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.


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