A brisk wonderland

Church in Vieux-Montréal

Pictured: A church I visited in Vieux-Montréal yesterday. The interior was stunning, but unfortunately my little Nikon camera couldn't cope with the low-light conditions. Trust me when I say it was a spiritual experience.

Autumn has broken here in Montréal in a real way. I awoke this morning delightfully chilly, pulling the sheets and blankets up over me and snuggling in for a few more minutes of rest before springing up to make the morning coffee.

The sky is clear and blue, and Montréalers are bundled in hats and scarves and jackets.

The past weeks have been incredible for my personal growth, in spite of (and probably because of) a spell of depression. Here's why:

Throughout most of my adult life, I've been a hopeless romantic. I don't mean this only in the sense of yearning for romantic love, although that has been a component. I mean that I'm hopelessly addicted to the promise of salvation that allegedly waits for me on the other side of some effort.

This year, that effort was my 25-hour drive to Quebec. I was so sure that when I arrived, I would be greeted with perpetual elation and bliss. Instead, I found ... myself, here, in Quebec, away from all my friends and family, in a city where I know nobody.

At first, this was an exciting prospect. I love that feeling of arriving in a new city and feeling the energy and potential of the place. But, as the days go on, it becomes familiar, and that novel feeling wears off. What once was new becomes routine. And it happens quickly.

I found it difficult to cope with this, until I asked myself what the experience could teach me. And the lesson, found through weeks of daily journaling, wasn't what I expected to find on this trip. But it is what I've truly needed.

For most of my life I've struggled with remaining grounded. Sometimes I feel like a bee flitting from place to place, trying to pollinate as many flowers as he can. I try to view this as a part of my nature and nothing to be overly concerned with.

And I think, to a point, it's true. I'm so grateful for having the privilege to have lived more life by my mid-thirties than most people live in their entire lives. Sometimes, if I'm tuned into the divinity of the present moment, I feel the need to pinch myself just to see if I'm dreaming, because I've been so goddamn blessed in this life. I wouldn't trade my adventurousness, my creativity, or my appetite for romance for anything.

But the insidious side of all of this shows itself when I'm not tuned into the present moment and I'm not viewing my current circumstance as the existential perfection that it is. I become bitter. Anxious. Depressed. I expect so much more than life can offer, and when it doesn't deliver, I can't cope with the dissonance.

We all know that attachment is the root of all suffering. But it requires constant effort and practice to make use of this beyond uttering it as a feel-good platitude. It requires noticing when your expectations exceed reality, and bringing your expectations back down to earth. And most of all, it requires observation of our present circumstance—no matter how vile or unfit as it may seem—as perfect and divine.

The curious thing is, as much as my solitude on this trip has recovered this wisdom from the bowels of my intellect, I find myself constantly forgetting and returning to my patterns of control and the anxiety and depression they produce.

Perhaps that's what people mean when they say that solitude can help us find ourselves. Perhaps it is out of necessity, in our darkest and most lonely moments, that we uncover wisdom we've always known in our minds but seldom practiced in our hearts.

So today, I'm basking in the tranquility of this perfect present moment. I hope you find the courage to do the same.

Summer's last hurrah, I hope

Marché Jean-Talon

Pictured: Marché Jean-Talon, a beautiful open-air year-round farmers' market just a block away from my flat in Montréal.

When I first arrived in Montréal, I was greeted by an incredible reprieve from the Florida heat. Autumn was in the air and I got to wear my favorite sweater, a pair of boots, and a beanie. I love autumn. I feel most at home during the autumnal weather—when I can wear clothes that don't make me feel like a scrub and the city turns inward. As a closeted introvert, it's a celebration of afternoons spent sitting in cozy cafes and the click-clack of my favorite boots on the sidewalk.

But this week, all of that changed as Montréal is experiencing another heat wave. Yesterday, temperatures reached 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Today, they're hovering around 83.

And I've noticed in the past couple days that I'm more irritable than I'd been in the weeks prior. I wake up in a great mood, but as soon as I walk outside and I'm blinded by the late summer sun, all I want to do is go back inside, close the blinds, and take a nap.

All of this is making me wonder how much longer I can stomach living in Florida. Florida's winter is idyllic—from December to March, it's my paradise. But the rest of the year it's a bit like living in a wet, slimy oven.

