I looked forward to exploring Braddock. Within 24 hours I went from having no clue that this place existed to being totally intrigued by its story.
I started the day by taking a walk with E.T. to the church up Library street. This street alone had several historic structures. On one corner there was a funky red mansion that used to be a residence of Charles Schwab. Today it was falling apart at the seams. Then, just below the old mansion was the first Carnegie Library. This building was one of the more active in the neighborhood. Everytime I passed there were youth congregating around its entrance. These buildings let me know that at some point in time Braddock had commanded the attention of some of the greatest businesspeople in US history.
Back on my host's block I noticed a sign endorsing John Fetterman for Senate. I learned that Fetterman is the current Mayor of Braddock. He first came to the city with AmeriCorps in 2001. Since then he has been persistent in his quest to rebuild Braddock. He has garnered national attention for the city by running for US Senate.
In many respects he personifies the city. He's over six and a half feet tall, brawny, bald and sports a hefty beard. One might say that he resembles Joe Magarac, the legendary steelworker folk hero who is memorialized with a larger-than-life statue on Braddock Ave. Fetterman is an unconventional candidate, and it seems that Braddock's path to development will be similarly unconventional.
After a brief walk I dropped off E.T., then headed down to the once prosperous Braddock Ave. This lonely avenue seemed to miss its vibrant past of traffic jams and shipping trucks. Such a nice, wide road was made to be driven on. I found that today there was sparse local traffic, at best.
I grew hungry while wandering so I went to the sole place I could find that was selling hot food. It was no restaurant. Just a guy grilling burgers and dogs outside of a butcher shop. I got a softball-sized burger for three bucks, then wandered across the street to Dollar General for chips and a soda. Besides the Dollar General, the only open businesses were a local food mart that strictly sold bulk goods, a recently opened craft brewery and a pawn shop that was willing to sell everything, even the store itself (a "for sale" sign hung on the front gate). Businesses along Braddock ave did not seem to be thriving.
Among the sea of vacancy I came across a community farm. The sun beat down on its dusty rows of crops. There was a rooster in a small wire cage. This farm scenery was a stark contrast to the industrial backdrop. There was clearly a nucleus of people who were being creative in their attempts to invigorate this city, though those efforts may have seemed contrary to the city's nature. Staring at the farm I wondered, can anything even grow in this dusty little steel town?
My walk through Braddock was truly stimulating. Moments like these reaffirm my passion for cycle touring. My bike is a vehicle for discovery. It enables a type of discovery that wouldn't happen in a car and that couldn't happen in a plane. It is a type of discovery that can only happen atop two wheels.
Braddock was the highlight of my day. That afternoon I departed from my host's home in Braddock to check-in to my Airbnb accommodations in central Pittsburgh. I would take a break from riding over the next few days to get to know my first major destination.