Unsolicited Advice

by Nola Garrett

I like riding Pittsburgh’s T. I especially like riding it on Steelers’ game days late Sunday mornings when the cars are packed with anticipation and good will. I’ve heard Steeler jersey-clad fans welcome opposing jersey-clad fans to Pittsburgh, give them directions, suggest good places to eat, and even wish their team good luck. Makes me feel good about living here. So, last fall I was unprepared for the squat, middle-aged guy wearing a leather-sleeved Steelers’ jacket standing near the car door when he shouted “Don’t you believe in Pittsburgh’s laws?” at two teenage boys wearing Steelers jerseys.

The entire packed car fell silent. One of the boys lifted his beer can, took a defiant sip. The other boy lowered his beer can to his thigh.

“Drinking alcohol on a train car is illegal! Don’t you respect Pittsburgh’s laws?” shouted the middle-aged guy.

The boys turned away from him. The beer sipper clutched his can to his chest.

More Steeler silence ensued, broken by the leather-sleeved guy’s taunt, “Try drinking beer on D. C.’s Metro! Down there, see how quick you get arrested!”

Just then, The T arrived at the Wood Street Station, three stops away from Heinz Field. Neither boy moved.

The doors opened, and the middle-aged guy leaned down to the small speaker phone mounted on the doorway pole. He pushed the green talk button, shouted “There’s two teen age boys drinking beer on this car!”

A couple of new riders squeezed through the door into the car’s ongoing silence. The two boys looked at each other, and as the doors started to close, clutching their beer cans they scrambled out past the middle-aged guy to the platform. The train began moving and so did the Steelers’ fans’ now ordinary, noisy anticipation.

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I’m just back this hot June Monday morning from buying a half gallon of skim milk at Rite Aid. As I walked home by way of the Gateway T Station that always reminds me of the Paris Louvre’s controversial glass domed Annex, I passed the Faith Gallo Memorial Garden: two concrete, boat shaped planters that have gone untended for more than a year. Faith’s planters were in full bloom with common wild flowers! So, out of my purse I fished my travel scissors to cut myself a bundle of Queen Anne’s lace, Oxford ragwort, and teasel—the Marilyn Monroe of thistles that compliments any bouquet, dried or fresh.

Of course, my theft failed to go unnoticed by three 20 something, tattooed, cigarette smoking, summer-clad women standing nearby.

“Hey, Lady! Them ain’t flowers. Those are weeds!”

“No, they’re flowers,” I righteously responded.

“Lady! Those are weeds!”

“Depends on how you define flowers.”

I kept cutting a few more strands of bright yellow ragwort, then grinning I finished my walk home to a nearby building to arrange in a crystal vase my bouquet.

And, I’m still parsing the irony of one woman’s parting sotto words—“Her elevator doesn’t make it all the way to the top floor.”—here where I dwell on the 7th floor at the cheap end of a 27 storey condominium with a view of Mt. Washington’s spired church and the Allegheny River’s golden bridges, straining to hold us all together here in Pittsburgh.

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