Saturday, August 6, 2016

That's So Pittsburgh: Three Rivers Regatta

While listening to the radio Saturday morning, I heard about this event called the "Anything That Floats" race. I wasn't sure what else was happening at this weekend's regatta, but since I had woken up early and gotten work done, I figured I had some time in the afternoon to find out what the excitement was. Dear Husband humored me, so off we went.

This was the view across the river toward PNC Park from the fifth floor of the garage where we parked. We walked across the yellow bridge on the right, which had been closed to traffic so food trucks and artists could set up in the lanes. We followed the crowd around the baseball park and down to the bank, where we settled in the grass under the hot August sun.

We had arrived just in time to watch the watercraft being launched into the river. This amateur race grants $2,500 to the charity of choice of the first team to cross the finish line maybe forty yards away. Because the "boats" are made of "anything that floats," not all of the boats that were put in the water started the race, and not all of the boats that started the race finished it. But they were fun to look at, no one was hurt, and a good laugh had by most.

After that, DH and I wandered back across the river. On the bridge we passed a bride and groom taking photographs and stopped to congratulate them for choosing such an auspicious day to get married. (For the uninitiated: Saturday was our 11th wedding anniversary.) To the left is Roberto Clemente's statue, where we discovered he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on this date in 1973. Told you it was an auspicious day.

At Point State Park, the main stage was between bands, so we walked past the enormous booths for commercial fair food and the corporate tents. I picked up a program and a map of Ohiopyle State Park. Then we headed over to the landing pad, where two air stunt men would be landing in just a few minutes. They jumped out of the plane so high up you could barely tell it was an airplane, and it took a minute before they became visible with their parachutes. They wore smoke packs on their shoes for added effect while swooping and looping down to the ground, putting on the brakes at the very last second. That was exciting to watch.

By this point JP had joined us, so we walked to the water's edge to see what else was going on. Apparently Pittsburgh pioneered  Formula 1 boat racing in 1982, and this was its first year back in eight years. We were just in time to watch the light "boats" do time trials. I say "boats," because they looked like nothing so much as mini space shuttles in the water. They zoomed around during the warm up, revving their engines like metallic birds preening and performing a mating dance. Then they all lined up, an amplified voice on the other side of the water made some announcements, and suddenly they were off, speeding around and around orange buoys making fantastic noise. There were other "extreme" sports demos, including BMX bikes, logo stick artists, and water acrobats.

After that race was over, we went to investigate a very loud BOOM. It turned out to be an eighteenth-century canon. The officer in the front explained what good men were doing, but he delayed so long that I was surprised when the thing went off again and didn't get a photograph.

Next up was this enormous sand sculpture under a protective tent. It is a greater-than-lifesize montage of everything "Pittsburgh," from steel bridges to Mr. Rogers, Heinz 57 to the Pirates. We learned that the first Ferris wheel was constructed north of the city for the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. The ferris wheel at the Regatta was 90 feet tall. This one was 264 feet tall and cost $0.50 to ride--the equivalent of $90 today.

At this point we had exhausted our curiosity, and my left knee was really talking to me, so we parted ways with JP and headed off to a BBQ. It occurred to me that our visit to the Regatta was not unlike those of my historical subjects attending fairs in Germany in the early twentieth century. Some people may in fact have come out because they are fans of boat racing (or nutrition), but most probably came out of curiosity, boredom, and--at least for the charity race--a sense of schadenfreude. Attending the Regatta was a nice (free) way to spend a summer afternoon and learn a little bit about Pittsburgh history and culture.

Here we are at the Point, where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers come together to make the Ohio River.

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