Moving away from home has a nasty habit of teaching you something about yourself, and about human nature. Like what seems to be a natural tendency to idealize whatever is different from your current situation. We wax nostalgic about our college days – learning so much, meeting new people, fooling around in the science library, our memory conveniently skipping over the hangovers and classes we had to drop because we didn’t go for two months (not that I would know anything about any of that). You quit your boring, banal job to move into a better, more challenging position, only to long for the salad days at your last job – long lunches, gossip with your bestie about the sleazy boss, and muffins on Monday morning.
When I moved away from Pittsburgh, I thought I was moving to something more wonderful. What could be better than warm winters with no dreary snow piled in parking lots until April? Who wouldn’t want to live in a city renowned for youth and coolness? Sure, there were things I knew I’d miss, but gas and breakfast cereal are cheaper here, and there’s delicious, esophagus-burning Mexican food – it’s utopia!
Well, sort of. Gas and cereal may be cheaper, but houses are so expensive that mere mortals can’t dream of buying a home in the city limits. No snow means no winter, and no fall, and no spring – just nine months of oppressive summer and three months of something slightly different than summer. And no matter how young and hip and cool I may be (indulge me here), a city whose identity is built on being the hippest and the coolest and just generally too sexy for its pants is smug, annoying, and off-putting. Add in astonishing traffic with aggressive, self-centered drivers, Cowboys fans, and an inability to acquire Iron City, Yeungling, or pierogies, and you pretty much have the opposite of the idealized sunny Southwest that called to me. How could I have been so wrong?
From practically the minute I arrived, I daydreamed about going home. Where were the sights, smells, and tastes that were so familiar? Why wouldn’t anyone pause when the light turned green to let me turn left? Didn’t anyone know who The Troy was, or how to pronounce his last name? What do you mean I can’t go to the top of your little university tower? What kind of person would use Hunt’s “catsup?” More than anything, I longed for the authenticity and personality of PGH, drowning as I was in self-satisfied pretension. Why did I ever leave?
Well, at least in small measure, I left for the same reason I’m going back. Now, there’s no doubt that Pittsburgh is where I belong, and I’ll be happy and more appreciative of it when I get there, and I don’t plan on leaving again. But the last time I was in town, I drove down to The Strip in the rain, got snarked at by a parking attendant, chilled by weather that I had forgotten how to dress for, and the whole experience clanged against my idealized vision of how no one is ever mean in the ‘Burgh and cold weather is all about hot cocoa and crackling fires and home is always best in every possible way. Whatever you don’t have looks a little shinier than what you’ve got.
Remember that before you follow the sunshine, okay?