Friday, November 17, 2006

Things I Miss About Pittsburgh

Last weekend, I took a spur-of-the-moment trip to Pittsburgh. I didn't do much there that would be notable to anyone but me, but it was a great visit, and it reminded me of a number of things I really miss about that town:
  • The way people talk. There's nothing more charming, or less reproducible in print, than the way a Pittsburgher tells you, "I ain't even kiddin'." Hint: there are barely more than three syllables in the whole sentence. Check out this site for audio samples of local speech. The recording of "Bob G." sounds the most like what I think of as a Pittsburgh accent, but they are all typical in their own ways.
  • Football. From the Steelers (or "Stillers") to high school football, everyone knows who's good this year and all the big games are on TV. On Sundays when there's a 1:00 game, Father Joe keeps his homily nice and brief so we can all get home and changed in time for kickoff.
  • Church. Here in Charlottesville I have my choice of three Catholic churches, all of which I like to some degree, and one of which is very close to where I live, so I'm not complaining. But Pittsburgh has so many more. You have to really try hard to miss Sunday Mass. I especially miss the 7:45 p.m. Mass at Sacred Heart in Shadyside: it's a beautiful, old-fashioned church with a great mix of people, and I've never heard a homily there that hasn't hit home.
  • Max's. It's so good and cheap and friendly. The service there goes way beyond good: these people seriously love you like you're family from the moment you sit down till you walk out the door. James and I have ended up there so many times, when we didn't feel like cooking or couldn't think of what to do for dinner, or when some other place had disappointed us enough for us to walk out. I've never once left Max's in a bad mood.
There are plenty more things I miss, and I'm not even going to mention the people, because the list would get too long.

People here have pointed out how much I seem to love Pittsburgh, and they're right. I'm not from there, and I only lived there for four years, but they were very important years. Pittsburgh saw me through my marriage and my divorce, many different jobs and apartments, my conversion to Catholicism, and my decision to come to law school.

For the first two years or so that I lived there, I wanted to be somewhere else. We had moved there against my will from Seattle, which I loved and where I wanted to stay. I had trouble getting a job that suited me, because in Pittsburgh you have to know people: if your grandpa didn't work in the steel mill with the father of the guy who's interviewing you, well, that's one strike against you. Our first winter there was the coldest one I've ever experienced by far. I learned then that I could tell if it was below 10 degrees outside because my nose hairs would freeze when I walked out the door. It probably didn't help that I was working at a bakery and had to walk to work at 5:15 a.m., right at the coldest time of the day. Pittsburgh seemed awkward and ugly and unfriendly, and in some ways, it is.

But I remember the moment I first saw the beauty of the city. My friend Jeremy was going out to Carnegie to cut his parents' grass, and he took me with him because I was having a rough time of it and needed the company. We were driving on the Parkway where it runs alongside the river, by Duquesne University. Jeremy pointed out the window and I looked up to see three golden bridges lined up one after the other, arching over a river that reflected a brilliant blue sky. As we rounded a curve, the sun struck the surface of the water just right and it shone blindingly bright. I felt tears gather behind my eyes and I said, "I think I'm gonna stay for a while."

"See how beautiful my city is?" Jeremy asked me, and I did.

Thursday, November 16, 2006


Apparently it's easier for me to turn out a 17-page legal memo than a 300-word blog entry. Everything with a deadline takes precedence over everything without a deadline, which is perhaps not as it should be, but I have to say that at the very least I'm getting better at meeting deadlines.

It's that time of the semester. The quiet study room is full on Thursday afternoons. You get out the syllabus to look up tomorrow's reading and cringe at how few classes are left before exams. It's dark when you get up and dark when you leave school, and too cold to study outside, so you don't see too much daylight. We're all still smiling at each other in the hallways, though, so we can't be too miserable yet.

It's times likes this when I'm glad I came here alone. I don't envy my friends who are married, or those whose boyfriends or girlfriends moved here with them. I love always knowing that I can get up at six in the morning to finish that Torts reading if I need to, or do laundry (oh wait, that reminds me!) in the middle of the night, without disturbing anybody, and I'm relieved that no one feels neglected if I need to retreat into my shell for a few hours, or even days.

I wish I could remember better what I thought law school was going to be like. When I start feeling overwhelmed, I think of what my best days were like at my previous jobs. I found plenty to like wherever I was: at Starbucks I loved tasting different coffees and training new partners; at the bank I loved learning about retirement savings and helping the other tellers find what was throwing them out of balance. Here, though, nearly everything I do is interesting. It's often also frustrating, repetitive, and hard to concentrate on, but it's interesting. For the first time in my life, I have way too much to think about and way too many opportunities. It is a wonderful problem to have.