The weather is supposed to turn on Tuesday, with rains bringing the temperature down to a lovely 69 degrees Fahrenheit. My sweaters and jackets and boots and socks are waiting anxiously, hoping this is the end of their six-month hiatus from the street.

In the meantime, I've locked myself inside from the summer heat. I wanted to go visit the Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal, but the thought of walking back out into the heat makes me think next weekend I'll enjoy it a bit more.

The positive aspect of all of this is that I've had a lot of time for self-reflection and self-improvement. I've been committing to a daily exercise regimen, I've been eating healthily, and I've been doing a lot of therapeutic writing to help wipe away the cobwebs in my brain.

I also took a trip down to Vieux-Montréal (Old Montreal) to visit the Montréal John Fluevog store, my favorite bootmaker. They had a pair of burgundy Derby Swirls in my size, so I splurged on a pair because they've always been my dream boots:

Fluevog Derby Swirls

I love them, but I could only wear them for an hour this morning until the city turned into a sweaty inferno.

I'm trying not to be timid about doing some shopping and spending some money while I'm here, since the exchange rate works splendidly in my favor and Montréal's shopping options are near limitless! There's a denim store called Jeans Jeans Jeans that I overheard the locals talking about, so a new pair of jeans might be in the cards, too.

Hope you all have a beautiful Sunday!

As the leaves turn

Montréal Autumn Leaves

One of the things I miss dearly from up north is the changing colors of the autumn leaves. Out in the Pacific Northwest, we'd get a bit of a colorful autumn, but nothing compares to the brilliance of the autumn colors in the northeast.

I noticed, while sipping my morning coffee at the cafe I've been frequenting, that the leaves had begun their slow transformation from green to amber. So often I'm so absorbed in whatever it is I'm doing that I hardly notice the leaves change—and I realized this morning that it would do me some good to slow down.

It's a bright, sunny, crisp day here in Montréal, and I'm so grateful I was blessed with the ability to take this sojourn. Travel, for me, is as much about seeing new frontiers as it is about rekindling an appreciation of the place from which you came. I'm so excited to reconnect with my friends back in St Pete (if you're reading this, hi! I love you!). And I'm very excited to make a glorious drive back home just as the weather here is turning frigid.

Speaking of which, I decided over the weekend to extend my stay, so I'll be departing Montréal the day before Halloween, October 30. Despite it costing a pretty penny to book another place for October, I figured it would be worth it to stay, since I'm already here.

On Monday I stumbled upon an anglophone open mic comedy night at a bar on St Laurent. It was such a relief to be in an English-dominant space and to have people to talk to. I'll definitely be returning next week!

Hope you all have a beautiful week, wherever you may be.

Back to work

Alleyway in Montréal

I've returned to my client work as of yesterday, so I'm sure my updates will probably slow in the coming weeks as I focus more on that.

One highlight from yesterday is that I successfully ordered a sandwich in French without the clerk noticing I wasn't fluent (or maybe he did, but he didn't switch to English, so, cool!).

I also had an incredible experience last night when I got off the métro and wanted a cold drink. In most American cities, that would usually mean walking half a mile in some direction and finding a convenience store or gas station, since we decided grocery stores should only be built for cars. But as soon as I got off the métro, there was a small supermarket directly on my way home. I walked in, grabbed a few things, and walked back to the flat.

I'm currently prospecting staying in Montréal another month, to return to the States around Halloween. It would cost a pretty penny to stay another month, but I'm already here and enjoying myself, so it seems like it would be worth it.

Okay, back to work. Enjoy the day, wherever you may be, dear reader!

I don't want to go back

Cafe Ferlucci

Pictured above: Cafe Ferlucci, a charming little cafe on Castlenau a few blocks from my Montréal flat.

I woke up this morning in a bit of a panic. I'm not sure if I had a dream or what happened, but I tossed and turned and couldn't fall back asleep.

I'm in love with Montréal, but I know I cannot stay.

It's not uncommon for me to fall in love with cities when I arrive, only to find the love affair wear thin after a season or two. But here, the love affair is a bit more practical. Montréal, to me, feels like the most livable city in North America.

