Happy anniversary to Kennywood Park’s Steel Curtain

It’s been one year since Kennywood Park opened The Steel Curtain and Steelers Country at Kennywood Park.

I was there on opening day and got a chance to ride the coaster.

Let’s take a look back.

I stayed at a hotel during COVID-19 and …

Navigating life in a global pandemic isn’t easy — we all know that.

After spending a week in Erie dog and house sitting for friends, I wasn’t quite ready to head back to my house, where I — like many other people in their own homes — have been cooped up nearly 24/7 since mid-March.

So I opted for my favorite Erie hotel: the Sheraton Bayfront.

Upon arriving, I noted face mask signs on the revolving door, social distance markers on the floor, plastic glass at the check-in desks and at least two hand sanitizer stations in the lobby.

But what stuck out was the lack of guests moving about without wearing masks. These people were not social distancing and were lingering for far too long — especially as the lobby, restaurant and bar were not set up as the spaces typically are.

I scurried to the elevator after checking in. I wanted to use the Marriott Bonvoy mobile key instead of having to stand in the lobby, but the app was being problematic and required me to see the front desk.

So, once at the elevator, I realized I was given a room on the second floor (I’ve only ever had higher floors). I would soon understand that this was a great thing.

I made sure to be the only person going up. But once I exited, I noticed a set of doors that were closed, meaning guests had to touch the door. And in the few seconds I was there, several people came and went through those doors.

But on the other side of the doors was the door to my room. And the main doors were separating guest rooms from conference space, which meant I had access to the main staircase, which meant I did not need the elevator again. Win!

Inside my room, I wiped down high-touch surfaces with disinfectant wipes that I brought. The room was not much of an issue for me — especially after doing a lot of reading in the days leading up to my stay about the spread of COVID-19 in hotel rooms and through air systems.

I did have to go back downstairs two separate times — once to retrieve items from my car and another to get my Grubhub order.

Both times, there were more people without masks than with them walking through the lobby and outside. That made me quite uncomfortable as any one of these people could be infected with or without knowing.

We’ve learned more about how masks are incredibly important to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

One of my biggest issues was the cost of the room. With the pool and fitness center closed and the hotel decreasing some of its other services, I paid what I normally would pay for a room. And all I got for it was heightened anxiety while in communal spaces — and I had to disinfect high-touch surfaces on my own to make sure it was properly done.

Will I stay in a hotel again during COVID-19? Probably, but certainly with increased precautions.

Some mostly common sense tips to helping to protect yourself while staying in a hotel:

  • Wear a mask. It’s the least you can do to help protect the hotel workers and other guests. Wear your mask outside of the hotel as well as inside, and keep it on until you enter your room.
  • Bring your own disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer. Seems obvious, but it’s easy to leave them in your vehicle. You’ll want them on you so you can easily disinfect surfaces and clean your hands as soon as you get into your room.
  • Limit your time in the lobby. Right now, hotel lobbies aren’t for lounging or getting work done near the fireplace or gorgeous view. Do that in your room. Treat the lobby like an airport concourse — just keep moving.
  • Use mobile check-in and a mobile key if offered. This can help limit your time in the lobby waiting to check in. I am particular to Marriott Bonvoy, and try to only stay at Marriott properties (this includes Sheraton brands now, too) when possible. Their mobile key is great when it works correctly.
  • Pack light. If you don’t need all of your clothing and items in the hotel room with you, consider leaving them in your vehicle or at home. This will help you keep account of what you have and also help for the next bullet point.
  • Find the stairs. If you’re able to walk a few flights of steps, it might be the better option. This is not only to help protect you, but we all know what elevator delays in a hotel can be like — especially around check-out time. Packing light can make it easier to use the steps.
  • Limit your time outside of your room. Chances are, most hotels have closed their pools and fitness centers, and — if not fully closed — have probably decreased the amount of seating capacity in a restaurant or bar area. And except to get ice, there probably isn’t a need to linger in hallways. But if you do, mask up.
  • Bring light snacks, drinks. If you know your hotel room will have a small fridge, consider drinks to keep in there instead of ordering room service, visiting the hotel’s convenience corner or getting ice. Keeping small snacks on hand also helps to limit your time in common areas and can help keep staff out of the hallways (which helps protect them). I’ve read that hotels that typically offer light food services (club lounges, breakfasts, etc.) have either temporarily done away with those services or have moved to individually wrapped items. In addition, hotels have likely limited menu options for restaurants and room service. If you don’t eat meat, like me, you’ve likely found hotel menus (and some limited menus from standalone restaurants) to be quite frustrating.

Election Day: Allegheny County DA fends off challenger, and more election news

Did you know 2020 is a leap year? One extra day has been tucked into the circus that will be the 2020 presidential election.

But until then, there is a slew of important local elections happening across Allegheny County and the country. Local elections matter.

In Allegheny County:

  • Chief Executive Rich Fitzgerald (D-Pittsburgh) easily defeated his challenger for a third term (WTAE)
  • Controller Chelsa Wagner (D-Pittsburgh) also came away with a big win against her challenger (WTAE)
  • District Attorney Stephen Zappala (D) defeated challenger Lisa Middleman (Post-Gazette)
  • Joe Biden surprised Allegheny County Dems tonight with a random visit (Post-Gazette)
  • An ally of Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto will replace outspoken mayoral critic Darlene Harris on Pittsburgh council (Post-Gazette)
  • Pittsburgh residents to pay higher taxes after parks vote (Pittsburgh Patch)

By the way, it looks like voter turnout in Allegheny County was just shy of 28 percent. I think officials estimated a 27 percent turnout. (This percentage might change slightly as not all precincts are reporting, as of 12:10 a.m. Nov. 6.)

