Behold the Hands of Holtz

Artist JR Holtz holding a painting of four women in bikinis

Artist J.R. Holtz with some of his sexy ladies

You may have run into J.R. Holtz just like we did (or do, quite often), out on the street. He sets up on Penn Avenue for the monthly Unblurred art crawls and every Saturday at the Artisan Market in the Strip District. At either location, you’ll find him camped out with an eight-foot folding table covered with dozens of his small- and medium-sized paintings. Each one comes in a repurposed picture frame–or even an entire wooden window–and they’re all for sale at extremely reasonable prices.

several small, framed paintings by artist JR Holtz

Holtz’ recent artwork for sale in the Strip District

J.R., who creates under the moniker Hands of Holtz, tells us he paints every day and he’s been at it since the mid-1980s. His subjects are all across the board: cartoon characters, superheroes, pop culture figures, nature images, family scenes, science fiction, and Pittsburgh sports. On our most recent visit, there were portraits of Prince, Jimi Hendrix, and Muhammed Ali; likenesses of Mighty Mouse, Captain America, and Wonder Woman. Several scenes from Star Wars made their way to Holtz’ glass panes, as had fad-du-jour Pokemon creatures.

painting of Prince in front of an open window with a purple sky and lightning by JR Holtz

Prince/purple lightning

2-color painting of Star Wars characters by JR Holtz

Star Wars

But let’s cut the crap: you’re going to notice the sexy ladies first. It’s hard to focus on Spider Man when there’s this much bare skin going around. Not since the glory days of Cinemax or those weird shaving cream ads they used to run during hockey games has there been semi-public soft-core erotica on display like this.

J.R. is the first to admit “I like the ladies!” and it’s safe to say he isn’t lying. There are strong warrior-princesses, tattooed big-boobed sports fans, tawdry hoochie-mamas, yoga posers with naughty underwear, and lots and lots of smiling, bikini babes–often with added glitter details and bonus Steeler emblems, just for good measure.

painting of woman wearing pink hat, gloves, boots, and skin-tight pants (but no shirt) bending over by JR Holtz

Pink Lady

Many of the images are taken from existing photographs, but Holtz says some of the ladies are friends who pose for pictures knowing they’ll be turned into future paintings. Individual requests and interests of the models are incorporated into the artwork, as are other extra bedazzled features including color-changing paints, glitterized jewelry, and inset photos.

I asked Holtz what the reaction is when unexpecting Saturday shoppers accidentally browse across the decidedly PG-13 content. “Some of them start walking real fast,” he chuckles.

Painting of man in 1970s clothes with caption "Back in the Day"

Back in the Day

J.R. describes his own artwork as novelty, and it’s tempting to overlook it as such. He paints directly on glass which gives the final images a glossy, finished look–almost like when you see framed “cels” from animation. The subject matter is as populist as it comes–you could imagine some of these pieces on sale in a turnpike gift shop. Matthew Barney or Damien Hirst, this ain’t.

But with the flat perspective, heavy black outlines, and single-color schemes, the end result reminds us of a different art superstar on the very other end of the spectrum, Howard Finster. Like Finster, Holtz’s style appears untrained or “naive”, but there’s a beautiful honesty to it–even when the subject is Jedi Master Yarael Poof*.

JR Holtz standing in front of his paintings for sale, Pittsburgh, PA

JR Holtz with more of his recent paintings, Strip District

Holtz is also one of the kindest and nicest artists you’ll meet. He wouldn’t ape for the camera, but don’t believe it–every time we’ve talked with him, J.R. is all smiles, high energy, positive vibes, and can’t wait to tell you about his work.

This blogger doesn’t know what he likes, but he knows art. We probably wouldn’t chose to decorate Chez Orbit with any of the beach babes–at least, we haven’t picked any of those up yet–but we especially love many of his portraits and simpler two-color work. When J.R. hits, it’s as serious as a heart attack and as true as an arrow.


* Not pictured, but among The Orbit‘s small collection of Holtzs.