There are myriad grocery stores within walking distance. The streetscape is pleasant and inviting. The culture is elegant—not flashy, not overdone, and not opulent (I'm looking at you, Florida). People ride bicycles to work, down streets designed to accommodate them. There are very few large pickup trucks, and when you see one, you laugh at how ridiculous they look trying to navigate Montréal's crowded streets. You hardly ever see Canadian flags on things, because people here evidently don't feel so insecure about their country's standing so as to shove their nationalism down your throat. (I'm looking at you, America).

To me, it is a more civil society. Now, this is all my impression from the few square kilometers I've seen of Montréal. The rest of Canada, I'm sure, is probably nearly as backwards as much of America. But here, life is incredibly pleasant and rich. That the city is bilingual only adds to this richness.

And I really don't want to go back to the States.

That's not to say I don't love America. It's a place that had a great run. Some of the best art, music, and film was and is produced in America. If you're an immigrant from a less affluent country, moving to America can be an opportunity out of poverty. But compared to the rest of the developed world, we've messed up, severely. We've prioritized the illusion of individual self-determination—a tenuous illusion based on false premises—over the development of the commonwealth. That has left us with crumbling, inadequate infrastructure, housing that's built for the rich few, ever-increasing healthcare costs, and a society of self-help gurus and get-rich-quick schemes.

Again, that's not to say anywhere is perfect. Canada is certainly not perfect. But in traveling, one can see where our deficits lie.

I've done a bit of research, and it would be quite the uphill battle to immigrate to Québec. The most difficult part of the process, I imagine, would be becoming fluent in French. But Québec is more strict with its immigration policies than the rest of Canada. I feel fortunate that I have a technical skillset that is in demand around the world, so I imagine if I found a job and became fluent in French, I could make it happen.

For now, being that I still have an apartment in Florida, I'm going to enjoy the winter in St Pete with the beautiful friends I've made there. But something has been gnawing at me for years—that something just doesn't feel right to me living in America anymore. Being here and feeling so much more at ease is confirming that. Maybe the grass is greener if you find the right grass.

Montréal, the land of beautiful people

Place de Castlenau

Pictured: Place de Castlenau, a street in the Villeray neighborhood that, you guessed it, is closed to private automobiles during the summer.

Whether or not it is merely the language barrier playing tricks, I cannot help but be ensconced by the elegant, poised, and beautiful nature of Montréalers. I experienced a similar feeling when I was living in München. What is it that makes us Americans seem so generally crude by comparison?

And it warrants reiterating that my perception is a generalization. But I can't help but notice that people here put in more effort to live la belle vie than most of us do in America.

Most people's manner of dress is elegant—refined yet modest, impressive but not flashy. There's a sense that people put effort into their appearance, but not so much that they appear outlandish, as if they're trying merely to draw attention to themselves. Nor, on the other end of the spectrum, do they appear slovenly and unkempt. Again, this is a generalization, and there are exceptions in America as well as in Montréal.

As well, the city is generally clean and I imagine it's the result of people caring enough to keep it that way. Compared to New York, I'd eat off the floor of the Métro here.

That's not to say I haven't seen my share of ugly behavior since I've been here. I saw a jerk in a BMW swerve around someone stopped in traffic and nearly collide with an oncoming car, all so they could be stuck behind yet another car. And I've noticed people on the street will not smile back at you—something that I'd grown accustomed to in Florida.

But overall, I feel so much more at ease here than I do in America. The cosmopolitan spirit of the city is inspiring and energizing.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have some serious people-watching to do. Tant de belles personnes!

Un paradis piétonnier

Off Mont-Royal

Pardon my French, haux haux haux... I'm trying to learn as much as I can while I'm here. The title of this post translates to "A pedestrian paradise".

At risk of sounding like a broken record: Why do we build cities like we do in the United States, when there's clearly a better way? I came to Montréal to discover whether my suspicions were correct—that there could be a city somewhere in North America where the automobile wasn't the highest priority citizen. Even in "progressive" Portland, life without a car was tenuous at best due to most of the city being filled with single-family housing. And Manhattan has the opposite problem: Skyscrapers suffocate the island with hoardes of pedestrians on every streetcorner.

But here in Montréal, life is so pleasant on foot. I walked around in awe at how much I could access on my own two feet. I walked by several supermarkets, some ethnic and some organic. Shops of every stripe. Cafes, bars, restaurants. Parks and playgrounds. And despite the density, I haven't once felt overwhelmed. In fact, I've felt more comfortable than I ever do in America, because I haven't been steering a two-ton hunk of glass and metal through a goddamn city.

