Friday, December 15, 2006


Saturday I headed to a Christmas party in West Mifflin, by way of Munhall. I knew I’d never been to West Mifflin, but I thought I’d been to Munhall before, and technically I had. My favorite donut shop is on 8th Avenue in Munhall; if you follow 8th Avenue from Homestead, the road makes a curve and somewhere after the curve you look up at the street signs and they say Borough of Munhall. The donut shop is pristine and many decades old, with display cases of glass and wood, a tiled floor, and a formica counter. It’s not big enough to have a U-shaped penisular counter like the donut shop on 8th Avenue and 23rd Street (Manhattan, not Homestead) or the one on Manhattan Avenue (Brooklyn, not Manhattan), although they’ll serve you coffee or Lipton tea in the same type of coffee cup, the two-piece kind with one paper cup inside a plastic holder complete with handle. No, Munhall has only two slabs of counter, at a right angle to each other. They have three kinds of cinnamon rolls, chocolate or coconut or blueberry cake or jelly-filled or any number of other kinds of donuts, nutrolls for which they are known, and pies for only $4.69 though at the holidays please order early. Day old goods are half price.

But I’d never been to the Munhall around the corner. At McClure Street, before you reach the bakery, the 53F turns up the hill and then turns parallel to 8th Avenue but turns up again at West Street and just keeps going up and up. Is it a small mountain or a big hill? I wouldn’t have predicted such a height from what I could see from the flats of 8th Avenue. The bus went up West Street and then turned onto Main, up past the gas station, up past the huge cemetery I didn’t know was there, up past Fran’s School of Dance, up past the Munhall Boro Fire Department, up past the Hair Cottage and Carmine’s Barber Shop, up past the pharmacy, up past the funeral home, up past the corner bars, up past lawns decorated with signs for Steelers Country or vinyl Santas or lights in the shape of Reindeer, up and up into the Western Pennsylvania sky which was cold and clear and blue.

I got off at the corner of C___ and M________ Avenues, now in West Mifflin and firmly inside a residential neighborhood of compact brick and cinder-block post-war homes. They were not at all identical, but the further I walked up the hill (for the end of the bus line was still a good ten minute walk from my destination), the more identical they felt. They had varying details, mostly in terms of the front porches--a porch or no porch, a porch that covered the whole width of the facade or half, if half which direction did it extend from the front door, right or left, was the porch glassed in or open.

There were no sidewalks here but there was no traffic, either. For a moment I noticed the emptiness of people and the complete silence. Then behind the silence I heard the noisy chatter of the birds, gathered in a laughing party in a tree in some backyard. I followed the noise, and peeked behind a house to see could I see them, but the birds eluded my view. I became briefly mesmerized trying to decide whether a backyard deer was real or a convincing statue, when a brown-haired lady came out onto her porch and said, “Did you want to cut through?” Her tone sounded kind of stern, but then she seemed really lonely to me. And I thought, if I saw a pedestrian in such a quiet neighborhood, I’d talk to them from my porch, too.

A few more houses up the hill and the vista beyond started to command my attention. I realized that in between the houses I could see to rolling blue mountains stretching out wide when I looked either to the south or north. I felt like I was on the highest peak for miles around. Far below, I could see the hospital complexes of Oakland and U.S. Steel headquarters downtown, but from this height anything manmade looked very small and a little silly.


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