Golden Babies: Strange Things Afoot!

golden baby and baby foot hanging from wires in front of row houses, Pittsburgh, PA

Dismembered foot of Penn Baby with Penn Baby 2, Lawrenceville

Regrettably, The Orbit had accepted the mystery around the Golden Babies–like the Kennedy assassination, or where real babies come from–would likely never be solved.

But then a tip of the reddest and hottest variety came in: “MAJOR new development in the golden babies,” it began. What followed was a pair of plot twists to this ongoing street art narrative that both flipped our collective wig and, like Michael Phelps waking from his doobie-smoking Subway bender, re-lit a fire underneath this blogger that fans had thought long extinguished in the purple haze of five dollar foot-longs.

golden baby and baby foot hanging from wires, Pittsburgh, PA

Golden baby has a leg up on other street art

Faster than you can say quasi-respectable news source we hoofed it up to Constellation Coffee. The café sits right where our first-sighted golden baby (“Penn Baby”) appeared. Here, we could confirm the tip–and also enjoy a delicious cup of coffee*.

The story, right from the baristas at Constellation, goes like this: one Sunday morning, a concerned citizen phoned in a complaint to the city. Apparently the golden baby, dangling by his ankle from the wires on the 4000 block of Penn Ave., was just too much. The substance of the concern is not known, but we’ll take a wild guess that the baby was deemed “offensive,” “creepy,” and/or “weird.” Fair enough, I suppose**.

Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA with golden baby hanging from wires

View down Penn Ave. with golden baby and loose foot.

With nothing more substantive ablaze, the fire department was dispatched to remove the offending infant from the airspace over Penn Avenue. For whatever reason, they were unable to either undo the baby’s hanging wire or just cut it off, so the crew made the bizarre decision to instead saw through its tiny plastic leg. This allowed the removal of most of the kid, but left one stray golden foot, ankle, and calf dangling from the telephone wires.

Side note: This action begs a number of questions. Among them: Is leaving a disembodied leg really less offensive than the whole baby? and How is it that a street artist/prankster has a longer ladder than the fire department? and If I’m in the third floor of a burning building should I just accept fate and kiss my feet goodbye?

golden baby and baby leg dangling from wires, Pittsburgh, PA

Golden baby: foot loose and fancy free

Strange? Sure is! But what happened next will blow your mind! [That is, unless you’ve already looked at the pictures.]

In less than 48 hours, a brand new golden baby went up on the same stretch of wires–within mere feet of the foot. “Penn Baby 2” generally looks the same as the other golden babies, but with the key differences that s/he’s clothed in a red onesie (the others are white) and that garment appears to be stamped or silk-screened with some mystery insignia (the others are plain/unadorned).

close-up of golden baby in red onesie, Pittsburgh, PA

Penn Baby 2. Note the red onesie with cryptic insignia.

If blogging teaches us anything, it’s to not rest on one’s assumptions. The strange circumstances of Penn Babies 1 and 2 only prove that black is white, up is down, child is father to the man, and therefore, baby is, uh…older sibling to the child? Ah, hell.

This story is not over yet–no, not by a long shot. There’s one very important piece of evidence still in dispute–the whereabouts of the footless and foot-loose Penn Baby. Sources say it’s in the possession of Constellation Coffee–secured in a drawer right on the premises. But when the subject came up during The Orbit’s interrogation of the staff, the aforementioned “friendly” baristas clammed up tighter than a set of quad toms at a Sun Devils half-time show. Believe you me: their guilty eyes have got no rhythm.

What are they hiding? O.K., we think we know what they’re hiding, but why are they hiding it? You can bet we’ll get to the bottom of this…or at least to another cup of that delicious coffee.


* Constellation makes a damn good cup of coffee.
** If only a phone call could have the much more offensive Crocs stripped from the feet of our citizenry so easily.

Off the Rails: An Orbit Awakening in Boxcar Tagging

detail of boxcar with graffiti of puzzle piece reading "No sleep till Pittsburgh"

No sleep ’till Pittsburgh

What a pleasant surprise! To wake up to a subculture that’s been around forever[1] and yet somehow completely eluded any level of popular consciousness. At least, this blogger was totally ignorant of its existence until some time not too long ago.

