Sunday, December 28, 2003

I was supposed to meet my parents in Cranberry Township last night for dinner. My mother works out of an office there; if you've ever been to Cranberry Township, you'll have some idea of how bad an idea this is at the height of the holidays. Twenty years ago, Cranberry was a nondescript crossroads in the middle of a large, open stretch of Butler farmland at the edge of moraine country. Its only distinguishing characteristic was that the Turnpike and I-79 crossed Rt 19, the Red Belt, and Rt. 228 in quick succession, creating a respectable tangle of roads. Fifteen years ago, a number of strip malls and facilities servicing the two interstates had started to spread, wildly. The completion of I-279, AKA "Parkway North", had pushed the first pebble in an avalanche; people could now drive directly and quickly into the centre of the city of Pittsburgh, or to points east and west via the Parkway East and West, along I-279.

Large, moderately expensive housing projects appeared all over the slopes of the highlands. Shake-and-bake condo developments started sprouting all over. The strip malls of the commercial centre around the actual cloverleafs spread into every possible tract of land, and the older, low-end stores started getting pushed out by actual franchises - an enormous WalMart, a Barnes and Nobles, a monstrous Home Depot larger in its interior than the town centre of Bellefonte, then a Costco, a Target, and so on. The developments drove down Rt. 228, which was converted from a horribly overcrowded country road to a multilane artery. The population density of Cranberry and its neighboring boroughs and townships - Adams, Seven Fields, Warrendale - is now higher than the McKnight corridor, or old Shaler Township. Tiny, condo-ridden Seven Fields is probably more dense than the old industrial borough of Millvale that my dad's family is originally from.

I failed to find them in Cranberry; I went over to the Barnes and Noble to use the pay phone to track them down. Twenty minutes of waiting for somebody else's family drama to cease monopolizing the only pay phone in the area, Dad came wandering through looking for me. The family knows where to find me if I'm missing - just look near the closest pile of printed material. I've got to get myself a cell phone. The pay phone is rapidly becoming a relic of the bad old Twentieth Century.

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