Saturday, July 01, 2006

How I came to be a Pittsburgher.

Ok... after a rather long drive, I'm back in the burgh. I'm always happy to be back. Does that seem strange? Have you spent any substantial amount of time in Pittsburgh? Let me tell you a few things about our fair city...

When I was about to graduate high school and I was looking at colleges to attend, I started my explorations by looking at a map. Pittsburgh was the furthest point west in PA that had a large state-funded institution. It was three hundred miles from Allentown, PA (my birthplace), and that sounded like a good place to be. I actually got a chance to visit while I was a junior, and to tell you the truth, the whole place depressed me. It was a gray, gloomy day... and the buildings in Oakland looked old and used up. Having grown up on the East coast, Pittsburgh seemed incalculably alien to me. Yet when I got accepted to Pitt, I jumped at the chance to get far out of town.

It took me a long time to settle in, and I simply could not get used to the fact that Pittsburgh wasn't Philly or NYC. The people seemed provincial, and overly concerned with the Steelers (well, that was and still is true). The food was odd (who the hell puts french fries and cole slaw right on a sandwich?), and I couldn't even get a good cheese steak.

But as time went on, and I completed college, the place began to grow on me. For one thing, I began to venture out of Oakland (the home of Pitt and CMU) and started discovering peculiar and distinct neighborhoods nestled between the hills and rivers, each with their own distinctive character and charm. I developed a social network of both the native-born and the transplant. I built my own family around me. And perhaps most importantly, I remade myself into the person I wanted to be. I was a completely unknown quantity here, and I used that to my advantage.

When I graduated, I stayed... more out of a sense of inertia than anything else. I attended and completed graduate school. I tried to start a business and failed. But the people I met along the way intrigued me enough to want to stay around them.

Now I wouldn't want to leave. The cost of living is ridiculously low. I'm a property owner on a teacher's salary. I'm involved in a vital arts scene with numerous other talented artists. There may not be enough patrons of the arts, but it is not for lack of product. I still don't care about the sports teams, but I'm more amused by the rabid passion of the fans. This passion mirrors the camaraderie of the city's union past- a tradition that any historian will know very well. I love the niches and bridges and topography. I enjoy looking at all the distinct forms of architecture. And I love the three major rivers that wend their way through the place, sweeping in a steady and slow transition of energies.

In my 30's now, I'm considering having a family, and there is no place I'd rather do it. People I saw leave for greener pastures are starting to trickle back and rediscover Pittsburgh's advantages. I'm also meeting professionals and artisans who are moving here for the very first time... driven from whence they came by escalating property costs and congestion. It may not be the biggest or the most progressive... but it is ours to do with what we want. There is not the same sense of established hierarchy as one might find in the coastal cities. With access to mountains, and relatively close proximity to the East coast cities and beaches, how can you go wrong for so little cost? I'm here for the duration.


Blogger John Morris said...

I guess I am still in the missing NY phase of denial.

10:23 AM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

That's completely understandable. It is quite a culture shock the first time someone asks you if "yinz goin' dahntahn?" But stick it out John, and eventually this place will leave its stinkin' residue on your psyche, and you'll be better off for it.

11:37 AM  
Blogger Susan Constanse said...

Stinking residue indeed.
Even on the west coast, I couldn't scrub it out of my pores.
It took leaving for a very long time for me to appreciate the place.

2:39 PM  
Anonymous Chris said...

I remade myself into the person I wanted to be. I was a completely unknown quantity here, and I used that to my advantage.

I think that we discussed this in NJ, but this is exactly how I felt at UD. I recall thinking about this while in bed on my very first night away from good ol' William Allen High.

11:38 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

I have often said that if/when I have kids I will encourage them to spend the first two years of post-high school education at the community college. One possible drawback is that they won't necessarily have the opportunity to remake themselves the way we did. Interesting...

1:33 PM  

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