Whether you pay attention or not, you’ve seen the big, spray-painted graffiti that either decorates or defiles freight trains, depending on one’s point-of-view. The same sort of multi-color highly-stylized calligraphs of tagger names and inside jokes that show up under bridges and the back sides of commercial buildings end up on the large steel canvases provided by Norfolk & Western and the Chessie System.

yellow boxcar with graffiti of a cartoon man smoking cigarette

Cash & Carry / Got head? / Sluto

But look a little closer–you usually have to get right up on the boxcars to see them[2]–and there’s a whole world of much more subtle human interaction with the trains. Here, there are small, simple line drawings, monikers, arch messages, and coded insignias, dates, and locations created (we assume) by an entirely different type of graffiti writer and likely intended for a very different audience.

Is this just street tagging on a different surface or is there something more going on here? Are these committed by train-hoppers, hobos, or just bored teenagers who live near train yards? Maybe the tags equate to an American form of trainspotting–more punk respectable and less trenchcoat nebbish?

detail of boxcar with graffiti of grave stone with message "The Ghouls"

The Ghouls

Almost always, the tags include three- or four-character numerical codes: 11/15 or 8/10 or 6/08, for example. We assume these are abbreviated month/year dates, but who knows? If so, apparently Y2K’s lesson in the need for full four-digit years doesn’t apply to these folks–they’re “future proof”.

It turns out that entire academic theses have been written on the subject. We haven’t read them (at least, not yet), so we certainly can’t answer these questions. But The Orbit likes to imagine the train cars become both the largest and most random of bottles to which these writers toss their messages to exchange whereabouts, news, and rail-riding one-upmanship in a very analog, low-tech manner.

yellow boxcar with graffiti of a mountain range

Retribalize, back to sea level / Lovely Spring / (unnamed)

Even in our extremely limited survey, one tag kept reappearing. In it, the sun is rising over a barren mountain, squiggly cloud gestures float in the sky, and the text Retribalize / adios – mutha is written in loose cursive over an arced train track/arrow. In each case, there’s an additional bonus message: Back to sea level or E.B. Creep – Co. or Wish you were here… A version of this particular scrawl showed up on so many cars that we didn’t even include all the photos of ones we found. A cruise around the Google machine proves this is no anomaly–the Retribalizer may or may not get around, but his or her tags sure do.

boxcar graffiti of mountain, sunrise, and train tracks with text "Retribalize, adios-mutha 10/5"

Retribalize, E.B. Creep

boxcar graffiti of mountain, sunrise, and train tracks with text "Retribalize, adios-mutha, wish you were here 6/08"

Retribalize, wish you were here…

boxcar graffiti of a jug with a hat and the message "Retribe's spot!"

The response: Retribe’s spot!

A final note: we have it on some decent authority that the Packaging Corporation of America, whose plant in the Strip District provided such convenient access to a weekly new supply of boxcars, is moving out of the city (to Cheswick). If that’s the case, and there are no longer any train cars on Railroad Street (sigh), that will definitely be a bummer. But we won’t stop collecting tags–we may just have to work a little harder to find them.

Until then, in the eloquent, bilingual words of Retribalize, adios – mutha”!

boxcar graffiti of old man with hat and text "here today, gone tomorrow"

Here today, gone tomorrow


[1] At least, around as long as hobos have been jumping trains.
[2] It goes without saying, be safe: make sure the trains are not in motion if and when you take a look.

Photo Grab Bag: Ghost Sign Roundup

ghost sign with layered text, McKeesport, PA

(unknown), McKeesport

Longtime readers know The Orbit is in the business of making dreams come true–and business is good. It was pointed out by super fan/sometime contributor Lee that probably a lot of folks don’t see the loose photos that end up on The Orbit‘s artsy dark and/or snarky narc pages and maybe we should roll them up into an actual blog post once in a while.