There are several streets in the central city that close traffic to private automobiles, such as the one pictured above. Walking down these is like being in an urban wonderland. It's quiet. It's charming. There's a real sense of place. You're free to stop and enjoy yourself without the threat of being run over.

Mont-Royal Avenue

I will never stop asking: Why don't we do this in America? Why do we choose to live our lives confined to horrid glass and metal boxes careening dangerously through asphalt-laden hellscape cities, when there's clearly a more livable way? I'm here, I'm experiencing it, and it's so much better. Not only is it better, but it's also, per capita, much more efficient and economical.

Residential street

I've had a few incredible multilingual experiences here so far. Yesterday, I came across a Latin supermarket, where I bought some pastries, a baguette, and some chorizo to prepare at home. The clerk didn't speak any English. I didn't speak any French, but I could tell she spoke a bit of Spanish. So I used the few Spanish phrases I knew to hopefully convey the transaction. It barely worked and we both kept laughing at each other.

Now I'm sitting at an Italian-owned cafe. I walked in, and, armed with a bit more French, asked "Parlez-vous anglais?" The barista seemed a bit confused, and just asked "English?" I couldn't tell what her native language was, but a couple of the regulars spent the next fifteen minutes conversing, switching back and forth between Italian and English.

All of this is making me realize how much more rich life would be if I were multilingual, and I'm going to make it a priority to learn French from now on, since I'm sure I would enjoy my time here even more if I weren't timid on account of the language barrier.

I'll leave you today with an interesting quirk I've seen here. There are still quite a few payphones strewn about the city—I wonder if these are kept in operation for those people who cannot afford cell phones. Anyway, being a bit of a telephony nerd, I couldn't help but snap a picture:

Montréal pay phone

À plus tard!

Je suis arrivé

Rue Saint-Zotique

Apologies for the lack of updates for those of you hanging onto your seats wondering where I've been all weekend.

I left Pittsburgh and stayed with my aunt and uncle at their country house, nestled in the cornfields of the Finger Lakes. It was lovely to see them and to reconnect after they visited me down in St Petersburg in April. I woke up to incredibly fresh air, dewey grass, and the most profound silence I'd heard in months. They also invited me to the annual Borodino Pancake Breakfast, a charity event for the volunteer fire department in the small town where they live. Unfortunately I took exactly zero photographs the entire time I was there, and I'm not sure why.

I left their house yesterday morning and headed north. Being that my apartment in Montreal wasn't going to be ready until the last day of the month, I wasn't sure what I was going to do initially. I thought maybe I'd find some camping on the St Lawrence River—perhaps on Wellesley Island. But once I got up there, the border called to me and I decided to just go to Canada and figure it out once I was up there.

The border crossing was surprisingly uneventful. I made sure to use Canada's online arrival documentation tool ahead of crossing the border, in order to submit my vaccination documentation. But when I arrived at the border, I was hardly scrutinized at all. The customs official merely asked if I had any alcohol, tobacco, or firearms, and then sent me on my way. No Covid screening and no in-depth questioning about where I'd stay.

Whenever I'm in Canada, it always feels like a slightly different version of the United States. The highway signage is similar but just a bit different. There's a sense you're still in North America, but with a slightly more European flair. I was taken aback by how empty most of Ontario is, at least along 401. The landscape was flat and thick with trees.

Once I crossed the border into Quebec, the signage went from bilingual to francophone. I suddenly had to put on my fast-learner hat while driving to make sure I was still heading in the right direction and not breaking any laws that were, at this point, only communicated in French.

As I've said in previous posts, one of the prinicpal reasons for this trip is to see how other cities are organized. One thing I noticed once I entered the Montreal metro area was that highway 20 suddenly became a surface street through the suburbs. There was no grade separation until I reached the Montreal city center (Centre-Ville).

Once the downtown skyline emerged, I knew I was about to embark upon the most intensive urban driving I'd done since the last time I drove a rental car in New York. And my GPS device in my car, while excellent for navigating American streets, isn't loaded with Canadian city data. So I was on my own, having to navigate Montreal from memory from the maps I'd inspected in the months leading up to my trip. That, as you can imagine, was a bit of a rush.

