Intent on the promised pleasures of Light Up Night, Damian Trautman hoisted his footsore little brother onto his back with a grunt. Then he forged ahead, like a soldier carrying his wounded comrade onto the battlefield instead of away, toward the crowds filling Market Square and PPG Place Plaza.
He was 13 and invincible and he had places to be.
"We are going wherever the wind takes us, basically," said Damian, who was visiting from Gibsonia with his grandma, mom, 9-year-old brother and a 4-year-old sister luxuriating in her stroller with her blankie tucked around her. "We want to see the lights and the fireworks."
At Market Square, the bands Dancing Queen and Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers blared oldies covers and hard rock. The teeming masses of grown-ups -- topping 100,000 people and in many places packed together so tightly they couldn't move -- sometimes pushed and shoved and grumbled at the human gridlock. A few small fights broke out. But for the children, holiday spirit still filled Downtown Pittsburgh on Friday evening.
In Fifth Avenue Place, toddlers and elementary school students and teenagers lined up to make ice paintings and receive airbrushed tattoos: Fox Racing, Hello Kitty, the Pirates. Nearby, 4-year-old Jozlyn Douthett listened, rapt, to The Roger Barbour Jazz Quartet, then peppered the bemused band members with questions between songs. As her mother looked on warily, she inched ever closer to watch the drummer whisking a snare-brush over the drumhead, and to peer deep into the dark hole of the trumpet's mouthpiece.
"The man who was singing let me talk into the microphone," she announced proudly. But her true love lay elsewhere, in the Pittsburgh Ballet Theater's Nutcracker tutus -- pink and gold silk, strung with jewels and trimmed with lace -- hanging nearby behind glass and mirrors.
"She was hugging the mirrors," said her mother, Emily Smith, as Jozlyn pulled her back into the crowd and the band launched into a jazzy "I'll be Home for Christmas."
Outside Macy's, the crowds flowed past decorated holiday windows highlighting Pittsburgh traditions, and into One Oxford Center to stare at the live reindeer and take pictures with Santa and line up for a free horse-drawn carriage ride. Many people then worked their way down Forbes Avenue to take pictures of the 65-foot Christmas tree setting a glow onto the skaters and the crowds at PPG Place Plaza and to marvel at the icy candy cane and snowman and penguin sculptures being carved with chainsaws along Liberty Avenue.
That's where Olivia and Jenna Beatty, ages 8 and 9, were headed with their friend, 8-year-old Myhlie Skillings, under the watchful eyes of the Beatty girls' parents.
"They're a handful," said 42-year-old John Beatty of Saltzburg, who said he and his wife have brought the girls to Light Up Night since they were in strollers.
The girls, however, didn't want to hear about strollers. Their eyelids were streaked with blue and pink eye shadow, their lips with red lipstick, and they giggled and teased each other.
"You see that up there?" Jenna said, gesturing at the lighted blue rod atop the Highmark Building and then poking Myhlie with an elbow. "She thinks that's a glow-stick."
"So do you!" Myhlie said, exchanging playful bickering.
Like the Beattys, 9-year-old Ana Barrickman and her mom, Laurie Barrickman of Jefferson Hills, had gone to see Macy's windows and were heading down to see the ice sculptures. Although she had been looking forward to seeing Macy's unveiling, Ana said, it was the CLO mini-stars at PPG Place Plaza that really had impressed her.
For Maggie Leone, 14, it was hard not to be impressed by the tree formerly known as Horne's Christmas tree at the corner of Penn Avenue and Stanwix Street. The Joseph Horne Company department store is gone and Downtown business boosters have renamed the tree the "historic Unity Tree," but to Maggie's mom, Alice Leone of Thornburg, it will always be the Horne's tree.
"Keep your eye on that tree," Mrs. Leone reminded her daughter, only half kidding, as Maggie snuggled her chin onto her mom's shoulder and the two stared at the tree, waiting for it to light up. Maggie, her mom confided, had always thought the tree was a little silly.
"I think I could grow to like it," Maggie said obligingly.
A few minutes later, the Horne's tree lit up to oohs and aahs and applause from the crowd gathered below.
And even Maggie clapped.
Amy McConnell Schaarsmith: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1719. First Published November 17, 2012 5:15 AM