So here you go. Like Cheech and/or Chong, we’ve pulled out the gatefold copy of Fragile and are rounding up and rolling out a first collection of non-specific pictures from the last year or so. Here, they’re grouped on the pseudo-theme of ghost signs. Don’t inhale too deeply.

ghost sign/advertisement for Hipco Batteries, Pittsburgh, PA

Hipco Batteries, Manchester

It’s a bold claim, but the Hipco Batteries ad has to be the city’s greatest ghost sign. The incredible painted image has some classic “vernacular typography”, one giant old school No. 6 dry cell battery, and a sadistic, grinning red devil, his tongue wagging like a pervert from his open, fanged mouth. He’s very excited, with one hand reaching out, palm up, and the other employing a Hipwell flashlight to no doubt look for trouble in the dark.

This begs the question: do devils really need flashlights? Well, we know this one does. Unlike the subjects of every other photo in this post, the Hipwell Manufacturing Company, founded in 1887, amazingly still exists and continues to manufacture a line of flashlights (but no longer batteries) right in this big old brick building on West North Avenue[1].

ghost sign for former La Salle Electric, Pittsburgh, PA

La Salle Electric, Manchester

The pair of conjoined industrial buildings that once housed La Salle Electric, just off Brighton Road in Manchester, were torn down earlier this year. Now there’s just a re-grassed vacant lot where they used to be. Whatever prompted that action, it’s sad for a lot of reasons–mainly that we’ve got a limited supply of this kind of late 19th century industrial buildings out there and it’s a bummer to lose two of them in one fell swoop.

Here, we can only focus on the relatively minor loss of this great ghost sign, painted across the point where the two buildings met. You can see the red brick side appears to have shifted ever so slightly, distorting the alignment of the white background and breaking the A in “Salle”. And what a great pair of arrows! The office is that way, you can pick up your stuff on the other side. Ugh. I mean, the office used to be that way…

ghost sign for former Regent Sportswear Shop, Pittsburgh, PA

Regent Sportswear (and Wig Shop?), East Liberty

The rear entrance to the former Regent Sportswear Shop doesn’t have what we usually consider “ghost signs”, but still seems like it ought to count. Regent’s 3-D sign, the typeface in Wigs, and the multi-color blue/gray/white brick treatment all suggest a 1960s/70s makeover to a building that probably goes back to the very early 1900s. Somewhere out there is a person who bought a terrycloth track suit or tried on someone else’s hair at Regent’s and we sure hope this last reminder in the Kirkwood Street alley makes him or her feel something. Hopefully that feeling is not, you know, “itchy”.

ghost sign reading "Sal's Meats Since 1921", Ambridge, PA

Sal’s Meats, Ambridge

Sadly, Sal’s Meats, like most of the businesses in Ambridge, ain’t there any more. But at least we’ve still got this great ghost sign. Painted signs don’t get any graphically stronger than bold red text on a white background, painted fifteen feet across on a deep red brick wall. Sal’s Meats, since 1921. ‘Nuf sed.

ghost sign for former Penn Bowling Lanes, Pittsburgh, PA

Penn Bowling Lanes, Downtown

What a time when the downtown worker could bowl ten frames over a lunch break! This literal back alley entrance on Exchange Way (between Liberty and Penn, downtown) suggests the bowling may have taken place in the basement, but who knows? Heck, maybe those wooden lanes, pin-setters, ball returns, and beer taps are all still down there, covered in forty years of dust. Either way, we’re glad no one felt the need to paint over this incredible patchwork wall with its reminder of old Pittsburgh.

ghost sign for Dr. D.E. Earley, Optometrist, New Martinsville, W. Va.

Dr. D.E. Earley, Optometrist, New Martinsville, W. Va.

Last winter, we made a special stop for the mind-boggling buffet at Quinets Court in the fine little West Virginia town of New Martinsville (about 90 minutes from Pittsburgh–and well worth the trip)[2]. The inevitable post-gorge belt-loosening constitutional yielded some fine views of the Ohio River and a bunch of great little oddities in the four-block downtown stretch. This ghost sign for Dr. D.E. Earley, Optometrist looks like it could go back a hundred years. That’s a long time to wait to get your eyes examined and glasses fitted, but then again, you’ve got a steam tray full of Quinets cobbler two blocks away. I can think of worse ways to spend a century.

