I plan my trips around Pittsburgh to avoid making left turns where there aren’t arrows.

Sometimes this makes my journey longer. Occasionally I find an unexpected obstacle in my way and have to adapt, discovering new routes. This leads to grumbling because if Pittsburgh is fundamentally poor in one particular area, it’s clear road signage. Add a detour to that and all bets are off for the unwary, imported driver, attempting to find their way around.

What Pittsburgh has an abundance of that I have attuned to over my transplanted decades:

  • Bridges
  • Hills
  • Pizza joints
  • Rivers
  • Sports fans
  • Staircases
  • Theatres

What Pittsburgh lacks: 

  • Left turn arrows and left turn lanes. 
  • That signage I mentioned.
  • One patient RoseMary dealing with the above.

I wonder how life would go if I planned it like I plan my no left turns?

Take care of that left turn

Moving here was a fluke. I left Montana to escape a toxic relationship and planned to stay in Pittsburgh for a few months while I job hunted elsewhere. One thing led to another, led to getting married and here I am, twenty years later.

We adjust to changed circumstances by being versatile, by welcoming the unexpected, and allowing ourselves to be malleable as needed. Like a detour on a road trip where you’re faced with a left turn, no arrow light, and no signage once you’ve made the turn … you either recalibrate or give up and go home.

I learned the word “malleable” from a friend who was a silversmith. Silver can be formed into something new by heat, hammering, and maneuvering. This is good when done by an artist, bad when done by accident like bending said treasured silver bracelet by, oh say running into a wall hard.

Malleability forced on you by someone or circumstances can either hurt you or strengthen you, forming you into a stronger person. 

People grow into our own unique approaches to life.

The running joke with Mom when she asked, “How long does it take to get to _______,” was the reply, “Twenty minutes.” Getting around Pittsburgh, off rush hour, is fairly easy. Many places are accessible from wherever you are within twenty minutes. Like downtown from the South Hills. When I have a downtown appointment for 8:00 a.m., I leave at six, am parked and in a coffee shop with a java by six-thirty. If I leave at six-thirty, I barely make the eight o’clock meeting. 

One reason: no left turn arrow signals. After several failed arrivals, I altered my plan during rush hour. I simply arrive early.

These situations don’t bother Alex. He grew up in the city and is familiar with all parts of it but the North Hills (that is a different blog). He knows four ways to get downtown, six ways to get to Squirrel Hill, and eight ways to get to Oakland. I know a few—planning for those unknowns—and am content with that. Mostly. Every so often I think, hmmm, where does that street go?

Alex won’t do that. Driving in this town is tough because the natives don’t see the changes made to streets and highways. People don’t read the signs (limited as they are). People are habitual and forget to notice that there’s a new sign pointing you to an easier path.

Or road.

Alex barrels through yellow lights or—heaven forbid—the ones hitting red … just … now. Can I blame him? Not really. There are intersections where waiting for green, will turn you old and gray. Or older and grayer than we are. Hence the sneaking through. I rarely go through on yellow. It’s safer to sit through red rather than risk someone in the other lane rushing through their light.

Yet, I’m the one jumping in with both feet.

Hiking new paths – Custer Gallatin

Our first foray to the ocean found me laughing out loud at an illustrative difference between Alex and me. I waded into the cool water to my calves, braced myself, and plunged in—immersing headfirst. I did somersaults, briefly, sloppily, body-rode a wave, and enjoyed some general frolicking in the surf. My ever-analytical husband took his time. First the water reached his ankles, then knees, stomach, chest, and shoulders, meticulously acclimating body parts to the temperature. Only then did he begin to smoothly, expertly, swim. 

Maybe I always plunge into the new because I like habits and routines—they give me a base of stability. Changing goes with being flexible. 

My cousin suggested: 

  • Occasionally brushing my teeth with the opposite hand (not good when using the electric toothbrush). 
  • Consciously choosing to start up the stairs on the opposite foot (did you know you have a dominant one?). 
  • Even to put my pants on with the other leg first (or both at the same time, which is entertaining). 

These are little things, but they are reminders to tweak the big stuff once in a while.

If we change our methods, attitudes, and ideas as needed, we learn how to thrive wherever we are, whatever we’re doing. Adaptability enables us to submerge ourselves in a new experience with great distinction from things already lived thorough. 

We discover new enlightenments as life unfolds, pages turning from blank white lines to ink covered essays. 

Isn’t it always how we react to our circumstance that makes a difference?

At my sister’s Montana home one morning as I lay in snug flannel sheets, I pondered my versatility. I have adapted throughout my often vagabond life. 

  • Leaving home for college three hours away so I could break the habit of home.
  • Having a blink-of-an-eye marriage not because of love but because I wanted to relocate. 
  • Standing alone after the harshness of him, building the strength to walk away.
  • Making my own way until I again made a rash jump into marriage, figuring oh well, if it doesn’t work I’ll leave. What a terrible, immature, attitude to take when saying vows!
  • Staying in Montana post-divorce and starting over with ten cents in my pocket, a $620 a month income, and an $840 a month mortgage. Somehow, God, family, and friends saw me through. 
  • Making a profit on that house and buying the littlest, dinkiest, seventy-year-old miner’s shack Red Lodge had to offer. 
  • Being my own business, earning my way, selling that house for a huge profit and buying land with a better home. 

Learning much about life and people and myself through the elations and challenges of living in a mountain town.

Plunging in, often seen as wrong by outsiders, is a necessity to a writer’s heart.

At that home, early risings were easy, welcome, looked forward to. In spring and summer it was the quiet lull of babbling brooks through the open window easing me to sleep, enticing me to rise. Fall and winter the hot tub offered a morning embrace. I would sink into the heated water, listening to the brooks, and marveling at the sunrise filling the areas between tree branches across the large Montana sky.

Mornings welcomed possibility, about experience, about living in the moment—something I have a problem doing.

As an adult visiting at my parents’, I resolutely stayed in bed until hearing my father rise. I listened to his routine and life was replete with reassurance and filled with comfort. The percolator would start, the back door would creak open, and I would know he stepped out to survey the vast field, perhaps looking for deer, definitely having a cigarette.

Mornings were about family, about time moving too quickly by as my parents aged, as I aged. As our time together grew shorter.

At home, I have difficulty getting up at six-fifteen—the bed is too comfortable, the room slightly cold, there is no suburban sunrise to look at. The windows are covered with black-out curtains to block the street lights. A fan runs to muffle the occasional vehicle passing by, to provide the essence of soft sound to lull me to sleep. My love of mornings has changed, living here, to something I work to embrace rather than naturally long for.

Mornings are coffee, writing, watching as my neighbors turn on a light in this room or that, their kids preparing for school. 

Left Turns Aren’t so Bad

Basilica St Augustine, FL, allowing my left turn

I’ll continue planning trips based on whether or not I have to make left turns and whether said turns involve said arrow signal. If not an arrow, then at least a lane set aside for making turns. I’ll re-route as necessary to keep moving, going forward, getting done what needs to be done.

This moving and rolling with life, accepting what comes toward us is vital. We have to change habits, attitudes, and sometimes locations to survive and thrive. Paying attention to the road is critical when driving new places or old routes. Has the road altered? Is there construction? Adaptability, our ability to refashion ourselves as life unfolds, enables the new to be known with distinction from moments already lived. 


Read: Doing the Pittsburgh yield