Finding Shelter at Eat’n Park

This is NOT a photo of Eat’n Park. However, I haven’t physically been inside of an Eat’n Park since Covid hit. So, this is what you get until I can walk down the street and take a photo of the one in my neighborhood.

On Monday, I read through the online Pittsburgh news. I learned that the place where I met my future husband, Jonathan, would close that very day: The Eat’n Park at Edgewood Towne Center.

See, here is how I found my husband: one of my best friends at the time, “Lucia,” met him online. She thought that he seemed like my type. She arranged an online introduction. Then, I chatted with him online. After a few weeks, we met at the above referenced Eat’n Park.

That’s how I met a lot of guys when I was single. I met them on the ‘net. Then, I arranged a “coffee date” at an Eat’n Park. For the first meeting, we arrived separately. (At this point in the “relationship,” I never gave the men my home address.) Sometimes, I arranged to have Lucia come into the restaurant with her mother. They arranged to sit nearby and have their own coffee date. We didn’t acknowledge each other. (This way, if the guy was a dud, we could all snark about him later.)

When I first met Jonathan, I was by myself. No Lucia, even though she had arranged the online introduction. I was actually on my way home from the South Side of Pittsburgh after a job interview that had not gone well. I called Jonathan and asked if he wanted to meet in person. I specifically chose the Eat’n Park at Edgewood Towne Center because I had gone there many times with Lucia and I knew how to exit the Parkway and find it. Jonathan had no idea where it was, and he got lost. I waited for him in the lobby for over an hour. He called me for directions at least once. (Smartphones weren’t a thing back then.) Then he found the place. We spent several hours that night talking. Then we became a couple.

I trusted Eat’n Park with my future and my safety.

I learned this from my mom, Shirley. Mom took my youngest sister to Eat’n Park so often that the staff recognized her when she showed up with the rest of us. Our server said to Mom, “Oh, I see that you brought your family this time!”

Mom was so embarrassed that she tried to stop going there. But she couldn’t stay away for long. One time, I went out alone with Mom’s mother. Grandma said to me, “Your mother likes to take me to Eat’n Park. Can we please go somewhere else?”

Before I met Jonathan, I made a terrible mistake one night with another man that I met online. I shall call this man “N.J.,” which stands for “NOT Jonathan.” So, per my usual plan, I met N.J. at an Eat’n Park. I did NOT tell N.J. where I lived. N.J. and I had our coffee date. I thought that we really hit it off. He seemed like a really great guy. So, I agreed to accompany N.J. to a bar in the same shopping plaza as that Eat’n Park on that very same evening. We left our cars parked at the Eat’n Park. We walked across the parking lot. Once we reached the bar, I had one drink and stopped. N.J. continued to drink. And drink. And drink. N.J. was drunk. I offered N.J. a ride home to HIS place. N.J. insisted that I take him home with me so that he could “sleep it off” on MY couch. I said no. The rest is a really long story that ended in a nearly empty parking lot next to a dark Eat’n Park. I was scared. I jumped into my car when N.J. wasn’t paying attention. I drove off. I went home and went to bed. N.J. left me drunk voice mail messages ALL NIGHT, one after the other. He left me a voice mail message to apologize the next day. I never returned his call. Had I just STAYED AT THE EAT’N PARK and ended the evening there, this never would have happened. I learned my lesson. Don’t stray beyond Eat’n Park on a first date.

I mentioned before that my family lived in Somerset County when Flight 93 crashed on September 11, 2001. After the crash, I heard stories about official-looking investigator types of men and women who spent hours drinking coffee inside the Somerset Eat’n Park during that grim autumn of 2001. It was the same Eat’n Park where my mom ate so often that the staff knew her. It was the same Eat’n Park where I smoked a menthol cigarette just to “scandalize” two conservative high school classmates who worked there. (I watched them go into the kitchen and laugh at me. So, major fail on my part.) Perhaps the Flight 93 investigators found the restaurant to be a place of safety and familiarity just as I did.

Restaurant Confessions Part I: The Great Veterans Day Weekend Oil Shower

I have a confession. Before the Covid-19 crisis changed my world in March, I ate out at restaurants A LOT. Everyone has a different definition of “A LOT.” I’m not going to provide my definition of “A LOT.” Let’s just say that I’m embarrassed to let my dad and sisters know how often I ate out.

I didn’t always eat out A LOT. I didn’t go out much during college or right after college because I couldn’t afford it. In fact, when I worked at my first job after college in Johnstown, my friends and I made fun of a co-worker who did go out to eat “A LOT.”

Then, I got a job in downtown Pittsburgh. I married a man who worked in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh. I moved into his house in New Kensington. New Kensington isn’t that close to Pittsburgh during rush hour. My after-work commute changed from 5 minutes in Johnstown to much longer. I also made more dough because I no longer worked in Johnstown. Also also, my living costs were still really low because- well, because I lived in New Kensington. So, I paid other people to make my dinner.

That all changed in March 2020. People on Facebook told me that I could die or kill my grandmother if I went outside. My employer told me to work from home. (Woot! Woot! No painful commute!) The governor shut down all of the restaurants. So, I learned how much money I actually save by making my poor husband cook for me.