Former storefront for G's Restaurant and Pizzeria, Pittsburgh, PA

G’s Restaurant and Pizzeria, Downtown

Bathed in low winter sunlight, made awkwardly diffuse by scaffolding and construction fence, this photo of the former G’s Restaurant and Pizzeria on Forbes Ave. got shoehorned into an update story on the last remaining Toynbee Tile on Smithfield Street and the face of a rapidly changing downtown Pittsburgh. But we felt like there was a little more to say here.

G’s Restaurant, along with the former Honus Wagner Sports building next door, were razed earlier this year. Point Park University is building a big new performance arts building/theater on the property. This will no doubt be a great cultural asset, but The Orbit‘s going to miss this pair of early 1900s terra cotta storefronts, each with their own goofy mid-century add-ons.


[1] See article: In The Spotlight: Hipwell Manufacturing (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Nov. 10, 2002) for the full story.
[2] The Orbit actually needs to make the trip to Quinets again for a full review–or even if just for that eggplant parm, and the kielbasa and kraut, and the fried chicken, and the haluski, and the brown sugar sweet potatoes, and the butterscotch pie, and the…

Step Beat: Climbs 57

looking up long set of city steps, Pittsburgh, PA

Looking up the lower section of the 57th Street steps

Has Pittsburgh fifty-seven varieties of city steps? Maybe.

It’s an intriguing question. There are long and short sets of steps; steps on the side of the street and steps alone in the woods. There are steps of wood, metal, and concrete; steps in good repair and ones that are falling apart; open steps and ones permanently closed. Some have special bicycle ramps added; others just tell you to Try. There are steps with crazy turns and angles and steps that just go up one straight line. There are steps the whole neighborhood uses, step street intersections, and steps that no longer go anywhere.

It would probably take a significant imagination to keep this riff going all the way out to the magic number. However, we know Henry J. Heinz considered 57 to be a lucky number*, and if it’s good enough for the king of condiments, it’s good enough for Pittsburgh Orbit. We certainly felt lucky after a climb up the very fine 57th Street Steps in Lawrenceville.

city steps with older home, Pittsburgh, PA

Step-accessible (only) house at the bottom of the 57th Street steps

city steps at 57th and Duncan Streets, Pittsburgh, PA

The intersection at Duncan Street, mid-point in the 57th Street steps

The steps that make up the pedestrian section of 57th Street qualify as at least two of these varieties. The lower half, from where Christopher Street forks off 57th up to Duncan Street, is in immaculate shape. The treads and rails are all perfectly maintained, with easy clear passage. The surrounding foliage has been neatly trimmed and there was no litter the day we visited. There’s even one remaining house that is only accessible via the steps.

An the upper half? Well, that’s another story. In the middle of a lush Pittsburgh summer, dense knotweed has enveloped the majority of this stretch with just enough room for the city trekker to go full-on Indiana Jones. [Note to readers: bring a fedora, whip, and satchel.] It’s clear this batch is neither as well-loved nor as well-used as its downhill sibling. Still, it offers a great off-the-grid version of the step experience, which is just as much of what we’re after.

city steps nearly overgrown with knotweed, Pittsburgh, PA

Entrance to the upper section of 57th Street steps (at Duncan Street)

looking up city steps covered by trees, Pittsburgh, PA

Looking up the upper section of 57th Street steps

If there’s a bummer to the 57th Street steps, it’s that you’re stuck with a straight up-and-back trip–there’s no looping around for a more interesting walk/hike. Somewhere around half-way up the top stretch (above Duncan), you hit a pretty decisive end-of-the-line. The treads are gone, trees and weeds have overtaken what’s left, and a clear Steps Closed barrier has been placed across the route.

