Thursday, October 18, 2007

WILATU #12 - Pittsburgh


Writing what I like about Pittsburgh is sort of like trying to write what I like about my mother. To say that it is my home doesn't even begin to explain the attraction. I am very fortunate to have been raised in such a place. It is not just a city, it is a people. If you're from 'ere, then yuins know what I'm talking bout 'nat.

Which reminds me, if you may want to learn some Pittsburghese if you are headed that way. Linguists describe it as the Galapagos Islands of American dialects. Which is fitting since it is it's own isolated culture. Chicago is the capitol of the Midwest. New York City is the capitol of the East (and the world,) Atlanta is the capitol of the South. Pittsburgh is the capitol of Pittsburgh. It belongs to no region. No one will claim it, and that is fine. We are happier on our own.

But the region includes more than the city. I had a friend from Seattle who would get upset when someone from Bellingham, WA would claim to be from Seattle. You could be from Youngstown, OH or Wheeling, WV and claim to be from Pittsburgh and no one from the actual city of Pittsburgh would blink. It is a very accepting culture hobbled together from all the unwanted ethnicities brought over as cheap labor for the mills. The Irish, the blacks, the I-talians, the Pollacks, the Slavs, the Jews, and many more. If someone has a prejudice against them, we have them in Pittsburgh. In fact, they could have added a line at the bottom of the poem at the base of the Statue of Liberty adding the disclaimer "We'll put 'em to work for a nickel a day in the steel mills of Pittsburgh."

Which was how Carnegie, Mellon, and Frick were getting fat. But thanks to the deathbed repentances of these robber barons, Pittsburgh does have more high culture than one may expect. We gots culture out the wazoo. Like this guy who takes photographs of the Pittsburgh Skyline (such as the one at the top of this post.) Or that Polish guy who painted the soup cans. I forget his name. He was famous for like fifteen minutes and that was that.

I could go on about famous people from Pittsburgh, big companies, cool inventions or whatever. Every city has that. But you don't have football. Oh, no I understand- you have football. But you do not sacrifice every able-bodied male child at its altar. You do not value a school system based on how many NFL superstars it has produced (My alma mater had five players make it to the NFL, but only Tony Dorsett qualifies for bragging rights. There is hope for rookie phenom Paul Posluszny.)

Of course, if your school had a player return to play for the Steelers that trumps all. The Steelers are the heart and soul of the city. Recently I had a conversation where I explained to someone that I was from Pittsburgh. They asked if I was a Steelers fan. I just replied with a look of puzzlement. Did I not just explain that I was from Pittsburgh? Children are weened on Iron City and given Terrible Towels for security blankets. Women in Pittsburgh are just as concerned with quarterback ratings as they with how said QB's butt looks in spandex. It is the center of our cultural heritage, which may sound shallow but it is the fireplace around which our family gathers. It doesn't matter if you are black or white, just as long as you are not orange.

After the collapse of the steel industry in the 80's there was a mass emigration. You can now find Steeler fans and bars in every corner of the world. There are generations of Steeler fans who have yet to even walk across Roberto Clemente Bridge and into the promised land of Heinz Field. But I guarantee you that given the chance every single one of them would move back. They lie awake at night dreaming of greasy sandwiches with coleslaw and french fries on them (yes on them,) of fireworks displays for no damn good reason, and memories of a shrill, nasal Jewish man calling play-by-play. A journey well worth whatever number of tunnels and bridges you must navigate to get there.

If you do go, tell them Chris says, "Hello." They know me. I'm from there.

25 comments:

Evil Genius said...

Thanks to J(son) for recommending this topic. And best of luck to Anandamide who I hope will have pleasant Pittsburgh stories to tell in the future. And just a general shout-out to BSWUG and BeckEye. Represent!

lulu said...

You know, I was born in Pittsburgh, does that count? We lived in Squirrel Hill.

Evil Genius said...

Hell yeah that counts!

pezda said...

Mmm, Primanti Brothers. You know, Youngstown is half Pittsburgh and half Cleveland. The bad halves.

red said...

I have a confession to make. After being your gf for a couple of football seasons, particularly 2005, it's been a bit hard to give up rooting for the Stillers. There are those who say I don't have to, but I'm not connected to Picksburg anymore, so my only reason for supporting them would be that Big Ben is hot while not being a tool like Tom Brady. Actually, that's not a bad reason...

Evil Genius said...

Pezda,

I didn't mean to imply that Youngstown had to claim Pittsburgh as their culture, but they could. But it is the home of the Fighting Penguins, so there has to be at least a little bit of good in there.

Red,

It is infectious. And I appreciate your Pittsburghese spellings of both "Picksburgh"(I usually go with "Pikksburgh" though other use "Pixburgh") and "Stillers."

I have a mental image of you watching the game with New Boyfriend in the background and when they zoom in on number 7 you whispering to the screen, "Why can't I quit you?"

