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Field Trip

Welcome to your new school bus: the 54C


Welcome to Pittsburgh, students, and before you ask: No, the whole place doesn't smell like South Oakland in the summertime. The rest of the city is favored by honeysuckle-scented breezes, which caress the succulent fruit of our local flora. We natives use the delicate foliage to make festively colored baskets for our fertility rituals, during which we plead with ample-breasted goddesses to bring us more young people.

OK, so we made some of that up. We don't actually hold fertility rituals, unless you count the goings-on in the South Side on a weekend night. (Soc/Anthro majors should check it out.) But for many students, Pittsburgh may as well be a foreign country, complete with its own exotic cultural practices: South Sea Islanders have cargo cults, South Siders have parking chairs. (Haven't encountered these yet? Here's a tip: Leave them where they are.) A lot of students figure out a comfortable, but closed, circuit of bars, coffee joints and off-campus housing ... and then rarely venture beyond it.

They're missing a lot, but fortunately, one ritual we do conduct -- at least for now -- involves sending large buses on predetermined routes throughout the city, so that people can climb aboard and travel from neighborhood to neighborhood. These buses often are festively colored, and at least one of them connects Oakland, the heart of Pittsburgh's college-student universe, with some of the city's most distinctive neighborhoods.

This is the mighty 54C, which meanders through the city's streets like it was trying to sober up. It connects Oakland to the North Side by way of Bloomfield and the Strip District, then circles back through Oakland, across the Monongahela River to the South Side and the neighborhoods beyond. (More precise route information can be found on the Port Authority's Web site,

It's the perfect starter bus for newly arrived students, and if you have a student ID, you can ride it, like all Port Authority bus routes in town, for free. But if that's not incentive enough, we've given you the following quiz to take once you climb aboard. The answer key is on page 28 But the best way to learn is by doing, so you can experience much of what Pittsburgh has to offer. Think of this as an open-book exam ... with the city as your book.

1. After going on a multi-day bender in the South Side, what's the best reason to hop the 54C?

A. Because DeLuca's in the Strip District, one of the city's best breakfast places, can be found at 2015 Penn Ave, a block or so from the 54C's route along Liberty Avenue

B. Because nothing clears up a hangover quicker than a quick retrospective of Impressionist art at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Oakland

C. Because your wallet has to be somewhere

D. Because the Strip District is also home to the city tow pound at 31st Street, where your car probably awaits

2. True or False. ____ The 54C links to more than 50 other bus routes.

3. Match the South Side bar -- each served by the 54C -- to its gimmick

1. Lava Lounge

2. Casey's Draft House

3. Z Lounge

4. Tiki Lounge

5. Smokin' Joes

A. Plenty of (fireproofed) thatch and post-ironic nostalgia -- though many patrons are too young to remember what they're supposed to be nostalgic for

B. Subterranean catacomb-like atmosphere -- but in a good way

C. Massive beer selection beneath a somewhat rustic tin ceiling and belt-powered fans

D. "Midget Madness," in which a little person pours alcohol into the mouths of patrons from atop the bar when a customer buys a round

E. Exotic-but-pricey cocktails on the first floor, frenetic dancing up above

4. True or False: ____ Each of these massive columns, which dominate the façade of the Mellon Institute, weighs more than a sperm whale, or even a Big East football squad.

5. When entering the Brillobox, at 4104 Penn Ave., what is the proper thing to say as you and your friends sit down to spend your evening surrounded by retro-chic décor, for the 12th weekend running?

6. What beloved local landmark stands at the intersection of Penn Avenue and Butler Street, at the edge of Lawrenceville?

A. The burial crypt of Capt. James Lawrence, who gave Lawrenceville its name and famously urged his sailors, "Don't give up the ship!"

B. A statue of a doughboy, in honor of those who served in World War I

C. A decommissioned howitzer, pointed menacingly toward Highland Park

D. A 10-foot-tall can advertising local brew Iron City Beer

7. What beloved local landmark stands near the intersection of South 18th and East Carson Streets?

A. A war memorial for those who bravely served in the Spanish-American War

B. A clock that has been keeping time since 1872, when the South Side was incorporated into the city

C. A statue of a worker that serves as a reminder of the area's once-vital steel industry

D. The city's only self-contained, self-cleaning public pay toilet

8. Before there was NetFlix and downloading questionably sourced video online, young people gathered around cutting-edge devices like the lantern slide pictured [to the right]. Where along the 54C route would you find this and hundreds of other early photographic devices?

9. Match the embarrassing faux pas to the circumstance

1. "Can't they hire somebody to sweep up those peanut shells? The floor's a mess!"