At this point, the red handrails continue, tantalizing us by disappearing into the hillside. The map shows that at one point the steps terminated up on Price Way in Stanton Heights, but that connection seems unlikely to be re-opened–at least until The Orbit gets put in charge of public works. Until then, pass the ketchup.

city steps missing treads with "Steps Closed" sign blocking the way, Pittsburgh, PA

End of the line: top of the 57th Street steps


* Heinz famously had way more than 57 different food products when the “57 Varieties” tag line was dreamed up and added to packaging.

Get the Gist: The 1917 Manchester Bridge Sculptures

Preserved Manchester Bridge sculptures in their new location near Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA

The Manchester Bridge sculptures in the drifting yellow fog of the Color Run cleanup

Has anybody seen the bridge? Robert Plant asks on Led Zeppelin’s 1973 time-scuttling pseudo-funk jam “The Crunge,” Where’s that confounded bridge? It’s a preposterous rhetorical question–an inside joke, to be sure–but it wasn’t so funny when this blogger found himself in the very literal position of being unable to locate the bridge he was looking for.

To be fair, The Orbit was actually just trying to find some ornamentation–not, you know, an entire bridge. Still, we were on the hunt for three giant bronze sculptures that originally adorned the Manchester Bridge, and are now on display on the North Shore. We had only the most minimal of directions–“near Heinz Field”–but they couldn’t be that hard to find, right?

Well, it took wheeling around the entirety of the stadium, down along the riverfront, and then a befuddled dose of Googling to actually locate the new installation. [Readers: fear not, we’ll make it easier for you–see below.]

Black and white photo of Manchester Bridge in 1918, Pittsburgh, PA

Manchester Bridge as it looked in 1918, the year after the sculptures were added (photo: Wikipedia)

The story goes that the old Manchester Bridge–which spanned the river between the point and where Heinz Field is now–was erected between 1911 and 1915 and then had these sculptures added a couple years later in 1917. When the old bridge was replaced by the much larger Fort Duquesne Bridge in 1969 someone thankfully had the wisdom to put the big bronze decorative pieces in storage instead of the scrap yard.

It’s kind of amazing that now–forty-seven years later–the sculptures should finally move off the shelf to out on the street where everyone can see and enjoy them[1]. The location–in the literal shadow of Heinz Field–seems a little goofy. It’s really only convenient if you happen to already be walking in to a football game or urinating before a Kenny Chesney concert. However, it is within a stone’s throw of where the old Manchester Bridge touched down on the North Side, so in that way it makes pretty good sense.

Detail of frontiersman Christopher Gist from the preserved Manchester Bridge sculptures, Pittsburgh, PA

Frontiersman Christopher Gist (detail)

And what of the sculptures? Well, on one side you’ve got Christopher Gist, the “frontiersman” who mapped the Ohio River valley in the 1750s crouching with musket, buckskin, and one very manly beard. Up close, there’s a deep, dazed look in his eyes and remarkable detail considering how high the piece was suspended above the bridge deck.

Opposite is the figure of Guyasuta, who was also involved in the colonial exploration of the Ohio[2]. The Seneca chief acted as local guide to one George Washington, in his pre-father of the country role as a young officer on a mission to survey what was then The West. Guyasuta’s posture is a near mirror image of Gist: hunkered down on one knee with a weapon at hand (in this case, bow and arrow), ready for action, but not yet drawn.

detail of Chief Guyasuta from the preserved Manchester Bridge sculpture, Pittsburgh, PA

Chief Guyasuta

Between these two figures is an enormous representation of an unfurled banner reading MCMXVII (1917) Manchester Bridge. Below it is a full-on 3-D version of the city crest and seal, complete with its checkerboard pattern (these are blue and white when they appear in color), “three bezants bearing eagles rising with wings displayed,” and “a triple-towered castle masoned Argent.” The seal is very much not the required black-and-gold[3]. Rather, the whole thing has turned the fabulous weird green of oxidized bronze, which looks pretty terrific.

Worth the trip? Certainly, at least if you’re already down on the North Shore walkway, at Heinz Field, or Stage AE for any reason. Or you can just pick up the twofer with the next Color Run cleanup, like we accidentally did. And if you see this wayward blogger gasping in the clouds of technicolor dust, maybe you can show him the way out, just like Gist and Guyasuta.

