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Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By Michael O'Hare
Thursday, March 28, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

Sometimes, vacations just appear out of nowhere, when you least expect them. It happened to me last Saturday.

It didn't hurt that Saturday was a beautiful day, the calm before the Sunday-night snowstorm.

We went to Pittsburgh. Our primary destination was Carnegie Library's main branch in Oakland.

Some people like day trips in the country, and I have to say that I do, too. But I also like city day trips.

You can go to the woodlands in search of peace, but I agree with those who say you can be at peace in cities, too. One fades into the background of the city landscape.

Cities can't be beat for people-watching, the unexpected cultural events (especially in summer) and looking at the work of architects or parks planners, or finding an unusual restaurant, or art gallery, etc.

Here are some things that I remember from Saturday's part-of-a-day vacation:

• I planned a short stop to an office in the city's East End, and initially, I got a bit off track in the area around Penn Circle. But inasmuch as hurry was not an issue, it was OK; we found ourselves driving down a street that had some historical homes. They were made of gray stone with wooden trim and were beautiful. Don't ask me to take you there; I would have to make all the same wrong turns.

• I parked in front of a small bookstore, and I was getting out to head to my destination I saw an elderly woman sitting behind the large window glass on a chair in the sun. She wore a black eye patch, her hair was gray and wispy, and a cat was sitting on her lap. Were I a painter or even a photographer, I would have recorded the moment, but in some ways, I do because the picture in my minds eye is likely to remain.

This is what vacations (even one-day ones) do: They expand your awareness of things. You aren't looking for specific things, so you see lots more.

I saw some people sitting on benches along the sidewalks, and I wished I was sitting on one of them “shooting the breeze” with the locals, even the lady in the window. Maybe some day I will.

• On a day like last Saturday, there were loads of young people out jogging, even along some of the busiest highways in Oakland. They are a joy to watch. I might someday join the bench-sitters, I won't be joining the joggers.

• I have liked the main branch of Carnegie Library since I was a kid. All that information and entertainment in one place. But this Saturday, I noticed how peaceful everyone seemed. I suppose it happens, but I just can't see a fight breaking out in a library. Everyone seems to smile, and life moves at the pace of a turning page..

• There is nothing quite as delightful as watching city kids play on the equipment in a park, while their parents meander about. It seems they are having as much fun as if their folks had taken them to Disney World.

• We sat in a corner coffee shop, the sunshine filling the street outside as young people hustled about. Inside, most of the tables were taken up by college students and their laptops. The rooms and the streets seethed with energy, and I might just have been invigorated by it myself. I admire the discipline of the students at their laptops.

A day like our Saturday was made all the more special for the lack of real planning for it. Outside of the gasoline for the trip (not much), a $5 parking fee and a few coffees and a scone it was nearly free.

The weather is about to warm and eventually stay warm, and you needn't be a groundhog to know that, so you might want to “plan” a few surprise vacations for you and yours.

Meandering appears Fridays. To share your thoughts on this column (or on most anything) with News Editor Mike O'Hare, write to the Leader Times, P.O. Box 978, Kittanning, PA 16201 or via e-mail to

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