The first thing I love about Pittsburgh


A few months ago, in a fit of adoration for my city, I told S. I intended to begin a new blog project wherein I would detail the top two thousand things I love about the city that my readers, most of whom aren’t from Pittsburgh, wouldn’t necessarily know about. I began ticking off items and when I ran out of fingers I looked at him and said “Do you think that’s manageable? To blog about two thousand things in Pittsburgh?”

“Courtney, I love Pittsburgh but I think it would be hard to find two hundred things to blog about, let alone two thousand,” he said. He can be such a hater sometimes. But as soon as he said it I knew two thousand would be too tall an order and thus, I settled arbitrarily on two hundred. Since making this decision I’ve been collecting ideas, taking various photographs, and wondering how and when to start. Do I begin by talking about our local public radio station? The Carnegie Library? The burger at Eleven? The last four days of my life, though, have showed me where to begin this project of mine.

First of all, I love Pittsburgh’s kindness. It might sound silly to refer to an entire city as kind but truly, this is by far the nicest city I have ever lived in, and I come from true small town America.  It is the heart of this city that truly impresses – and what keeps me (mostly) from daydreaming about moving to places warm enough and sunny enough to keep the majority of its population of heavy-duty Vitamin D supplements half the year.

Last weekend my parents came down for a visit. I had arranged for my dad to see one of the eye doctors at my hospital during his visit because he has been struggling for three months with his vision and while his faith in his eye doctor up north is stalwart I finally succeeded in convincing him seeking a second opinion wasn’t an act of infidelity (see also, upcoming post: how to be your own health care advocate).  He was extremely nervous because he, like me, thinks every odd twitch of the thumb is the first sign of Parkinson’s, every bout of nausea the early signs of cancer. I have mostly managed to conquer this way of thinking thanks to the celiac diagnosis but my memory of those kind of reactions is quite clear.  So on Monday morning my mom, dad and I piled into their Subaru Forester and made our way to this particular doctor, me all the while chattering about who the hell knows what while my mom poured over her list of questions for the doctor (see also, upcoming post: navigating parents during a health scare) and my dad muttered about how his eye doctor was perfectly fine, thank you very much, and really, this was quite unnecessary.

Two and a half hours later, when my mom and I were both growing hungry and peckish, the physician called us back to see my dad.  From the examining chair, my dad looked at us and said, with a small grin, “I have a rare disease.”

“Oh, hush, Paul. You do not,” my mom said, rolling her eyes at the doctor, assuming this was another one of his writerly exaggerations.

“Actually, we think he does,” the doctor said, not at all amused with my mother’s lack of compassion. “And we need to attack this from several fronts, in order to identify what it is.”

I won’t completely violate my father’s privacy by going into detail, but he ended up, indeed, being diagnosed with a rare disease that, crazily enough, can be fixed by super-duper antibiotics and several other various prescriptions. He should be back in fighting shape, vision fully restored, in six weeks. In all probability, in his late sixties, he is going to feel better than he has in years, once the antibiotics do their work.

It was a harrowing week. My parents felt unmoored in the complex medical system I work for, and the city makes them nervous. They kept reminding me to lock my doors and asking if I needed a gun for when S. travels. They are not comfortable in my city house with the city noises under the best circumstances, but the added tension of a mystery disease made things so much more difficult. But my city? The kindness of my city made things so much easier.

The doctor my dad saw at the hospital neither talked down to him or used unnecessarily difficult medical terminology. He rested his hand on my dad’s arm during the more confusing moments but all the time assured him that yes, he was going to live.  The nurses guided my dad through the various tests and blood draws quickly and kindly without any of that infantile treatment you sometimes see with younger women and older men. The pharmacist down the street from me made sure my dad had every prescription he needed even when one in particular hadn’t been delivered to the city since before the storm, and he didn’t give my parents any hassle about their Michigan insurance when he certainly had a right to do so. Everyone we encountered was unfailingly kind and thoughtful to both of my parents, so much so that they kept remarking on it, even as they continued to keep one eye out for possible muggers around every corner.

“I feel safer here than anywhere else I’ve ever lived,” I told my parents truthfully. “People take care of each other here.”  Pittsburgh’s kindness was demonstrated every time a door was opened for us, an extra drink brought to our table at a restaurant, a fear quelled before a blood draw.

Kindness – it is what I love most about this city, and what brought me back after I left.  Now, if only it would stop snowing.

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8 Responses to The first thing I love about Pittsburgh

  1. I’ve never been to Pittsburgh, but I come from central PA and have spent a good bit of time in Philly; I have to say, PA overall is one of the kindest places I’ve been 🙂

  2. appellationmountain says:

    Kindess is one of the many extraordinary things about Pittsburgh.

    And tell S. 200 is nothing. Betcha you’ll be at 201 before you know it!

  3. shoreacres says:

    I’ve only been in a Ho-Jo’s on the PA turnpike – and that in 1964 – but I recall the folks there being very nice to two busloads of kids from an Iowa high school.

    And it was on that trip that a whole busload of kids saw the fluorescent lime-green vaguely cigar-shaped “thing” that followed our bus along the PA turnpike for miles. It glowed and pulsated and went faster and slower to keep up with us, and then glowed really bright and whoosed straight up into the sky and out of sight.

    Lesson: even extra-terrestrials think Pennsylvania is a nice place!

  4. Lizzy says:

    I hope your father feels well again very soon, and I look forward to the next post. I have not been feeling well lately and the worry and uncertainty is the worst part.

  5. Stefanie says:

    Kindness is so important. One of the reasons I like Minneapolis and Minnesota in general is because of Minnesota Nice. It makes such a big difference. I am glad your dad’s rare disease is curable and he will be well again soon!

  6. Emily Barton says:

    Since moving to PA, I’ve noticed that people here tend to be VERY nice and helpful. I hope your father has a speedy and full recovery.

  7. A Free Man says:

    Pittsburgh is one of the only big Eastern U.S. cities that I never visited. I hear great things about it, including this post! Have you ever watched “Weeds”? There’s a whole story-line about Pittsburgh – the idea of Pittsburgh – in season 2 or 3.

  8. Courtney says:

    Michelle – I’ve been to Philly twice and definitely found it as nice as Pittsburgh, and BEAUTIFUL. I was a big sucker for those murals.
    A – that’s what I think, too! 200 should be a cinch!
    Shoreacres – that is one incredible (and GREAT) story – thanks so much for sharing!

    Lizzy, so sorry to hear you aren’t feeling well. Are your doctors working with you and taking your concerns seriously?
    Stefanie – I probably should have updated to change the word “disease” to “infection” – it ended up being an advanced infection.
    Emily – thank you. He is well on his way, I believe.
    A Free Man – I haven’t watched Weeds to date but your post makes me want to!

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