Pittsburgh = Love

I haven’t written too terribly much about why S. and I decided to leave southern Michigan when we had, for a long time, every intention of settling down there and staying forever, but if you follow what serves as a narrative for this blog (albeit, I use a very loose definition of that term, here) you probably know some of the reasons. I’ll probably end up writing about some of those reasons at a later date, but I also haven’t written too much about our reasoning in moving back to Pittsburgh. Some of the reasons we gave include a significantly lower cost of living (people in MI don’t believe it when I tell them, but a house of equivalent size and price here in the city is nearly half what it would cost us to buy in MI), an excellent public transportation system ( we think about gas prices in relation to other costs, but we never, ever drive now. In fact, driving feels weird), and it is equidistant between our parents, whereas in Michigan we were quite close to mine and a full day’s drive away from S.’s. Those reasons are all sound and true, but overriding all logical decision making is the fact we love Pittsburgh whole-heartedly – it is the city we belong to, and it to us. I still remember the first time I visited S. in Michigan before I moved from here to join him, and the sinking feeling I had that we had made a terrible, terrible mistake.

I can’t speak for S., but it wasn’t until recently I realized exactly why I love this little city so much. I was reading Carl’s blog and he had posted some lovely photos of his anniversary trip. At first, I thought wow, that’s gorgeous, I want to go there on vacation as well and secondly, I thought, those pictures sort of look like Pittsburgh. And that is when I had a mini-Eureka moment…I’d been living here because it felt right, and it feels right because Pittsburgh reminds me of every place I’ve ever been and loved.

Like my hometown in Michigan, Pittsburgh feels small. The neighborhood I live in now, with the three story Victorian homes, small lawns, cobble-stone streets reminds me of the neighborhood I grew up in, and like Alpena, the neighborhood allows for long, meandering walks up, down and around unending side streets. The people, too, act as though they live in a small town and, in fact, refer to Pittsburgh as the largest small town you’ll ever visit. This means, of course, that often people are sort of up in your business, and I haven’t left Whole Foods once without recommendations in nearly every aisle regarding the health benefits of raw milk or dark chocolate, and I haven’t left a restaurant without being asked exactly where I’m from, since my midwestern accent distinguishes me, and when I walk down the main streets of my neighborhood I invariably, always run into at least one person I know. The physical feel of the city reminds me of the best parts of my growing up.

But it also reminds me of East Lansing, and Michigan State University’s campus. I can’t remember off the top of my head how many universities there are in the city, I think the number is either seven or eleven, but it is enough so college students bleed into the cracks and crevices of almost every neighborhood. Every neighborhood, no matter how well-established, has its share of houses converted into apartments, and students from Carnegie Mellon, Pitt, Carlow, Point State Park, Duquesne and Chatham can be seen everywhere, in the coffee shops, bars, museums, restaurants, theaters, concert halls, grocery stores and churches that make up Pittsburgh. They practice French in my neighborhood coffee shop, study the architecture of the buildings downtown, perform in plays, take pictures in Schenley Park, work intently on their laptops in restaurants and just generally give the city it’s own particular beat – the beat of thousands upon thousands of people in their twenties, learning what they want to be when they grow up.

Then again, Pittsburgh reminds me of North Carolina. God, did I cry when we moved from Durham. Anyway, there is something so very southern about Pittsburgh – in the colors Pittsburghers choose for the flowers in their front yards – riotous purples, yellows, pinks and reds – and flowers not neatly tended, but capable of taking over entire front porches. Trees here are heavy-limbed and low and you could be forgiven for thinking, as you walked down my street, for believing yourself to be in some southern city, with gated gardens south of broad. Pittsburgh, actually, is considered the one true Appalachian city, situated as it is in the beginning of that mountain chain, sometimes it’s like all that southern charm floated northwards. Contrary to what you may have heard, everybody here is ridiculously friendly and not above sharing their every last thought with you the moment they meet you.

Pittsburgh also can feel, though, like a city, like a miniature Chicago or New York. This morning I will get on a bus and head downtown for work, a destination I go to once or twice a week, and once there I will be swept up in a crowd, rushing along city streets as restaurants open their doors to food suppliers and people stand on street corners with one last morning cigarette and street cleaners sweep out front of the theaters and stadiums loom empty and construction resumes on all those downtown (or, in Pittsburghese, dahn-tahn) projects.

Of course, there are so many elements that make Pittsburgh so, well, Pittsburgh – to live here, you have to be willing to accept days and days of unending rain, for instance. And what other city has random murals made up entirely of Andy Warhol bon mots? If you live here, you will claim to bleed black and gold – the colors of all the professional sports teams, and you live, even now, in horrible anticipation for preseason football. There are a thousand little distinctions that make this city entirely its own, and I hope to have the chance to write about every single one of those distinctions, but for now, above and beyond everything else, I think what makes this city so damn great is Pittsburghers LOVE Pittsburgh. I have moved around a lot, and I have never lived anywhere with such strong neighborhood, community and city pride. To live somewhere where the citizens truly love the city they live in is a true gift, and one for which I am unendingly grateful. Pittsburgh feels like every place I’ve really loved, and yet it feels uniquely itself, and on mornings like this one, when the heat seeps through the cool hard wood floors and steam rises off the sidewalks outside, and I know my hair will burst from its braid one block into my walk to the busway, and it’s Monday so work will probably be chaotic and, in this life, there is still so very much to fit in to every single day, it helps to know I have found my home.

