Pittsburghpedia: “Take Bigelow,” how a ’90s action flick spawned a yinzer meme

Know your weird and wonky Pittsburgh terms? This post is part of our Pittsburghpedia series, a handy glossary of words and phrases unique to our city that’ll help you #talklikeyoulivehere. Let’s fill you in. Today’s entry … “Take Bigelow”

WHAT IS IT? The phrase comes from the 1993 Bruce Willis action flick “Striking Distance,” a movie filmed and set in Pittsburgh, Director Rowdy Herrington’s hometown.

The phrase in question is uttered during a sprawling and exhausting crosstown car-chase scene in which Willis’s character, a grizzled and weary police detective, is joined by his father, a more grizzled and more weary police lieutenant played by actor John Mahoney.

The two men are in hot pursuit of the notorious Polish Hill Strangler when Mahoney’s character calls for a shortcut. “Take Bigelow!” he barks, invoking a crosstown roadway that is to this day best known for an apparently optional speed limit.

The film itself was quickly panned by critics and later by its star and director. But it continues to have a cult-like following, and that two-word throwaway line remains one of its most beloved and potent legacies. 

FAST FACTS

For the uninitiated, Bigelow Boulevard is a 3 1/2 mile “rapid transit” roadway that runs from Downtown Pittsburgh to Oakland. 

It was built in the late 1800s as a way to connect Schenley Park with Pittsburgh’s Golden Triangle, Ned Schano, former communications director with the Heinz History Center, wrote in the Post-Gazette.

When it opened to traffic in 1900, it was named Grant Boulevard. 

It was later renamed for Edward Manning Bigelow, the city’s most famous urban planner and the “Father of Pittsburgh Parks,” Schano added. 

Bigelow pushed hard for the road’s creation, and the road’s subsequent popularity helped bring about pushes for similar projects in the city, namely Boulevard of the Allies, Beechwood Boulevard, and Washington Boulevard. 

Bigelow remains one of the most heavily traveled roads in the city and, we’re convinced, has one of the most heavily violated speed limits in the western hemisphere. 

While the road has a posted speed limit of 35 mph, local drivers have collectively decided they like 65 mph better — side note: If you faithfully follow the speed limit on Bigelow, reach out, we want to write an article about you. 

And all this speeding means using Bigelow has the feel of being in a hot pursuit with or without Bruce Willis around. Maybe it’s life imitating art. Maybe not. 

TAKE BIGELOW — AND MAKE A MEME

More than 25 years after “Striking Distance” was released, what are likely the most hastily considered two words in the script may have become the most definitive thing about the movie. 

The phrase “Take Bigelow” continues to inspire T-shirts, artworks, mild forms of vandalism, and a slew of esoteric social media mentions:   

 

In a way, it’s become shorthand for Pittsburgh know-how, a survivor’s nod to the anti-halcyon days of the 90s, a modern day addition to the lexicon of Pittsburghese, and a sort of verbal Freemasons handshake. 

But really, “Take Bigelow” is a meme, one simultaneously signaling a person’s Pittsburgh bona fides, millennial-ness, appreciation of so-bad-they’re-good 90s-era action films, and a knowledge that much like all roads lead to Pittsburgh, all Pittsburgh roads lead back to Bigelow Boulevard.

And … scene.