Archive for the ‘Homesick’ Category

I’ve been tickled by the tongue-in-cheek lists of inside jokes that spawned a Facebook group and this really fairly annoying YouTube video:

But last week when a colleague of mine who has family back in the ‘Burgh gave me a business card with all his relations’ names and phone numbers just in case we needed extra moving help or wanted to be invited to big Italian dinners, I got to thinking about some of the other ways to know you’re a Pittsburgher:

  • You really, truly care about your neighbors just because they’re your neighbors. They’re your people.
  • You approach most of life’s problems with a singular practicality. Life is complicated enough without introducing excess confusion. If the situation is x, and the way to make it right is y, no sense worrying about z.
  • You have the distinct sense that you were actually right when you were a teenager – there really isn’t anyone who understands you. You discover this when you leave Western PA and have to explain 8 times a day that Pittsburgh is clean now, and you realize that while you were learning about the rest of the country, no one was bothering to learn anything about you.
  • You believe that hard work is a virtue. If you chance to have a job outside of Pittsburgh, you are constantly praised for your strong work ethic just for doing what comes naturally, and may seem like the bare minimum considering how hard your parents worked.
  • You feel at once protective and frustrated with your city, as if it were your kid sister. You’re infuriated when anyone picks on her and will defend her on any turf, but you are constantly annoyed by her many mistakes.
  • You have a complex relationship with Nature. You either hunt or have family who does. You are proud of your city’s many green buildings and not just because of the accolades they receive from around the country – because they usually don’t (see third bullet, above). You recognize that there are vast ecological downsides to mining and refining and smelting and coking, but you also know that food was on the table of many a neighborhood family because of those industries. You are connected with the natural world in a genuine give-and-take way that many people cannot fathom.
  • You want your sports teams to stand for something. It’s not enough that they win – they must represent you and your standards. Your sports heroes are expected to be just that. 
  • Deep down, you sort of suspect that your supposed hatred of Cleveland is at least partially pity. You recognize that the misfortunes that have befallen our neighbor by the lake could just have easily been thrust upon us, if not for the combination of fate, geography, and better politicians. Perhaps you have a little survivor’s guilt. Moreover, you’re certain that most of their hatred is just envy.
  • Disaster happens. You may not have been through anything so tragic and dramatic as Hurricane Katrina, but you or someone you know has been flooded out of their home and started over.
  • You know that the saying really is true – you can’t appreciate the sunshine if you’ve never had the rain.

Here’s to the good, strong, charitable, hard-working stuff that makes us, us.


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Mrs. PF and I went for ice cream this afternoon, and I ordered mine with “chocolate sprinkles” on top. Mrs. PF looked at me like I’d grown an extra head on my shoulders, and that head spoke a different language. I pointed out that the college kid behind the counter would have no idea what jimmies were, and she was pacified.

Later, as we ate our ice cream in the park, we were talking about things you’d only know if you knew Pittsburgh, and this evening, she followed up with the following link:

Giant freaking Pittsburgh quiz

What a way to spend a Sunday evening. Questions like, “After a Pirate win, announcer Bob Prince would say ‘We _____ ____ ____ ____!'” made me feel old and nostalgic. Questions like, “Who sang the song ‘There’s a pawn shop on the corner in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania’?” made me feel young and stupid. And questions like, “What is the significance of the blinking red beacon atop the Grant Building in downtown Pittsburgh?” just made me smile.

Those who know, know. Those who don’t, work in ice cream parlors in north Austin.

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I was hoping to like the article in this month’s Pittsburgh Magazine entitled “A Love Letter to Pittsburgh,” by New York author Ellen T. White. After all, that’s what this whole blog is, right? A love letter? Nothing more affirming than reading something you’re guaranteed to agree with – makes you feel smart.

Not so much this time.

No better way to clue in Pittsburghers that you don’t understand them than to talk about how your first exposure to their city was a wedding at a “posh country club” where the bride was “Pittsburgh aristocracy,” the groom had “staggering good looks,” and the bridesmaids appeared “pulled from the pages of Vogue.” That’s how Ms. White’s “romance with Pittsburgh” began.

Mm hmm.

She goes on to describe meeting, marrying, then divorcing a designer from Pittsburgh, all the while quaintly infatuated with Pittsburgh and what she thought it represented – simplicity, authenticity, kindness. Which it does, but not to someone whose heart isn’t really in it:

Like every longtime New Yorker, I feared losing my “edge” but was determined to keep a firm grip on it. Working from Pittsburgh, I continued to take jobs in New York, where I had established a niche writing about luxury hotels and turning out funding proposals for not-for-profits with the efficiency of an assembly line.

She also transparently loved Pittsburgh not for what she found in it, but what it gave to her:

As luck would have it, the marketing chief for New York’s Museum of Modern Art was a transplant from the Carnegie Museum of Art. She hired me to write ad copy for the Museum of Modern Art and proposed me for managing editor of The New York Public Library – a recommendation that gave me the winning edge over a field of 350 aspirants. Curiously, national magazines were no longer tossing out my writing samples. Several gave me assignments for the first time.

In legend, of course, if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. Yet I seemed to be experiencing a professional phenomenon of another kind. Having started in New York, it was my Pittsburgh work and contacts that were giving me a leg up in New York.

