars taking over, rail was how you traveled between cities, no airlines to speak of yet, rocketry was the scientific frontier. Constant innovation in every form, everywhere. Women just got the vote in England and the U.S. in the recent past. Social stuff: The U.S. had Prohibition, recreational drugs were just being invented, penicillin had just been discovered. Political: We had socialism, fascism, and communism without the stigmas they have today, but we did have major political experimenting to try them out, in places like Russia, and as we were about to find out quite soon, Germany. The USSR's formation was well in the future. Meanwhile, Japan and China had monarchies whose forces were fomenting the next war.

I need to re-read (and read for the first time) much of Shakespeare, which is quoted extensively in BNW, sometimes in a direct quote, sometimes embedded in a phrase or thought. It's been 34 years since I made my way through Julius Caesar, Romeo and Juliet, Othello, and others, though I have never had the book far from my fingertips that whole time. But there are writings I never knew, like "The Phoenix and the Turtle", and while I've seen The Tempest, the acoustics were poor (an outdoor performance), I didn't much understand it. I know some scenes from many plays, having watched the annual monolog contest (, but that doesn't help with detailed understanding of all 36 plays, 154 sonnets, and various other poems, as quoted in BNW.

A banned book. Why? Probably all the sex; it's central to the plot. Nothing graphic, just the constantness of it, the idea that everyone's conditioned to copulate constantly with no preference to any one person, and no concern about childbearing, which is rare. Though the book was written decades prior to the Pill's invention, Huxley lived to know about it, and might have seen its effects before his 1963 death.

But as to banning the book itself: I can see both the wonders and the difficulty in reading this in a high school English class. That needs an essay in itself. To me, the issue comes down to one big unanswerable question. Kids who already have the ability to understand new ideas will find enormous ways to expand their minds, while those who have not will simply be horrified, thus begging the question, why learn anything? Are we doomed to all be Deltas and Epsilons, or merely wear green uniforms and perform mid-level tasks? Can only a few be Betas to get anything requiring thought done, and fewer still Alphas to figure out anything of consequence? Or is the Savage right, and the brave new world is itself a horror?

At the time of its writing, Huxley thought this might be 600 years in the future, but by the 1946 edition, he feared this might happen within the next century. Minus the methods of travel and a few other surface details, he might be right.


A couple of pictures, and a link to the video I took for part of the way there until my battery gave out.

Photo #1, the bike rack in front:

Photo #2, yummyfulness and a bike helmet.

And 5/6 of the trip there (yes, I know it's sideways, all the bike videos are):
And here's the rest of the ride.

Monday, October 1, 2012

What to tell a newcomer

We have a new guy at work. He's new to Pittsburgh, having just flown in here two days ago. He has no knowledge of the city, yet has to learn how to get back and forth to work. He also (so far as I know) does not drive, so has to get around via transit, or rides from co-workers and friends. His main task to do is to find someplace to live, since he is living in a motel on a day-by-day basis.

If this were you, just dropped in a new city, how would you function? Wouldn't it be helpful to have someone give you a quick primer? Especially in Pittsburgh, where topography is a major impediment to getting around, and few streets travel in a straight line for very long.

This is the email I prepared to help him.

Some ideas come to mind of where you might stay while you are here. I am assuming that you will be, for the most part, not using a car. I myself am about 95% car-free, using buses and bicycle to get around.

Pittsburgh has two major downtown areas – the “Golden Triangle” where we are now (surrounded on two sides by rivers, and an expressway on the third), and Oakland, about 4 miles to the east, where the two big universities (Pitt, CMU) and a lot of hospitals are located. In fact, by itself, Oakland is bigger than every other city in Pennsylvania other than Philadelphia and the Golden Triangle. Dozens of food and shopping choices, lots to do (especially when surrounded by 50,000 college students).

There are many hotels both Downtown and in Oakland. Getting here from Oakland by bus is quite simple, with at least 10 bus routes shuttling between here and there, for about a 15- to 20-minute trip.

North, there are two brand-new hotels near the two stadiums (Spring Hill Suites, Hyatt Place), either a free 5-minute subway ride, or about a 10-minute walk. Possibly your best bets. A very different type of hotel is The Priory, a five-minute bus ride, a 15-minute walk, but a bit far from the subway.

The T only goes north to the stadiums, and south. Buses go in every direction, and use buses-only roadways to get out of town in a hurry.

Near-South, there are hotels in Station Square (at the other end of the Smithfield Street Bridge, about a 10-minute walk) and at the south end of the 10th St Bridge (Holiday Inn Express, about a 20-minute walk, or 10-minute bus ride).

Farther out South, there are hotels near South Hills Village Mall, and about a half-hour trip on the “T” (light rail). Dormont and Mount Lebanon are a little closer on the same subway line, but I’m not sure about lodging.

There is no West. Well, there is, but near-West, there isn’t much in terms of places to stay that are also foot/bus-friendly. I am probably the only person in the office who has physically walked along every street within five miles of downtown (and bicycled them and used most bus stops), and working from that experience, you really don’t want to walk along some of them. The big danger is cars, not people, and the absence of sidewalks and lighting. As long as you stay in your room or even the hotel, you’re OK, but crossing a street in the suburbs (like the Parkway Center Best Western) is chancy, and walking a half mile along Mansfield Avenue is suicidal (Hilton/Doubletree in Greentree). They probably have shuttles, or you might be able to arrange a regular ride with someone, but my experience suggests that the easiest thing to do is just to live close, and get around on foot, to spend the least time, expense, and trouble in travel.

Farther out West, there are a bunch of hotels in Robinson, and about a half-hour ride on the 28X Airport bus. Like Greentree, though, crossing a street (like you would have to do to get from hotel to bus) is not recommended. I’ve done it thousands of times; for seven years, I used to work in Robinson. Not fun. Same issues as in Greentree, only six- to eight-lane streets to cross, not merely four-lane.

Farther North, there are four hotels along McKnight Road that I can think of. Very quick ride into town, maybe only 10 minutes for the closer three, 15 for the next one out, but again, you have to cross a major street on the way home. I’ve actually crossed at the points you would have to. Not as horrible as the one in Robinson, but still not real pleasant. The near three are Hampton Inn, Intown Suites, and Comfort Inn (just opened). The farther out one is Holiday Inn, which has the added disadvantage of being on top of a large hill. I call places like this Holiday Inn “completely inaccessible to human beings except by automobile”.

If your preference is being close, I’d go with either a place right downtown or the North Shore. Then Oakland, then Station Square or the 10th St Bridge choice.

The bus or T is $2.50/ride, $25/week for an unlimited-use pass, or $97.50 for the whole month, vs one taxi ride at about $15, also about $15 to park a car for one day.
See me if you need to get around, however you decide to do it. I also drive – both car and motorcycle – and bicycle everywhere, so can provide you with whatever information you might need.

Hope this helps!