And some big news around the country:

  • Democrats projected to flip Virginia Senate and House, taking control of state government for the first time in a generation (WaPo)
  • Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear is the apparent winner over Republican incumbent Gov. Matt Bevin (NBC News)

Plus, check out these stories:

  • One Western Pennsylvania voter cast his absentee ballot … from the International Space Station (AP/WESA)
  • Woman who was fired for flipping off Trump motorcade won an election in Virginia (BuzzFeed News)
  • For the first time since 1981, Democrats won a majority of city council seats in Columbus, Indiana, which just so happens to be the hometown of VP Mike Pence (WXIN)

Getting nebby with Doors Open Pittsburgh

tl;dr: Scroll down for some amazing views.

For two days each fall, Pittsburghers get a chance to be a little nebby (that’s Pittsburghese for nosey) in many Downtown (and North Side) buildings.

Through the nonprofit group Doors Open Pittsburgh, dozens of buildings’ doors are opened to give people access that otherwise is off limits or rare.

I’m someone who loves learning about history (especially local history). I’m not someone who can spout off architecture or architects, though, but I can still appreciate it and understand that development threatens far too much of our city’s history.

With Doors Open Pittsburgh, participants can browse lobbies, theaters, top floors, ballrooms, boardrooms, vaults and so much more!

On the first day of Doors Open Pittsburgh 2019, I managed to get to 10 spots on the tour. (Sounds impressive, but there are something like 50-plus stops!!) I planned to get to a few more, but I got a late start and some places had closed by the time I started my trek.

Some of the spots offered are in the same building. For instance, the tour separately lists the Office of the Mayor, Council Chambers and the City-County Building. It also separately lists the Kopper Building and the Kopper Building Innovation Space.

So, I mapped out my trip for Saturday afternoon, following Fourth Avenue and Grant Street.

On Day 1, I followed Fourth Avenue and Grant Street, taking in a number of buildings along those streets.

The Bank Tower on Fourth was my first stop. I was not aware that Point Park University owned the building. And I also was not interested in walking up 16 flights only to walk back down!

Be sure to scroll through the photos to see more from The Bank Tower.

Among my stops was Dollar Bank on Fourth Avenue near Smithfield Street. This building isn’t the bank’s headquarters (that’s on Liberty Avenue), but the amount of history and stunning features inside of it might make you think otherwise.

Also, be sure to check out a surprise photo of who one of the customers of Dollar Bank was! Most of you probably won’t care, but I geeked out when I saw!

I then made my way to the City-County Building. I’ve been here before, but it’s usually been for business, so no time to really enjoy the space. (Sadly, the archives room was full with some kind of apparent tour group, so I wasn’t able to peek inside.)

I also forgot to edit these photos, so they’re all a bit slanted. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

They all lean left, though, just like Mayor Peduto!

OK, check out this gorgeous view up from the Union Trust building.

OK, so I care about one building more than any other, and sadly, the insides were destroyed and gutted to make way for progress (insert eyeroll emoji). The shell of the building still stands as does its iconic ornate piece.

And while I’m happy to see the building standing, it’s hard to accept it as a total win when very little of the inside architecture remains.

Of course the building I’m referring to is the Kaufmann’s Department Store at Fifth Avenue and Smithfield Street. Since Macy’s closed it in 2015, the building has been turned into a multi-use development that includes apartments, a hotel, a parking garage (that I don’t think is open yet?) and lower level retail.

On a walking group tour last year of Pittsburgh’s old department store scene, I was able to go inside the Kaufmann’s Grand on Fifth apartments, which was the old Arcade level – with the Arcade Bakery, candy counter, card shop, etc. The third and fourth floors were gutted to make the lobby massive. But the row of elevators that existed in the department store remain.

On Day 1 of the 2019 Doors Open Pittsburgh event, I noted Kaufmann’s in a few different ways.

First, Kaufmann’s Department Store was a customer of Dollar Bank back in the day.

The bank even had old bank forms from the department store.

At the 2018 Doors Open Pittsburgh, I made a surprise discovery on the 25th floor of the Embassy Suites – you could look at the Kaufmann’s building to see the construction happening.

Last year’s shock was seeing the giant hole cut into the building.

I hadn’t planned to go inside the Embassy Suites this year, but did just to see the view of Kaufmann’s and check in on rooftop construction.

Also, peek-a-boo, clock!

You’ll want to swipe through my Union Trust building photos on Instagram.

Quite possibly some of the most breathtaking views came from the Koppers Building on Seventh Avenue.

On the 29th floor is an innovation center and a rooftop area that offered some amazing views of the North Side and beyond, down Bigelow Boulevard and The Strip, and the Hill District and Oakland.

And, this amazing note in the Koppers Building is rooting for all of us:

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay.

Getting around Pittsburgh ain’t easy

Ever get caught in construction that you either didn’t know about or forgot? We’ve all been there.

One Sunday night several years ago, I was coming home from the Harrisburg area and was excited to be getting off the Turnpike at Monroeville, only to be stopped several miles later in standstill traffic.

What should have been an easy 25-minute ride from the Turnpike to my house ended up taking nearly an hour on a Sunday night.

Or many years ago when PennDOT was screwing with the old West End “Circle” and had squiggly arrows on detour signs that made zero sense.

Admittedly, this sign making the rounds on Facebook isn’t the worst I’ve seen (though, it does send all of the detour traffic the same way, which can’t be good), but it’s still very much so very indicative of Pittsburgh traffic.

But from the looks of it, if you’re going to Mt. Lebanon, you won’t hit much traffic.