By: Kaytlyn Lowhorn
The first thing that hits me is the smell. Something putrid is wafting up out of the manhole covers as we trudge down the street to the Strip District. As my first venture out of the South into Northern territory, I don’t have high hopes for our first stop of the weekend. As we get closer to the area where we’ll begin our adventure, things begin to change. Sun rays bounce off of rooftops, blurring the next block from view. Then comes the noise. Northern accents and foreign languages rise up out of the mass of people ahead of us, mingling together and creating a cacophony of sound that does nothing to improve my mood. The unusual sunshine and warmer weather have clearly brought the Pittsburghers out of their winter hibernations. These people walk too fast; smile too little; push right past you if you’re in the way. Nothing like the Southern hospitality that I’m used to. We finally reach the beginning of the Strip, and the scent accosts me.
In bazaar-like style, booths line the sidewalks, with their foods, wares, and music all mixing together to bombard all of your senses at once. You can smell the sweet saffron from the Mediterranean food together with the kick of the Tex-Mex, topped off with a hint of sugar from a nearby Italian bakery. We duck into Sunseri's and the place is like a museum, with meats hanging from the ceiling and behind glass cases like artifacts. The owner comes to greet us, a cigar tight between his teeth. Smoke from his stogie mingle with the cannoli and olive scents that have already found my nose. It’s a strange but pleasant combination, making the deli seem more genuine. We check out and immediately sink our teeth into a chocolate pizzelle as we continue down the strip. The spongy chocolate shell meshes nicely with the cream, which is in stark contrast to the stench of the nearby fish market.
I spy a whiskey distillery a couple blocks down and am instantly drawn to the sharp cerulean sign. As we get closer, the smell of wheat and rye hit you before you even reach the door. Once inside, the smell of whiskey surrounds you; it’s quite literally intoxicating. The tables scattered about the glass-windowed room are packed, and that coupled with the sun shining through the windows instantly cause me to sweat. My friend and I sidle up to the nearest available surface—an empty barrel—and wait patiently to order. Meanwhile I eavesdrop on neighboring conversations. I see women touch the arms of men next to them, in an attempt to flirt. I see men’s hands lazily lie on their partner’s hips. I see the sun rays glint off of the whiskey bottles that line the wall behind the bar, floor to ceiling. There is ever-present laughter and winks and a bit of stumbling around from those who have been there longer than I. The waitress arrives with the whiskey flight we ordered, and each sample is as potent and unique as was described. From hints of vanilla and cinnamon to the bold kick of wheat in the straight whiskey, each sample had a special color and personality.
Absorbing the samples and paying the tab, we sashay out into the street and head back to the car. Passing countless more booths with well-meaning vendors trying to sell their goods to the masses, one in particular catches my eye. A Native American set up his stand, filled with beaded jewelry in earthy colors, tunics hand-woven by his wife, and various goods made from animal skins. While my friend just keeps walking, caught up in the hustle of her hometown, I slow down. The old man is just sitting there, next to his beadings, smiling and gazing at the passersby. You could tell from the lines on his face that he was wise; probably wiser than his years, even though they were many. He smiles at me sagely, as if exchanging a little secret. He knows life is about slowing down to look at and appreciate the unique offerings of the people you encounter; now I know it too. Someday I hope that the rest of the people who pass him every day realize the same thing.