2. "Uh, how much farther is it to Downtown?"

3. "Could I get the fries on the side, actually?"

4. "So ... there's no matinee? [twitch, twitch]."

5. "Soccer? Who the hell watches soccer?"

A. Garden Theater

B. Primanti Brothers

C. Piper's Pub

D. Park House Tavern

E. Aboard the 54C

10. True or False: ____ You'll sometimes see a 54c destined for "Bon Air" ... but while the phrase is borrowed from the French to reflect the healthy atmosphere, there is no such place!

11. Ask for directions, and you'll soon learn that Pittsburghers sometimes identify the landscape by where things used to be. This "Equitable Gas" clock is visible from all over the South Side and across the river ... but some old-timers seem unaware that it's replaced previous sponsors. Name at least two of the earlier sponsors of the giant "Equitable" clock on the South Side visible when the bus heads out of Oakland along Fifth Avenue.

12. Which of the following jobs, all accessible by the 54C, did Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Michael Chabon hold while he was a student at Pitt?

A. Street mime on the corner of Liberty and South Millvale

B. Guy who runs the potato-peeling machinery at the "O," 3901 Forbes Ave.

C. Clerk at Jay's Bookstall, 3604 Fifth Ave.

D. Projectionist at the Garden Theater

13. You'll find some of Pittsburgh's most charming art in the most unlikely places. In what facility's parking lot do these fish swim?

14. As a state historical marker on Liberty Avenue indicates, in July of 1877, rioting Pittsburghers left much of the Strip District a smoldering ruin. What sparked the violence?

A. A labor strike against the hated railroads

B. A Fourth of July celebration that skimped on the fireworks -- a mistake never made since

C. A disputed outcome in a mayoral race

D. Outrage over cover charges at area dance clubs

15. Bloomfield is known as Pittsburgh's "Little Italy." yet, one of its most prominent and storied bars, a detail of which is pictured at right, is known for celebrating what other european culture?

16. True or False: ____ If Andy Warhol were alive today, he could ride the 54C from his childhood home to the museum that bears his name.

17. Which of the following books are you least likely to find at the Big Idea bookstore, at 504 S. Millvale in Bloomfield?

A. People's History of the United States

B. From the Fryer to the Fuel Tank: The Complete Guide to Using Vegetable Oil as an Alternative Fuel

C. Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality

D. Trump: The Art of the Deal

18. True or False: ____ While the 54C never crosses Pittsburgh's outer borders ... it still somehow manages to leave the city

19. In 2003, a group of Carnegie Mellon University students used their know-how to bring which of the following innovations to the 54C route?

A. A new interactive artwork for the Pittsburgh Children's Museum, located at Allegheny Center

B. A sophisticated camera network that helps track and identify public urinators on the South Side

C. The city's first hookah bar, Hkan at 2210 E. Carson St.

D. A stoplight timing system along Oakland's Fifth Avenue that allows traffic to proceed smoothly out of the neighborhood if vehicles maintain a speed of 29 miles per hour

20. What was this North Side venue famous for until recently?

21. What one thing would you not find at Big Momma's House of Soul on Penn Avenue near the 16th Street Bridge?

A. BBQ-ed ribs drippin' with secret sauce

B. Cleveland Browns fans

C. Big Momma

D. Freshly baked peach cobbler

22. "I can see my dorm room from here!" Name this peaceful location, which is also the highest spot along the 54C's multi-hill route.

23. Paul's, at 4526 Liberty Ave. in Bloomfield, is a local institution offering:

A. Freshly made pasta and sauces

B. Specialty shoes for troubled feet

C. Seemingly every indie CD ever made

D. Statues of the Virgin Mary

24. Match the food with the joint:

1. Vietnamese pancake

2. Pittsburgh's perennial "best" burger

3. Pierogie pizza

4. Toad-in-the-hole

5. Spaghetti and meatballs

A. The Pleasure Bar, 4729 Liberty Ave.

B. Piper's Pub, 1828 E. Carson St.

C. Tessaro's, 4601 Liberty Ave.

D. Church Brew Works, 3525 Liberty Ave.

E. Tram's Kitchen, 4050 Penn Ave.

25. Identify this bird.

26. True or False: ____ The Heinz Factory visible from the 16th Street Bridge on the North Side makes ketchup.

27. Taking the 54C is preferable to driving because

[choose all that apply]:

A. I'm reducing my carbon footprint

B. I'm a little tipsy

C. I might get a seat next to a cutie

D. It's important to support public transportation

E. I'm kinda loaded

F. It's a great way to see the city

G. I don't even have a car

H. The cell-phone coverage is pretty good

I. I'm really really drunk right now



Answer Key


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