Monday, May 7, 2012

The Day They Brought Three Rivers Down

Paul was my best friend during college, and remains so ten years later now, even though I don't get to see him nearly enough these days.  He's the one who discovered Point Park College in the first place, and attended it for a year himself before convincing me to transfer there, which I did at the beginning of my sophomore year.  Paul and I were both night owls, and spent many, many long nights at his off-campus apartment watching countless movies, playing countless hours of video games, and drinking countless liters of Bacardi.  We'd get into endless conversations, often about movies (we were both film majors), but really just about life in general.  Politics, religion, philosophy; the kind of things college students talk about that make them feel really deep and intelligent.  (Which we were, of course.)

Toward the end of 2000 -- right in the middle of my college experience -- Pittsburgh was abuzz with the impending demolition of Three Rivers Stadium.  I had only been inside the stadium a couple of times in my life; but the Steelers had always been my family's team, so I felt a connection with the place.  And, though I hadn't planned it this way, my choice of college placed me just across the river from the stadium. It was a very short walk from campus to Point State Park, where the stadium was always in clear view.

So as the calendar flipped to 2001, and January gave way to February, everyone at PPC was discussing their plans for watching the implosion of Three Rivers.  We Point Park students had every advantage; we were the only people who actually resided in downtown Pittsburgh (aside from what I believe was a halfway house, but never mind that).  For us, it was just a short walk up the street -- three, four blocks -- and then right back to our warm, comfortable beds when it was over.  Everyone else would have to drive downtown, pay for parking, fight with the crowd, and then deal with event traffic when it was over.

Despite the ease and simplicity of it all, I had come to the conclusion that I would not be attending.  It was happening early.  On a weekend.  As I already mentioned, I was a night owl.  By the second semester of my junior year (which was when the implosion was happening), I had successfully transitioned myself away from any morning classes; I never scheduled a class before noon.  That meant that my full-time schedule -- weekdays as well as weekends -- I could keep a night person's schedule.  I was one taxicab away from becoming Travis Bickle.  So waking up early on a Sunday, dragging my ass out of bed and stepping into the bitter cold dawn of a dead winter's morning to watch 20 seconds' worth of explosions sounded like the absolute last thing I'd want to do.

So firm was my decision to skip the stadium implosion that I never bothered to find out the exact date or time it would be happening.  I was confident that once it had happened I'd hear plenty about it, and that would be that.

I'm sure you can see where this is heading.  I wouldn't be telling you all of this if I didn't end up going to see the implosion.  So here's how it happened.

I went to Paul's one Saturday evening; one of many.  I don't remember the specifics of what we did that night.  It was just the usual -- probably watched a movie or two, played some video games, perhaps listened to some Bill Hicks, definitely did some drinking, and did a whole lot of talking - one of our classic marathon conversations that went to three in the morning.  And then four.  And then five.  Eventually the sun came up, and we were still going strong.  But when it started to get full-on-daylight bright, we forced ourselves to wrap up the conversation, and Paul drove me back downtown so I could sleep in my dorm room.

As Paul drove off and I headed inside, I noticed all these people headed out.  This early?  On a Sunday?  Ah, so this was the day of the stadium implosion.  I'd nearly crossed the threshold into the dorm building, but I hadn't yet, realizing I could just... stay out at this point.  I mean, I was already awake and outside.  And it was right there, just a short walk.

So I went.

It was freezing, but it was a nice, clear day, which is abnormal for a Pittsburgh winter.  I found some people I knew (though not too well) from school to stand and bitch about the temperature with.

The wait was longer than I had anticipated.  Long enough to make me consider calling it quits and running back to my warm dorm room.  But, come on, I had to stick it out at that point.  Besides, I had a really good vantage point.  I'm tall enough to see over most people's heads, and I had a clear, straight view of the stadium across the river.

My only relief from the cold was a Zippo lighter Paul had given me a month or so ago after he'd gotten a better one.  I'd strike the lighter and let the flame lick the metal cap for a few seconds, then close it up and stick it inside my gloves to give my hands some extra warmth.  It worked great!  If only I could have done that for my whole body.

We waited.  The park gradually became more crowded.  And we all kept waiting.  Longer.  Too long.  Anticipation grew to the point that, finally, a group of people a distance off started counting down from ten.  I was skeptical.  Who had prompted these people to start a countdown?  Did it come from someone official?  I didn't see anyone who looked official.  Folks, just because you arbitrarily decided to start a countdown doesn't mean the demolition crew will press The Big Button when you get down to zero.

Sure enough, the countdown ended and nothing happened.

Then I started to hear people clapping in unison.  Sort of like the stomp-stomp-clap of a stadium full of fans doing "We Will Rock You" during a game.

Now that really irritated me.  It was too cold, and too early for this kind of crap.  Didn't these people realize how long I'd been awake?  How tired I was?  I'm glad you're excited, but enough with the countdowns and the clapping.  Could you please just settle down and be patient and let everyone experience this moment in their--

Oh, the stadium was collapsing!  When did that start?

It turned out that the "unison clapping" I heard was actually the series of explosions going off inside the stadium.

And that was it.  In less than a minute, the whole thing came down.  And in the next minute, everyone standing in Point State Park started to realize that the air current was bringing all the dust and debris directly toward us.  I'm sure the people running security were thrilled.  This would be an easy way to convince the crowd to disperse.

And disperse we did.  And as I'd known all along, the greatest part for me and my fellow students was that we were already home.  I stopped for some food at the cafeteria so that hunger wouldn't interrupt my sleep and then, at long last, I fell into bed.

Anyway, that's how I remember it happening.  Tomorrow, we fact-check this story.

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