I took the Centre-Ville exit toward Rue Guy and ended up on an insanely busy boulevard in the heart of downtown Montreal. I had forgotten how much pedestrian activity lights up the streets of a cosmopolitan city. If I hadn't been driving Vincent through all of it, I would have been delighted. On this particular street, most left turns were prohibited, but I knew from memory that I needed to head due northwest to get to the quieter neighborhoods.

I somehow found my way to Boulevard Saint Laurent and was in the most hectic urban driving I'd ever done. Cyclists weaved between lanes. Cars would use lane lines as mere suggestions. The street was bustling with activity, it being such a beautiful Sunday afternoon. Again, I was both struck by how beautiful it all was, but also couldn't look away from the street lest I hit a pedestrian or rear-end another vehicle.

At this point, all I wanted to do was to park Vincent on a quiet street, but there were very few of those abound. What residential streets I could find had restrictive parking, with signs saying things like "No Parking 9h-23h JEUDI 1 AVRIL AU 1 DÉC" (9:00am to 11:00pm Thursdays from April 1 to December 1). Again, it was imperative that I learn quickly. And I love that about travelling to places where I don't know the language. You're forced to learn and adapt.

I kept driving, trying desperately not to hit anyone while also keeping an eye on the street signs to see if I could find a spot where Vincent could take a nap. Finally, I came across what appeared to be a retirement home with unrestricted parking out front. I parked Vincent and took a deep breath.

Now I was tasked with finding a place to stay for these few nights before my reserved flat was available. So I hopped into Vincent's belly and took out my computer. I've been using the Nokia as a hotspot to access the Internet, so I reached for it in the front seat. But it wasn't there. I searched high and low, and couldn't find my cell phone. I took another deep breath.

Here I was, in a francophone city, tired and hungry, and unable to secure lodging for the night. I calmed myself down by remembering I could stealth camp in the van for the night if I had to.

I packed my backpack and went searching for a cafe or bar where I could use the wifi. Somehow I couldn't find a single place. I found one cafe and asked the owner if he had wifi, but he didn't allow his customers to use it. This reminded me of the cafe culture in Europe, which I had long forgotten about: Most cafes in Europe are not computer work hubs like they are in the United States. It's a bit frowned upon if you post up in a European cafe with your laptop.

As I walked, I tried my best to enjoy myself in spite of the circumstances. I had arrived! I was finally here, after months of planning and anticipation. And so far, the streetscape was living up to my expectations. The streets were vibrant, the people beautiful, and there was a sense that people here valued aesthetics and the arts and urban density and diversity and bicycling and all the other things I wish America had more of.

But I was still without a phone.

I returned to Vincent and searched yet again, just to be sure. I couldn't imagine where I might have left it, since the only place I stopped in Canada before Montreal was a rest area on 401. I didn't remember bringing my phone inside or using it, so I couldn't imagine I had left it there.

I decided in one last desperate attempt to move the passenger seat back to see if somehow it was lodged in the seat somewhere. I pulled the lever that engages the seat, and my trusty Nokia sprung out into view. Dieu merci!

Suddenly the world got a lot brighter. I went online and booked an apartment for the few days nearby, and walked over to it since it was already ready for a guest.

That evening, after settling in a bit, I decided to go exploring a bit. Throughout the pandemic, I've desperately missed urbanism. I love to ride metros and explore cosmopolitan cities on foot, so I decided to go find the nearest Metro stop and take a ride back to Saint Laurent.

As I did, a feeling of glee and relief overcame me. I realized I was finally in a place where I didn't have to spend all my transit time inside of a glass and metal box, insulated from the community and forced to pay attention at the expense of being able to wander, to pause, and to appreciate.

When I disembarked the Metro at Mont-Royal, I emerged on the ground to a bustling pedestrian-only street, with shops and sidewalk cafes and hoardes of beautiful people. I felt like I had arrived home. Maybe not home, but at least, I had arrived in a place where I felt whole. There was such a spirit of joy in this place. People could walk down the street without being constantly vigilant of automobile traffic. I had a grin ear-to-ear as I slowly made my way.

I've spent today at the apartment settling in, especially since it's going to be quite hot all day today. I went grocery shopping (which is incredibly pleasant here, since it was a mere five minute walk to the supermarket down safe low-speed streets with charming rowhouses to look at). And I've been practicing my French, bit by bit, although I doubt I'll be using much of it except to say "Je ne parle pas français."