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16 Responses to Pittsburgh = Love

  1. noble savage says:

    That’s so lovely. I don’t think I’ve ever felt that way about a city. I have yet to find my ‘home’. I like London but it doesn’t give me the feelings you describe. I’ve always been enamored of Chicago though and think I could fall in love with living there if it wasn’t for the damn cold winters and the brutal wind.

    Sigh…one day.

  2. Stefanie says:

    You make me want to move to Pittsburgh! But then I remember I feel that way about Minneapolis. I love my adopted city and while I dream of working for the Library of Congress or Harvard Library or other places like that after I finish library school, really all I want is to find a good job here in Minneapolis because the thought of leaving it makes me sad. I look forward to hearing more about Pittsburgh though 🙂

  3. Elaine says:

    Well put! Looking forward to painting the town cosmo red with you. Counting the days!

  4. smithereens says:

    Loved your post! Never been to Pittsburgh though, but I can relate to your feeling. For me it would be Hongkong. It took me a while to accept the town but once I did, it just felt right all the way.

  5. Marisa says:

    I totally understand what you’re saying about Pittsburgh. I live in Philly and have only been to Pittsburgh once, but I totally fell in love with during the long weekend I spent there. It reminds me a lot of Portland, OR (where I grew up) and I love how low the cost of living is there. If only I could convince all my friends and family in Philly to move there…

  6. laura says:

    Oh, Courtney, that’s beautiful! I would love for us to find a place we could feel that way about. I have a feeling it isn’t here, lol. I’m happy for you guys 🙂

  7. yogamum says:

    The Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce ought to pay you for that!!

    What a lovely heartfelt tribute to your home!

  8. Emily says:

    I feel that way about New York and hope to end up back there one day. In the meantime, it seems I really must visit Pittsburgh, doesn’t it? (I’ve driven by, but never stopped in.)

  9. kimhaasdesign says:

    There must be some local magazine that would love to publish this. It’s beautiful. Makes me sad that I don’t have a connection to place like that. Or maybe I do but have never really thought about it before. But you definitely make me want to visit Pittsburgh!

  10. Emily says:

    I loved Philly like that. I wonder if anywhere else will ever feel right.

  11. litlove says:

    What a lovely tribute, Courtney! And now of course I’m thinking that Pittsburgh is somewhere I must visit if and when I get out to the states. I will, one of these days! But most importantly, you’ve found a place you love and that’s just wonderful.

  12. toujoursjacques says:

    Courtney, what a beautiful post. And I agree with one of the other comments. Surely some magazine would snap this piece up! Have you thought of sending it out? The city I hold in my heart is Paris. I love all of it, even the touristy parts, but especially the little neighborhood in 6e called Saint Germain des Pres, where I stay when I go there. I love Paris for all the reasons you love Pittsburgh: great mass transit, great walks, wonderful neighborhoods, beautiful gardens, students everywhere, etc. Then throw in the art, architecture, history, music, food, street markets…irresistable. Thanks for the opportunity to think on it! Jacques.

  13. NS – Chicago is wicked cold and also incredibly expensive…I bled money when I was there on a business trip a few weeks ago. But otherwise it’s an amazing city.
    Stefanie – I actually think I would love Minneapolis, too! Sam and I both applied to graduate school there and strongly considered it.
    Elaine – Tonight! Whee!
    Smithereens – thank you! And Hong Kong, hmm? Another place I would love to go!
    Marisa – welcome! I am dying to go to Philly now that i live here – I’ve heard nothing but great things about the city.
    Laura -LOL – I really like Royal Oak actually!
    Emily – a visit to Pittsburgh is going to be mandatory for you down the road, but we’ll start with the state parks in the fall!
    Kim – I always thought from reading your short stories you felt that way about arizona…
    Emily – I really am eager to visit Philly…
    Litlove – you always have a place to stay should you decide to come our way…
    Jacques – I look at my blog as a place to begin my ideas for essays – that was it’s original intent and while I’ve been swept away by memes and challenges, I still more or less look at it like that so your support is very encouraging! I’ll think about revising for a magazine…

  14. “it is the city we belong to, and it to us.”… “Pittsburgh feels like every place I’ve really loved”- I know that feeling. It’s precious, when you finally find a place that suits all (or most) aspects of your life, and you can be fortunate enough to be there. We found our place in California, a very small town. We had friends, public transport, walking distance to everything… Unfortunately it was missing one vital thing: choice of jobs. It was in the Sierra Nevada mountains and Spouse knew that his sort of work wasn’t abundant there. Everything else was perfect. Maybe one day we’ll go back when we’re rich 🙂
    I’m partial to people’s writing when it’s about the subject of home because it’s so difficult to sum that up and capture what Home means. Maybe it’s different things to different people.

  15. auntjone says:

    I always thought that if I ended up single again (heaven forbid, I can’t abide another divorce and losing J. would crush me) I’d pack up and move to Chicago. I’m filled with energy when I’m there. But after reading your post I would seriously consider Pittsburgh. I’ve never been there but am DYING to get to a Steelers home game. Security will have a tough time keeping me away from Big Ben….

    Yet another beautifully written post.

  16. Laura says:

    I feel exactly.the.same.way. Thank you for such a beautiful post about our home!!

    with love from Pittsburgh…

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