A few weekends ago I went to a magical place.
No, not Tahiti. Pittsburgh.
As someone who grew up in South Jersey, rooting for the Philadelphia teams, I had a similar upbringing to Amanda’s – programmed to dislike Pittsburgh from a young age.
But the most I really knew about PGH was that the Penguin’s Zamboni killed Carla Tortelli’s husband.
So, as I’ve recently learned, all I knew about the city was a lot of fiction.
Fortunately I love fiction, pop culture to be specific, and our exploration of Pittsburgh proved how much of it can be found in the city.
Our first big discovery was Eide’s Entertainment. When we first walked by it, early in the morning on our way to the Strip District, it was closed and I actually assumed it was just a convenience store which had some comics in the front window. On the way back from breakfast it was only on a whim that I even requested we step inside.
Let me say this now: I think every one of the places I’m going to talk about were designed by Willy Wonka. No, there weren’t rivers of chocolate running past the walls of comic books and collectibles, but just as children are awed by how Wonka’s factory captured a world of candy, Amanda and I were completely floored by this place which was bright, clean, and dedicated to so many of our favorite things.
There are three floors of wonder in Eide’s. The first appears to be centered around newer pop paraphernalia, the lower one has every comic and entertainment magazine ever printed (my only slightly exaggerated claim, not theirs), and the third floor is dedicated to multimedia. At least I think the third floor is; each level is so massive and so beautifully laid out that when I finally got to the third floor I just turned around, knowing that I would not see any of Pittsburgh’s other wonders if I stepped too far inside.
In fact, for the sake of the rest of our good-humored Pittsburgh expedition party, Amanda and I had to tear ourselves away from Eide’s after a few minutes. We knew how we could easily get lost in the store, and we did not want to keep everyone. So we left and moved on to the cutest damn Duck ever placed on God’s green Earth.
Later in the day, when the others decided to do silly things like eat and sleep, I went back to Eide’s – conveniently located only two blocks from our hotel. Knowing I had to keep some control over myself, I limited my exploration to the lower level, eagerly digging through their discount boxes and finding a slew of $1-or-less things I could not live without.
I also explored their robust collection of comics, divided by publisher and then organized alphabetically by title. Once I figured out the layout – helped by the friendly gentleman behind the counter – I could not find a series that Eide’s did not have a nearly complete collection of. Ever hear of D.P.7? No? Well, Eide’s has … in sequential order … in duplicates … priced by condition.
I left a happy man.
I expected that that would have been my one pop culture find during our trip. I should learn to not under-estimate things.
A pattern began to emerge when we discovered the downtown location of S.W. Randall Toyes and Giftes.
Don’t let my more abbreviated description of this magical wonderland of discovery and whimsy give you the impression that I couldn’t go on for 400 words about it. So amazed was I by the boxes, books, Legos, trains, games, action figures, and collectibles spread between the first and second floors of S. W. Randall’s that I never even made it to the third floor, the land of bears and dolls.
Once more, we’d found someplace in Pittsburgh that my Inner Child wanted to live in, but my Outer Man knew I couldn’t stay at for long. We did buy some Nanoblocks which, while putting together the Flamingo back home, I did giggle quite a bit.
Lastly, on our final day in Pittsburgh, Amanda, Kimberly, and I drove out to Jerry’s Records. Our experience there started humbly enough, picking through the discounted records pulled out to the sidewalk from their bargain garage. We spent quite a bit of time going through those, because I honestly couldn’t imagine the store itself would have that much more stock of higher quality vinyl.
But I was wrong. So, so, wrong.
Once we got upstairs we turned left into what appeared to be a room of average size for any store. Four walls filled from floor to ceiling surrounded us, and Amanda immediately got to work looking for a few specific albums. I, however, had no such goal and decided to explore while looking for the “free boxes of records” I’d seen mentioned on the walk up. I took off towards the back of the store.
And discovered that that was not the back of the store. I couldn’t even tell you if that was the middle of the store.
All I can say is that what I thought was a wall wasn’t a wall. It was just a shelving unit. A big shelving unit. One of many that crisscrossed a massive, warehouse-like floor.
These enormous cases of records would nearly meet in places, leaving only a few feet open to move past them and find another room filled with records, but again only sectioned off by more ceiling-high shelves with more space and records behind that.
As Kimberly and I began to push further and further into this “Labyrinth of Captured Sound,” we found a section of laser discs – but no sign of where Jerry’s actually ended.
Eventually we decided to turn back while our breadcrumbs were still visible, out of fear for getting lost and having to live on the tart sustenance of vinyl. On our return towards the safety of the cash register we stumbled across some records from Yugoslavia, and a few came back home with me. Despite the size of the store, Amanda was easily able to find the Roy Orbison and Bobby Darin records she was looking for.
With those we also brought back a sealed mystery box of free records (tip: you can pick those up by going to the room on the right, at the top of the steps). When we got home, we discovered they were stuffed with such fun 78s as I’m Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover, two complete Al Jolson albums, and a strange custom-printed record that appears to be a congratulatory audio press release.
As Amanda mentioned, there were other things such as the ToonSeum and Andy Warhol Museum that we were not able to see during this trip. And I’m sure many people may come back from a trip and think to themselves, I can’t wait to see all the things I didn’t get to!
But for me, I’ll be heading back to Pittsburgh to revisit these three worlds of wonder. Because now I know where they are. And that is super helpful, because I do have to add to this otherwise very positive post one complaint: put up more $#%&ing street signs, downtown Pittsburgh! Two out of the three places I mentioned we stumbled upon, and I am thankful for those happy accidents; there were many times as we walked/drove through the city that I almost had some unhappy accidents while trying to figure out what street we were at or on. It was very frustrating.
That won’t keep me from going back to Pittsburgh, but it would certainly help us locate other wonders I’m sure we’ve yet to find. Meanwhile I’ll just keep counting streets and memorizing the map, looking both ways, and watching out for that Zamboni…