It is so incredible to me that this city exists on the North American continent. I do not feel like I am only a few hours north of the United States here. Montreal has the same sort of multi-ethnic feel as New York, but with more European influence in their urban design and lifestyle. I have a feeling, if I meet people here and learn a bit of French, that I won't want to go back to America. On verra ça.

Farewell, Pittsburgh

Inkwell Coffee House

Pictured: Inkwell Coffee House, a charming little cafe on Butler Street that has served as my writing room here in Pittsburgh.

In just a couple hours I'm going to be departing Pittsburgh and heading north to my aunt and uncle's house in the rolling hills of Upstate New York.

It's been an incredible, memorable week here. Increasingly, when I travel I like to spend a long time in a place and integrate myself as a local, rather than flittering about trying to do everything I can in a few short days. To me, the things to see when visiting cities aren't the places you're told about, but the places you discover when you're taking your time. It also happens that this way of traveling is much less expensive, since you're not bending to the demands of the tourism industry.

My absolute favorite way to see a new city is to go on an aimless walk. The French have a word for the kind of person who walks with no destination, detached from society but nonetheless observing it with intention: the flâneur.

Yesterday afternoon I decided to take a flâneuring walk of my own. First, I discovered this mural on a wall in the Bloomfield neighborhood, just up the hill from Lawrenceville:

Essential Workers Make The World Work

I also passed this shop I peeked into the other day. It's unique in that it sells 35mm film that looks like it's from the 1990s—but it might have just been that Kodak hasn't updated their packaging in 30 years:

Bankrupt Bodega

And I couldn't help but snap a photo of this street sign, whose street bears the name of the small town in Upstate New York in which I grew up:

Dryden Way, Pittsburgh

Eventually, I found myself on Liberty Ave, the main arterial commercial street in Bloomfield. I was greeted by this ominous old church. It's a pretty terrible photo, but I loved how haunting this old brick beauty felt. I imagine it would be doubly so on a dreary winter day:

Church on Liberty Ave,

After I walked the length of Liberty Ave, I decided to find my way back down the hill, since it was getting awfully hot out in the afternoon sun. I noticed an entrance to a cemetary whose paths seemed to head northward. Being that I remembered seeing an entrance to a cemetary down the hill, I gambled on the possibility it was the same cemetary, and walked through the gate:

St Mary's Cemetary,

A few things struck me about the cemetary. For one, it was vast and expansive—the most expansive green space I'd found in Pittsburgh so far. Which got me to thinking: Aside from the waterfront path I walked on my way to the Warhol Museum, I hadn't really seen any parks at all in my time here!

As well, there were so many beautiful mausoleums in the cemetary. It appears that the cemetary dates back to 1844. It's humbling to feel the presence of so many generations of the deceased as you walk through:


I kept walking down every hill I could find, since I figured eventually I'd have to end up back in Lawrenceville if I was descending hills. And sure enough, I wound up back at the entrance on Butler Street.

My favorite thing about long walks through cities is that you end up discovering things you would have never seen if you were in a car. The slow pace means you have time to appreciate the things you pass and to take diversions if it suits you. And many of the most beautiful places in older cities aren't easily accessible by cars.

Once I got back to the apartment, I made sure to snap this picture of the gorgeous sidewalk and tree cover just outside, since I want to be able to remember the feeling of this neighborhood forever:

43rd Street Sidewalk,

To me, memory is sacred. It's why I'm taking the time to capture my trip through journaling and photography. To hold onto moments, to be able to cherish them in the future—perhaps a future when you're incapable of experiencing them because of frailty or illness or poverty—is priceless.

For too many years I neglected the part of me that appreciates beauty and wonder, the part of me that craves adventure and uncertainty, all in the pursuit of material security. I wanted every situation and circumstance to be perfectly stable and secure. The thought of taking an open-ended, monthslong trip with no firm itinerary would have terrified me. And when I did travel, I would do it constantly aided by a smartphone and never truly disconnected from what I left behind.

