A friend's first taste of America a real treat
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It has been more than a decade since I played tourist in my adopted city; I did all the touristy things when I first moved here and hardly ever felt the need to do them again.
When an out-of-town friend visited, I'd drag her up Mount Washington or stuff him at Primanti's, but I didn't gravitate to the travel-writer must-do's myself.
I'd almost forgotten how much fun they are.
I remembered earlier this month when Kathryn, my 20-year-old e-pen pal from Preston, England, took her very first trip to America. She was here for a week and couldn't wait to see Pittsburgh.
But first, I wanted to whisk her to Our Nation's Capital because it's so close and so impressive, even to those of us who were herded in and out of its public buildings on school field trips.
So after I picked Kath up at the airport, we headed to Washington, D.C., for the full-on stars-and-stripes Welcome To America Please Open Your Bag show.
For a first meal, what could be more American than a diner?
We pulled off Interstate 79 for Eat'n Park, where the endless menu of strange local delicacies was almost too much for poor jet-lagged Kath to cope with.
Especially before the ordeal of the Beltway.
In the morning, we hit the District in stifling heat to gawk at the monuments and cool off in the museums.
The word of the day was "big." "So big!" Kath murmured, shading her eyes before the Washington Monument or the shuttle Discovery or a "small" soda.
Everywhere we went, there were vast hordes of Girl Scouts.
They were in town for a centennial celebration -- 400,000 of them.
Close to four times the population of Kath's home metropolis, which is about the size of Akron.
Preston could be sacked by an onslaught of that many Girl Scouts, though it might be worth it for the cookies.
Then we returned to Pittsburgh, which Kath liked much better.
We started with a waffle the size of her head at the doomed Waffle Shop in East Liberty with a guest appearance on Cookspeak, the Internet food/talk show hosted by chef Tom Totin.
"This is not a waffle," said Kath, looking at her plate. She cut it into quarters and indicated one section, "This is a waffle."
Portion size was an overarching theme to her visit; I rarely saw her eat more than a quarter to a third of a restaurant serving of anything, and she took photos of fast-food drinks no smaller than a "medium" but bigger than a British "large."
She also marveled at how incredibly cheap both our food and, especially, our gasoline are.
I told her we were on the point of open rebellion over outrageous gas prices.
She did some quick calculations and reckoned that, in American money, it cost her friend who has a tiny economy car about $70 to fill the tank. Which her friend never does, because she is not a sheik.
Still, after all the fun I make of British food, I had to make sure Kath tried some American specialties.
She managed to eat her entire first-ever hot dog at PNC Park, where we watched the Pirates spank the Royals. She loved the zoo -- especially the penguins -- and the Carnegie Science Center. She rode the coasters at Kennywood, sampled pierogies, burgers and Potato Patch fries (with gravy), and got a good look at a bacon milkshake.
I also got her some proper pizza; one of the alleged pizza toppings she enjoys at home is ... corn.
She still thinks it's weird to let maple syrup touch sausage or bacon.
But I expanded her culinary horizons.
She wanted a frozen drink at GetGo.
I suggested the electric blue one, since it clearly had the most artificial ingredients. She took a long drag on the fat straw.
"That's the best thing I've ever tasted," she said.
First Published June 28, 2012 12:00 am