Monday, May 26, 2008

Signposts

So I'm in Pittsburgh for the summer. I got here on Thursday afternoon and am just about settled in, just in time to start work tomorrow.

I notice things about Pittsburgh every time I come back. One thing that I have remarked on often in the past, but which deserves further commentary, is the fact that the highway signs around here, with few exceptions, are intended for people who already know where they're going and just might need a slight reminder. Now, you might think that, having lived here for four years already, I might fall into that category, but you would be wrong. I have no sense of direction. I figure out which way to go by using visual cues (basically I play a movie back in my head of what it looked like the last time I went to the same place, and try to drive the same way).

Case in point: I was driving back from James's mom's place tonight, which is in the North Hills. I'm currently living in Regent Square, which means I take the Edgewood/Swissvale exit off the Parkway. I've taken this exit many times, but always from the opposite direction, driving into town from the east, and I've memorized that the correct direction to go from that off-ramp is right. This time I was coming from town. At the exit I had to choose between Edgewood and Swissvale, and of course I had no idea which one to pick, so I essentially picked one at random. I found out that I was wrong as I drove toward Edgewood and passed, after the point at which the ramp divides, a small sign perched atop the Swissvale sign that read "Regent Square."

How could that sign possibly be of use to anybody? Why was it not signed 500 feet earlier? Because the signs in this town are designed for people who already know where they are going. And this entire experience is just one more bit of proof that I am not one of those people.

Another thing I always notice when I come back to Pittsburgh is how quickly I pick up certain speech patterns when I'm here. I drop my "to be"s: the dishes need washed, this room needs picked up, and so on. Not all the time, but enough that I notice. I change my inflexion on some questions, so that when I'm asking a question to which I think I already know the answer, my pitch drops at the end instead of rising. I've heard this is a mannerism that came from the Pennsylvania Dutch, but I have no idea whether that's true. I just know that I do it. And of course, "ain't" becomes part of my vocabulary, "y'all" drops out (though, no, I don't say "yinz"), and my subject/verb agreement gets to be rather inexact ("there's lots of things to do here"). I've always changed my speech slightly to match that of the people around me, but here I feel really comfortable with it. I guess that just comes with time spent living here.

I'm excited, and nervous, about starting work in the morning. I guess first days are always like that. But mostly I just feel really glad to be back. Charlottesville feels like home, but so does Pittsburgh. The two-hometowns dilemma is an awfully good one to have.

1 Comments:

Blogger kqb said...

I used to live with Pittsburgh natives and always wondered why they dropped the "to be"!

6/1/08, 3:24 PM  

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