Yes, she does wax poetic about a few landmarks – she mentions Forbes Avenue and the Cathedral of Learning. She name-drops Michael Chabon and Sally Wiggin. But it never rises out of the mire of condescension. She romanticizes Pittsburgh, but ultimately it was a forgone conclusion that Ms. White would choose living in NYC and writing books titled Simply Irresistible: Unleash Your Inner Siren and Mesmerize Men With Help From the Most Famous and Infamous Women in History over living in the ‘Burgh (as she affectionately refers to it).

But there’s no going back now on that decision made a decade ago. In truth, I am a committed New Yorker and happy to be.

So her longing for what she thought Pittsburgh could be sounds so much like the prom queen who remembers that special summer she spent “slumming it” with the lifeguard from the YMCA. She congratulates herself for how she broadened her horizons, how she’s in touch with what it means to be an “ordinary person.” But in the end, she’s just a tourist in a crown and sash.

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Sweeter than usual

I was playing on YouTube today, looking at Steeler rally videos, when I found this:


Yeah, I cried. You know, just a little.

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It is the year that I move home.

I’m going to say it again, because it sounds so good.

It is the year that I move home.

I don’t need any New Year’s resolutions this year, because I made a resolution three years ago when I was standing in the middle of my empty house, feeling like that house looked a lot like the inside of my heart. I resolved that I would come home again. And now I will.

We planned our move because we thought it would be a Good Thing for the TR family. We were taking next steps in our careers, we were adventuring out to a new exciting growing place. But we actually moved because neither of us had the stones to say, “Wait! I changed my mind! I don’t want to leave Pittsburgh, I want to stay.” At least, not until it was too late – the job contracts were signed, the house was leased, the busted Honda was sold.

In the end though, we both admitted that we had indeed had a change of heart. We knew that neither of us was brimming with enthusiasm for the move to Texas, and that we were already wondering how to get home. It was with heavy hearts that we had our last night in Pittsburgh. So that last day, we resolved that we would come back after all – no last night for us. Not goodbye, but see you later.

So now, it is finally the year that we move home. No cold feet for this move – the resolution stands firm. That’s what New Year’s Day means this year, and I don’t want to change a thing.

But I do think I’ll try to go to the gym more, and maybe learn to bake bread.

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…moving back to Pittsburgh. The Post-Gazette today reports a bit half-heartedly on an apparent initiative to publicize PGH’s reputed ability to weather the economic storm. I can’t tell if the author is trying to get us to take the Allegheny Conference on Community Development seriously or if he’s calling it out as a pointless charade. Should we be paying attention to this part:

BusinessWeek magazine said Pittsburgh is one of the best American cities in which to ride out tough times. Time magazine said Pittsburgh, on account of its tortoise-like approach to jobs and housing growth, is now bypassing the hares, the “one economic bright spot on Main Street.” Last month, Cleveland’s Plain Dealer wrote a love letter to our city, “The Steel City’s New Strength” — “a city that once defined Rust Belt decay might show the rest of the nation how to weather a recession.”

Or this part:

Let’s conveniently ignore the city’s crushing pension debt, the city’s crushing regular debt, and the fact that the city is still effectively in Act 47 custody, and the fact that many of Pittsburgh Mon Valley suburbs are nearly irretrievable.

Which is it? Are you picking on us, or patting us on the back? 

How vigorously should I protest that my motives for moving home aren’t about the bottom line? After all, I’m in Austin, which according to the article was the old place to go for economic growth. If the new place to go to protect your little pile of cash is Pittsburgh, what does that make me?

Hey Mr. Toland, let’s not sound so bitter that a bunch of guys who moved to D.C. aren’t running back to get a new job so they can pay for their Lexus, and be glad that the people who are moving to Pittsburgh are doing so because they really want to be there. 

I really want to be there.

I had not, however, heard before of the article in the Cleveland Plain-Dealer extolling our virtues. I’ve been trying to mine Cleveland.com to find it, but it seems to have disappeared like a Browns first quarter lead. Anybody have a copy they could share?

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A very Pittsburgh Christmas

dsc_0736In the TR household, there is today the keen understanding that it’s the last holiday season we’ll spend away from Pittsburgh. As usual, a lot of our gifts are charming Pittsburgh-oriented media or clothing – three new WQED Pittsburgh History Series DVDs (the fourth of the 4-DVD deal went to my parents), Steeler gear for both of us, the kind-of-sweet Steely McBeam picture book for The Nephew.

For the first time, I’m not so annoyed by the lack of snow, hot cocoa, or crackling fires. Before this year, this was when the barely-healing wounds would crack open and sting as I imagined skating at PPG Place, visiting the Nationality Rooms, or marveling at my crazy neighbors and their yard displays. But I’ve found this winter that there is no better ointment for those wounds than the simple knowledge that their time is limited. It’s easier to accept a non-optimal situation when the end of it is in sight.

I wouldn’t say I’ve reached some sort of Zen-like peace with the idea of walking out on the porch on December 25th and not seeing my breath nor my red maples laden with snow. I certainly haven’t developed an immunity to the longing for a stroll along the Allegheny watching the chunks of ice lurch by and the downtown lights blink on, but it’s more okay than it was this time last year.

Warm up the fire for me, I’ll be home soon.

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