Yes, this form of travel is more arduous. Yes, it's more stressful to not know where you'll sleep, to go to a neighborhood without reading every online review of every restaurant, to have to trust in the goodwill of strangers to offer you directions, and to have to write down addresses and directions so you can find your way later. But all of that is travel. It's all part of the profound experience of uncertainty and adventure. Too much certainty makes travel a bland extension of your domestic life at home. If we do not leave some of it to chance, we might as well just stay at home.

See y'all in the Finger Lakes.

Moving... to Pittsburgh?

Lawrenceville Alleyway

I have to check out of my flat here in Pittsburgh tomorrow morning, just as I've gotten into a bit of a groove here. And as I write this, I realize something: I love it here!

For the past several years I've found myself so frustrated at the way we've developed land in the United States in the course of my lifetime. Unfortunately, arcane zoning laws have turned most American cities into a bizarre mix of hyper-dense high-rise districts right next to sprawling single-family neighborhoods. So when most people think of cities in America, they think of this dysfunctional juxtaposition. Restrictive zoning like this causes places that are unlivable for everyone. People who live in high-rises have to shuffle into elevators to get to their houses and live in concrete prisons in the sky. The people in the houses below pay a mighty premium for their yards and are forced to drive to complete most errands. It's monumentally stupid and there's a better way.

I already wrote about Lawrenceville's damn near perfect level of density. As I've been exploring the area a bit more on foot (and coming to terms with how much living in flat, sea-level Florida has destroyed my capacity for hiking up hills), I've discovered that Lawrenceville's perfect density continues on up the hill to the Bloomfield and Polish Hill neighborhoods.

I've also grown accustomed to walking out of the loft I'm renting, down the stairs, and a few short, quiet blocks to a bustling coffee shop where I do my morning writing. In Florida, my walk to my favorite cafe was horrendously interrupted by crossing a four-lane stroad, 4th Street. St Petersburg planners obviously thought it wasn't a problem to bisect two beautiful neighborhoods with a high-speed (actual speeds of 40-50 MPH) state highway, because, you know, progress I guess?

Now, what I just said sounds like an absurdly privileged thing to say. "HOW COME I CAN'T WALK TO THE COFFEE SHOP TO GET MY LATTE WITHOUT WALKING ACROSS A HIGHWAY?" But my selfish daily coffee indulgence isn't the point. The point is that mid-level density creates a livable place where people actually want to be. And if we build more of these sorts of places—places with four-story mixed-use buildings, places with public transit, places with businesses intermixed with housing—that will result in more livable environments for everyone.

But no, we continue to build places that look like this:


Who in the world wants to be in this place? This place isn't inspiring. It isn't functional. It isn't sustainable. It's a travesty. (PS: That's US-19, a giant stroad that cuts through Pinellas and Pasco Counties in Florida. It's the deadliest such road in America for pedestrians.)

Now, before you say "You should go to <insert impoverished country here> and see how good you have it"—that's not an argument for not demanding progress and change here. Yes, America is a land of plenty, materially. The economic engine here is unparalleled to anything that's ever come before it. And we should continue that spirit of innovation and abundance. But just like the smog-filled cityscapes of the early 20th century gave way to clean air and water initiatives that have vastly improved the lives of city dwellers across America, so too should livable street initiatives clear the streets of private automobiles and herald a new era of livable cities.


Pittsburgh is especially interesting to me as a place to buy property for a few reasons.

For one, the city has "good bones"—its prewar city grid and grandfathered medium-density streets mean it's walkable by default.

Secondly, Pittsburgh is fairly immune from natural disasters. Being inland, there's no hurricane risk. It's fairly seismically inactive. There is a bit of flooding risk, but only in the low-lying areas.

And third, Pittsburgh, relative to other American cities, is fairly insulated from the worst effects of climate change. In a long-term view, this makes buying a home here a no-brainer. People are increasingly going to flock to cities where they won't have to endure ever-hotter summers, rising sea levels, and suffocating wildfires.

Pittsburgh also has excellent infrastructure for a city of its size because it's half the size it used to be. There's a great network of hospitals, excellent universities, and a massive stock of character-rich housing in livable neighborhoods.

I'm not sure what next year will bring, but I'm definitely bookmarking my time in Pittsburgh and might consider buying a rowhouse here next summer. Even if I don't live here full-time, I don't think I've ever been to a city whose geographic location, cost of living, infrastructure, and culture was more balanced.

But please for the love of god don't tell anyone I told you. At least not until next summer.