Where We Went This Year! (22,000 miles of driving!)

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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Pittsburgh, PA

Driving the big highway near Toledo I had a conversation with Charley on the subject of roots. He listened but he didn’t reply. In the pattern-thinking about roots I and most people have left two things out of consideration. Could it
be that Americans are a restless people, a mobile people, never satisfied with where they are as a matter of selection? The pioneers, the immigrants who peopled the continent, were the restless ones in Europe. The steady rooted ones stayed home and are still there. But every one of us, except the Negroes forced here as slaves, are descended from the restless ones, the wayward ones who were not content to stay at home. Wouldn’t it be unusual if we had not inherited this tendency?


Pittsburgh: Home of the Steelers. Home of the Pirates. Home of the Penguins. Home of…The Cerveris clan. (sorry, no weblink for that one...)

In 1905, my future grandfather, 11-year-old Michele Cerverizzo emigrated to America. Here's the actual manifest - he's passenger number 2:

In 1905, Michele Cerverizzo emigrated to America. He wasn’t the first of his brood. It all began with his brother. You see … well, I’ll spare the reader all the stories. And there are stories. BOY are there stories. Trysts with a neighborhood girl. A hunting accident. A mother on a mission. A father who refused to visit America. But among my favorites – the story of how my grandfather’s father repaired my grandmother’s father’s watch. And Michele Cerverizzo, around 10 years old at the time, and Mary Cost, around 4, met for the very first time.

It didn’t go well. He thought this little kid was kind of annoying, frankly. But he remembered her. And the watch his father repaired. Years later, meeting in the New World, they put the puzzle pieces together. Michele remembered Mary’s father’s watch. And generations since owe their existence to a chance encounter.

All the events between that time and this – wars, deaths, births, marriages, career changes, relocating, reuniting – it all plays out like one of surely tens of thousands of such stories. We are a nation of immigrants, all the way back to the founding fathers in Boston. But these events are my family’s. And to the degree that the stories are true, I am flummoxed. And to the degree that they are embellished, I am charmed.

I have provided the above quotation from Steinbeck for three reasons. First, it’s the latest book in our informal ‘book club’ which a handful of us, cast and crew included, have read separately and discussed together, as a way of having something to talk about on tour besides the tour itself. Second, its observations play into my observations about my own itinerant lifestyle.

Third, I am impressed with Steinbeck’s intelligent and frugal use of the comma, a lesson which I, with my asides, my occasional thoughts, my, how should I put it, flagrant, even immodest, employment of that simple, grammatical implement, would do well, even prosper, to learn from.

Travel certainly seems to be in the Cerveris blood. But if you travel the big, round world, you’ll end up right back where you started. And so it has been for my father, who now lives back in Pittsburgh, and at whose house, with his wife Jan, we stayed for our week there. Jan was no doubt the more relieved not only that we had a Labrador retriever in our charge, instead of a pit bull, and one whose fur matched the color of their carpets. But she was a good sport about hosting the traveling circus our family has become these days.

In fact, she daily concocted terrific meals in which we indulged with much joy. Hotel living has its advantages, sure, but the homecooked meal is not one of them. Count yourselves among the fortunate if you get invited to one of her dinners.

And Pittsburgh also brought the second opportunity I’ve had to perform on the same stage as my grandfather. Heinz Hall, home of the Pittsburgh Symphony, was our venue – and straightaway upon arriving at the theater, I went to the green room to find the photo I’d discovered the last time I was there with TWELVE ANGRY MEN – a photo of the full orchestra from 1931, with my grandfather, the flautist, sitting upstage with the rest of the wind section.

Tag enjoyed the yard behind my dad’s place, where there was plenty of room in the clover for fetch. He also enjoyed having the rest of the family around to go for walks or just … of course … play fetch with when we were at work.

And later in the week, when my brother Michael, sister Marisa, and nephew Julian all came to visit, it was a full house. Henry Stram even took advantage of an oncoming cold to pair prudent infection control with his famous generosity and took Saturday night off, allowing my family who’d already made plans to come see the show that night to be able to see both Angie and me perform together.

Because we stayed at my dad’s place, there wasn’t much sight-seeing to do it Pittsburgh. I’ve seen most of the sights there anyway. And just being in an actual home was treat enough. However we did make it to the Sonoma Grill – great wine list, and very good food, although the traditionalists among you might find it a bit gimmicky, the kind of gimmicky where they serve things on strange looking plates, in unusual combinations, and with a needlessly complicated menu. Angie also spent an afternoon in The Strip, an old market district of Pittsburgh with lots of great cheap eats, clubs, shops, and the like.

We also had drinks at the Omni William Penn Hotel with our friend Adam Natale, who was in town for a conference. Adam’s been traveling almost as much as we have, although it’s out & back, not continually on the road. But the Omni had a good bar and I was reminded of how much I like the old fashioned style of places like that. Who needs televisions nattering on in the background and high-volume conversation around when you’ve got the feel of a weekend afternoon tea at 11 o’clock at night?

Packing up the car at night, I had an early morning flight to catch for an audition in New York, while Angie left later in the morning for the drive to Louisville. And on her way out, she proved her full indoctrination to the family lore as she called out the driver’s side window, “Chapter 997 – Angie drives to Louisville with the dog…!”

The more things change…

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