-Evil

Laaw-yuhr said...

I've never been one much for football, but your post almost made me "get it".

Evil Genius said...

Laaw-yuhr,

Thank you. Stick around for WILTU #25. That should take care of the remainder of "getting it."

-EG

pistols at dawn said...

A good friend of mine went to school in this rusted-out burg and claimed to love it. I never saw the attraction, save for cheap houses and a generally amiable populace. But when you sit down and think about it (and I have, more than I should, really), there are possibly ten cities in the country I would live in, and because there are really only about 6, Pittsburgh makes the list circa number 8.

Evil Genius said...

Really? I am guessing DC ranks in the actual livable 6. But it is one of my least favorite places that I have lived. And that list includes Lawrenceburg, IN.

Bubs said...

I'm on an email list that argues over politics and "CULTURE" with a friend of mine who has as highly developed sense of the freakish as I do. Turns out that this list kind of evolved from a Stillers list, and after months of reading what I thought was gibberish I realized I was being subjected to a bunch of Yinzer talk. I'm still trying to catch up, and your post helps.

Evil Genius said...

I'll be more than happy to translate if you get stuck. It can get complicated if you have some particularly bad Yinzers. Some things are not a word for word translation.

BeckEye said...

Fireworks displays for no good reason .... ha ha ha ha. Ah, that's the truth.

I'm watching the Steeler game right now. One of the few that I'll ever get to see on TV without going to a bar here in NYC. I, too always find it funny when I tell people I'm from Pittsburgh and they ask if I'm a Steeler fan. That's like going in to Isaly's and asking if they served chipped ham 'n at. I mean, c'mon!

I miss home.

Evil Genius said...

Shh!I am watching too. 21-28 right now. Pull your head out of you ass, Benjamin!

Evil Genius said...

Son of a bitch! You would think they could have used a little better clock management. Damn high altitude kicking range.

pistols at dawn said...

You know who did win today? The Skins. You know who was there? Moi. Take that, sucktown!

Still, I can understand why you might not like DC. I grew up here; I don't know any better.

Evil Genius said...

P@D,

I guarantee that if you spent any appreciable amount of time in the rusted-out 'Burgh you would fall prey to its charms, or at least its cholesterol raising cuisine. And after 4 years, the District is slowly starting to grow on me. Sorta.

-EG

Blowing Shit Up With Gas said...

Well, I've lived in the Burgh for 10 years now. I still remember that first visit to Primanti Bros... I thought it was kind of gross. Then, about a day later, I said to the guy wo took me there, "You know, that sandwich was pretty damned good. Let's go back there." After that, I ate there a couple times/week for about 2 years.

I also lived in your neck of the woods for about 5 years. DC's awesome. If it weren't for the outrageous housing prices, I'm sure I'd still be there. But here in Pittsburgh, you can buy a decent home in a decent neighborhood for about $100k. It'll never be worth much more than that, of course, but it'll be 5x bigger than a comparable house in DC. (Well, that and there are probably fewer murders here.)

Evil Genius said...

BSWUG,

Aside from the general stuffiness/snootiness, the housing market is probably my biggest gripe. Plus I really hate politics, so...

-EG

The Idea Of Progress said...

I remember Pittsburgh from when I was a child, and the impression of the town that I carried around with me for years was that of a plce covered with grey soot.

I visited again about four years ago, and couldn't believe it was the same place. Pittsburgh is really one of the nicest looking cities I've been to. When did they clean it up?

I was just there a few weeks ago, but didn't get any further than Squirrel Hill (where my grandparent(s) live(d), much to my regret.

Oh, and the guy who painted the soup cans? Wasn't that Rembrandt?

Evil Genius said...

They cleaned it up in Septmebr of of '79 in preparation for the World Series. Everyone grabbed a bucket and a sponge and pitched in.

Lulu is from Squirrel Hill. I am sure you two know each other from back in the day.

Was Rembrant the soup can guy? I thought his name was Sparky or Soupy or Joey Jo-Jo. Something like that.

Grant Miller said...

Pittsburgh is a godless hell hole. Sienna Miller even said so.

Evil Genius said...

I forgot you hate Pittsburgh. T hough citing Sienna Miller(cousin?)hardly seems the way to bolster your argument. Suit yourself(selves.)

GETkristiLOVE said...

As a Penn State grad, I have to first say, "Shit on Pitt." Although my sister went there for her post-grad work and lived in Squirrel Hill. I also had a roommate from there that would remind me that at the time, it was voted the best place to live.

My roommate's boyfriend always put his french fries on his burgers. Weirdos!

Evil Genius said...

GkL,

I have always been a JoePa fan! Only in recent years have I started rooting for Pitt.

The fries on the burger thing is not normal. It is usually reserved for Primanti Brothers sandwiches only. But, hey. Whatever the weirdo likes.

-EG