Crashing the party

We had a mid-afternoon doctor’s appointment in Oakland the other day and were finished at, of course, 5:00 p.m. — rush hour. Not a fun thing. So we decided to take full advantage of our validated parking garage ticket to stick around and have dinner and try to miss the rush.

If you’re not from these parts, Oakland is a section of Pittsburgh where the University of Pittsburgh (the largest employer in the city) and its Medical Center (a behemoth in its own right) are located, along with Carnegie Museum, nearby Carnegie Mellon University, and lots more, so it’s a hoppin’ place. Students, profs, administrators, medical folks, commuters…you get the idea.

I went to Pitt, and worked in Oakland for 5 years after graduation, so being there is kind of like coming home. But it’s like going to a slightly foreign place, too. I graduated more than 25 years ago, and haven’t spend any time at all in Oakland for many years. Tons of new buildings on campus. So when it came to picking a place for dinner, I didn’t even know what was around anymore.

We set off down Lothrop Street (which I remembered vividly — it was always known as Cardiac Hill — Pitt Stadium was situated at the top of it, and the tens of thousands of fans trudging up the hill on game day know it well. I used to have to hand-carry endless documents around campus for my student job, and a trip to Lothrop Hall was always a whine-inducer).  Anyway, we started off going DOWN the hill, but in the light rain, wind, and increasing cold, I was eager to just find a place already and get inside.

We ended up making a big loop and then walking several blocks through the heart of South Oakland (major student area) to Mad Mex — a hometown favorite. But I’d never been to that location, and when we walked in around 5:30, we were slammed by loud music and louder talking in the long, narrow room with a bar on most of one side and tiny tables on the other. Man, it was crowded. I didn’t think there would be a spot for us, but we were shown to an itty bitty table about 1 foot from the people on either side of us (long bench seat against the wall on one side; row of small chairs on the other). I realized then that they were having Happy Hour specials for Day of the Dead, which may have explained some of the crowd.

We were the oldest people in the place by at least 25 years. I kept thinking they were all thinking, “What are mom & dad’s friends doing here?” and, “Aren’t those two old people sweet.” The food was great, as Mad Mex food always is, and we enjoyed our half-off drafts (2 kinds of pumpkin ale!), but I couldn’t shake that feeling of standing out like a sore thumb amid the glow of all the phones that were ever in hand and the talk of classes and such. And I thought, again, how times had changed since I was in school.

We just didn’t have the money kids have these days. I don’t think we ever went out to happy hour at a bar, let alone eating dinner there. We didn’t buy $4 coffees every day (or ever), and brought our lunches with us in paper bags. We didn’t have phones (except the one in the apartment.) When we did go out (way after happy hour — usually around 10:00), trying (usually successfully) to get into bars even though we were underage, I don’t remember drinking when we got there — just dancing. I do remember that you could have a large pizza delivered for $3.99, which was our big Friday night treat (before going out).

I always marvel at the high school kids you see in Starbucks — seriously, where do they get the money? And who drinks coffee in high school?

Is this the part where I throw in a “whippersnappers” and talk about trudging to class in 4 feet of snow?

Anyway, it was kind of a sad foray into my past with a jolt of present-day reality. I’m OLD, even though I don’t FEEL old.

Damn.

We pushed our way through the crowd to leave, ears ringing a bit, and made it back up Cardiac Hill without needing CPR. We paid our $5 parking fee (validation only covered $3), and made our way home — still dealing with some congestion after all. On the roads, and in our memories, as we thought about the kids we used to be, and wondered where the past 25+ years had gone. And when bars had gotten so loud.

We are always the same age inside.
~ Gertrude Stein

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2 Comments

  1. Anonymous said,

    Friday, November 9, 2012 at 4:24 pm

    Makes me remember my college days when you needed just $1.50 for a pitcher of beer (no one tipped then) and a bunch of friends to have a wild night out. Just call me grandpa.

  2. Rege said,

    Saturday, November 10, 2012 at 8:07 am

    I had to walk 5 miles to school, up hill both ways, snow up to my waist.


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