Wednesday, October 25, 2017

#PartsUnknown Pittsburgh

Well, it wasn't a glossy tourism video. That's for sure. Anthony Bourdain visited da 'burgh for his show "Parts Unknown" this summer, or maybe a few weeks ago. There was a shot of fans entering the arena for a Pens game, but also a scene with a June-type summer storm. At any rate, the program aired over the weekend and my fellow Pittsburghers had some opinions on it.

The historic Pump House at the site of the Homestead Steel
Works, Homestead, PA. The pump house is a trailhead of the
Great Allegheny Passage and is situated just down the river
from the Homestead Waterfront development.
The original time slot is way past my bedtime, so I caught the show via Comcast OnDemand. This marks the very first time something I wanted to watch was actually free on Comcast. Honestly, what's up with the $2.99 per show charge on nearly everything? Do you think there's a universe where I'm going to pay Comcast even more when I can watch Netflix right on the cable box?

Anyway, "Parts Unknown" is new to me and once the public reached a this-is-the-worst-crime-ever-perpetrated-on-Pittsburgh consensus, I figured I'd better take a look.

First, Anthony Bourdain pops into some sort of Bloomfield Italian club for a game of bocce (except he says "bocce" weird) and eats some graduation party style sausage with red sauce, peppers, and onions. They drink wine on ice out of clear disposable cups. It's a weird beginning that allows him to introduce Pittsburgh's steel mill heritage and the immigration of Italians as tradesmen.

I'm confused because I thought he was supposed to explore the food scene. Has it been an option for me to play bocce in Bloomfield while eating a delicious hot sausage sammich? This knowledge is life changing. Allow me a moment while I polish up the bocce balls...

The show continues on a more foody track into parts of Pittsburgh that were definitely unknown to me. Anthony Bourdain consistently talks while he's chewing away on everything from very ordinary cheeseburger sliders to rare Lake Erie sea bass on a bed of Braddock grown herbs. The word "gentrification" is thrown around so much I feel Lillian from "The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" must be waiting in the wings to perform an on-air graffiti tag montage of the city's finest restaurants.

The golden triangle is caught on camera a few times, but Bourdain goes more for the grit. He talks with Sala Udin about that time the city displaced 8,000 residents of the Hill District to build the Civic Arena.


In a city that's sensitive about being portrayed as a decaying former steel town, here's the national spotlight shining, not only on actual footage of the Hill District, but illuminating the continual plight of that neighborhood. Up until 2013, there hadn't been a grocery store in the Hill District for 30 years. It's an area Pittsburgh has forgotten or worse, ignores.

A view of downtown Pittsburgh from the Carnegie Science
Center during Light Up Night fireworks.

"Parts Unknown" ranged far from the city to New Alexandria, PA for a demolition derby that happens on the regular. Just when you thought you could only see one at the county fair. It explored Braddock and gave the briefest mention to the southwestern PA opioid epidemic.

In short, it was our reality. It wasn't distracted by the Homestead Waterfront or Bakery Square. The show focused on all of the stuff you drive by to get to those things. The places were real life happens. As a person that's lived in the greater Pittsburgh area since birth, it's what I see when I go to the "city." And it's safe to say that continuing to ignore it isn't going to make it go away.