Manchester Bridge sculpture detail including a triple-towered castle masoned Argent from the seal of the City of Pittsburgh

Detail: the “triple-towered castle masoned Argent” of the seal of the City of Pittsburgh

Getting there: The newly-installed Manchester Bridge sculptures are indeed right by Heinz Field. They’re on North Shore Drive, just about where it meets Art Rooney Ave. (the little ring road around the stadium), in the small greenspace between the gates and Stage AE.


[1] The new installation only includes the sculptures from one end of the bridge. There is another set with different figures (including Joe Magarac!) that was also saved and is yet to be made public.
[2] Gist is presumably the namesake of the tiny cross street in Uptown. Guyasuta also has an un-remarkable eponymous residential road in suburban Fox Chapel. This seems like a bit of rip-off for both explorers when similar colonial-era players Forbes and Braddock got such prominent main drags.
[3] Between looking up Gist, Guyasuta, the Manchester Bridge, clarifying Led Zeppelin lyrics, the city flag and seal, and then definitions for “argent” and “bezant”, this post set some kind of Orbit record for its orgy of Googling obscure minutia[4].
[4] Note: no, we were not Googling “orgy”. That’s for later.

Alien Landscapes: Color Run Cleanup

Peak of PPG Place seen through a cloud of yellow dust, Pittsburgh, PA

These colors don’t run…but they may blow away in the wind

You’ve seen them–heck, maybe you’ve been them. (Generally) young people in sunglasses and jogging outfits with wild random splashes of color criss-crossing the full lengths of their persons. Nothing is spared–clothing, exposed skin, face, and hair have all been haphazardly doused in iridescent blasts of paint dust. They’re on foot, winded, giddy, and/or dazed–appearing as if recently exposed to supernatural radiation or looped on a new dancehall hallucinogenic.

yellow dust covering street and sidewalks, Pittsburgh, PA

Yellow brick (err…cement) road (and sidewalks)

The Orbit has no idea what “The Color Run” is all about*–we stopped following trends after opening the closet to a wardrobe full of acid wash. What we can say is that it’s some kind of well-organized group event** that involves throbbing disco music, inflatable rainbow-shaped arches, many bold statements suggesting–perhaps, demanding–participants be HAPPY, and yes, lots and lots of deeply-hued paint dust.

Whateverthehell these folks are doing, I’ll tell you one thing: accidentally running into the Color Run aftermath is bizarre…and it’s a hoot.

orange dust covering sidewalk and bushes

Planet Orange

Streets of gold! Phosphorescent shrubbery! Day-glo pavement! Bike trail loose gravel mixed with electric blue dye and formerly hum-drum parking spots tattooed in technicolor. For one, brief, shining post-Color Run moment, the general area of the near North Side, around the stadiums and those new office buildings, was transformed into a Star Trek set, a fever dream, a visionary environment, an alien landscape. The future really is here right now…or it at least it was last Saturday.

man pushing an electric blower kicking up yellow dust from The Color Run, Pittsburgh, PA

Spell-caster/dream-maker/Color Run cleanup crew member

When the big custom sweeper/blower machine rolled through, I couldn’t race fast enough to catch the billowing clouds of bright yellow dust filling the sky and temporarily blocking out everything in sight. A couple decent shots with downtown Pittsburgh nearly enveloped and then it all disappeared in the wind as fast as it had flown up. The Orbit‘s only regret is that we didn’t make it around to the other discarded dust patches in time to collect the whole color set. We’ll not make that mistake next time.

wooden letters that spell HAPPY, seen from behind

They even have their own language. YPPAH.


* Yes, we are well-equipped to Google “the color run,” but Orbit readers have come to expect a level of “speculative journalism” that doesn’t weigh the reader down with undue facts or research.
** The trucks packing up in the parking lot all had Salt Lake City, Utah addresses on them, so we assume this is some kind of franchised, touring operation.