Everyone remembers the first time they did something significant or something that introduced them to a wonder. I remember my first plane ride, my first lover, the first time I was in a fight, the first time I got falling-down, head-in-thecommode drunk—and each became a marker on the index of my life.
I also remember, very clearly, the first time I rode an escalator. I grew up in rural West Virginia, and technological wonders like escalators were relegated to the screen on our black and white television that received only two stations, one of them poorly. Such mechanical luxuries belonged to people who lived in metropolitan areas, not the boonies. When I was eight or nine, my dad decided to take our family to see the closest big-league baseball team. Both Cincinnati and Pittsburgh were about equal distance from north central West Virginia, but as the local television and radio stations carried the Pittsburgh games, we were Pirates fans by default.
The early seventies was a great time to be a kid and a baseball fan. It was the heyday of both the Big Red Machine and the slugging rivalry between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Cincinnati Reds. I was able to watch the likes of Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Willie Stargell, Roberto Clemente, Tom Seaver, Harmon Killebrew, and Steve Carlton along with other stars that most fans forty or younger wished they had been able to see play. It truly was an era of talent and innocence. There had not been a baseball strike, no player made over a million dollars a year, most players played on the same team throughout their careers, fans went to the game to watch the game and stood up for the National Anthem (and actually knew the words to the song), and a baseball game was an affordable outing for the typical American family. It truly was the good ole days.
I don’t even remember what month it was, but I do remember the long drive north to Pittsburgh in our green Mercury Montego with rolled-down windows and no air conditioning. Nobody I knew had cars with air conditioning, anyway. In the seventies, that was unheard of for middle-class folks like us. A road trip in the predisco era meant having the wind in your face as you motored along, sitting in the backseat and engaging in the youngster’s road-trip entertainment of the day prior to in-seat televisions or handheld electronic games: Pestering your sibling(s).
The interstate has made the trip from my old hometown to Pittsburgh quite comfortable now, but before I-79 was constructed, there was only US Route 19. For a kid prone to car sickness, long trips through hilly West Virginia were always dodgy. Fortunately, the way north gradually flattened out and I was able to keep breakfast down, unlike our occasional trips to the southern part of the state to visit my mom’s sister. Those trips deep into Appalachian coal mining territory turned our Mercury into a vomit comet.
The trip to the Pirates game began on a Saturday with an overnight stay in my uncle’s trailer at a Pittsburgh area trailer park. Lying in my bunk next to the crankout window that night, I heard every boy’s fear the night before attending his first Major League baseball game—the pitter-patter of rain. A rainout would mean both the trip and my flirtations with car sickness were for naught.
Due to the technological wonder known as artificial turf and the plastic-grass equivalent to a Zamboni, the field was ready for the ballgame when we arrived. In its day, Three Rivers Stadium was grand to behold, a concrete behemoth done in a cookie cutter style. During the late sixties and seventies, most new ballparks were built as multi-purpose stadiums. The facilities could easily be transformed from a baseball diamond to a football field in less than a day. One such place was the stadium in San Diego then known as Jack Murphy Stadium. One of the facilities persons told me in the late eighties that they could have a Padres baseball game end at 10:00 p.m. on Saturday night and have it ready for a Chargers kick off at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday. It made sense; a city only had to build one stadium for both the baseball and the football teams. It was economical, and the taxpayers got more bang for their buck. To design such versatile venues, most cities’ stadiums looked very much alike—hence the name cookie cutter. While they were resource-efficient, they were also ugly.
To me, who was not even a teen yet, it was a sports wonderland: People bustling about, vendors hawking everything imaginable with a Pirates logo, and lots of food that you can eat as a pre-teen and not have to worry about a coronary. We got midlevel tickets; they were not on the field level, which meant going up to the next level. That’s when I saw it—my first escalator. Sure, they are ubiquitous now, but I am fairly certain there was not one to be found within the tri-county area I grew up in. I stepped on it and glided effortlessly up to the next level, and then I did what anyone would do: I rode it back down and then up again. Once we were at our seats, confusion set in. Standing for the National Anthem is a reveled baseball tradition. I couldn’t wait to do what I had seen on televised games countless times. I rose, put my hand on my heart, and was greeted by “Oh, Canada,” the Canadian national anthem. The Pirates were taking on the Montreal Expos. I had no idea that the anthems of visiting foreign teams were played prior to our own. Shortly after the end of the song, I was pleased to do the same for the “Star Spangled Banner.”
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