The very last time that I ate in a restaurant was Sunday, March 15. My husband Jonathan and I ate at the brunch buffet at DiSalvo’s Station Restaurant in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. According to Facebook, we should both be dead right now! Good thing that the restaurant only had about five other patrons during our meal.

DiSalvo’s is a renovated former train station that sits under active railroad tracks. The current Amtrak station sits above the restaurant. When you dine at DiSalvo’s, you can hear freight trains or perhaps even the Amtrak over your head.

I visited DiSalvo’s for the very first time when I was a senior at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe. I ended up at DiSalvo’s as part of a double date. It turned out that my “date” part of the double date actually wanted to be with the other girl in our foursome, and a few months later he did just that. However, that’s the way that things go sometimes. I got a free meal out of the whole thing.

So, the place has a model railroad that travels along the dining room wall. This little train passes replicas of Latrobe landmarks, including the Saint Vincent Basilica. When I went there on my “double date,” the other girl and I cooed “Oh, train!” every time that the train passed our table. Someone finally turned the train off just to shut us up.

A few years later, I went to a wedding reception held at DiSalvo’s for a college classmate who got married at Saint Vincent Basilica.

A few more years went by and I got married myself. (I married a guy who never went on a double date with me while he actually wanted the other girl. Also, my own wedding wasn’t as fancy and it didn’t take place in Latrobe.)

A few years after this, my sister K. gave me a gift card to the place. Then, I went cabin camping with my husband and in-laws at nearby Keystone State Park over Veterans Day weekend. My father-in-law is a veteran. My father-in-law loves trains. We used the gift card to treat him to Sunday brunch at DiSalvo’s.

So, after brunch, we walked up to the railroad tracks to watch trains. A few freight trains passed us. We even saw a male and female stowaway riding on one of the cars. (I’m too politically correct to use the word “hobo.”)

And then . . . it happened. A train stopped on the tracks directly above DiSalvo’s Station. Oil covered the locomotive and several of the front cars.

It turned out that the thing’s turbo had exploded. Thus the mess. Oil everywhere.

We watched railroad employees disconnect the oil-covered locomotive from the front car and replace it with a fresh, oil-free locomotive. We watched this for over an hour. We didn’t need no stinking model train that could be turned off by the whim of annoyed restaurant employees. We had our own, real train entertainment outside!

I swiped this photo of the oil-covered locomotive from my sister-in-law’s Facebook page. Good thing that I don’t actually make any money from this blog!

My husband and I saw all of this with his mom Fran, his dad, his sister M., and her future husband J. After this, my husband and I drove to Latrobe sometimes to grab brunch at DiSalvo’s. Every time we ate there, we talked about the Great Veterans Day Weekend Oil Shower.

After Fran died, I couldn’t think about the Great Veterans Day Weekend Oil Shower without thinking about how much fun Fran seemed to have had that day at the train tracks above DiSalvo’s Station.

Now, as I said, my routine completely changed in March 2020. A lot of people’s lives did. My employer had planned a major client social function at a downtown Pittsburgh restaurant for mid-March. Two weeks before everything shut down, my big manager announced that the client function was still on her schedule. She told my co-workers that she herself planned to keep eating out.

By that time, Twitter was filled with memes about how our entire family would die if we left the house. I ignored the memes because my mother-in-law and my own mom had both lived their lives “correctly” and they had both died anyway. So, if I croaked from eating at a brunch buffet, at least I got to eat that final piece of chocolate cheesecake.

So – about that brunch at DiSalvo’s Station on March 15. The restaurant was pretty empty. We were at least six feet away from the other patrons the entire time. The only other patrons sat on the other side of the dining room. The staff seemed really nervous and stressed. Maybe I just projected my own feelings onto them.

The next day, Monday March 16, was my last day inside my employer’s downtown Pittsburgh office. During that day, we received an email to start working from home effective immediately. The governor shut down all of the restaurants less than a week later.

I’m blessed because I didn’t lose my job. I got to stop making my commute. I saved a lot of money. However, I’m sad that I haven’t eaten inside of a restaurant since March. I’m sad for all of the restaurants that I loved to visit. So, from time to time, I will blog about my restaurant memories.

By the way, I’m aware that Pennsylvania restaurants eventually opened again to inside diners. However, my husband and I decided to cherry-pick our activities. We are involved in some other stuff (including my husband’s participation in our community’s volunteer fire department) so we balanced this out by not eating inside of restaurants. Now restaurants in my area are being shut down again. It looks as if I won’t be eating inside of a restaurant for a long, long time.

Murphy’s Law At the Basket Blessing

Holy Saturday morning in my house means a frantic “grocery store hop” in which we visit every store in New Kensington.

You see, families in our traditionally Polish Catholic parish in New Kensington assemble baskets of the food for their first meal on Easter morning. We bring the baskets to church Saturday for a short ceremonial basket blessing by our priest.

Our baskets include very specific foods, including beet horseradish. Every year, we forget to purchase beet horseradish until Easter weekend.

And of course, the store closest to our house is clean out of beet horseradish the morning of Holy Saturday. Because this store is, like, 2 minutes away from the church and other people beat (beet) us to all of  it!

So, we walk into our third store of the morning. We can buy the last remaining bottle on that store’s shelf.

Then we meet up with our in-laws at the church. They tell us similar stories of frenzied dashes to assemble their baskets five minutes before the ceremony.

Then it happens all over again the next Easter.