How Pittsburgh Sinks Its Teeth Into You

Taking a cab from Wicker Park to downtown Chicago Friday night, I fell in love with Chicago for the tenth or one hundredth time. I really have no idea how often I’ve visited – it’s been a lot – two or three times a year for over a decade, now. I was thirteen years old the first time my grandmother and mother brought me to Chicago for a long weekend of shopping. We stayed at the Drake Hotel, dined in the Cape Cod Room, shopped at Bloomingdale’s, Nordstrom’s, Crate & Barrel. I wore high heels for the first time, in Chicago, and hailed my first cab, too.  The magic of that first trip has never completely worn off and to me Chicago will always smell like Chanel No. 5 and taste like melt-in-your-mouth prime rib and feel like my first real boyfriend.

At least, until I get out of the cab and start handing out twenty dollar bills like it’s my job.

Chicago is expensive, yo.

And yes, I know it’s less expensive in the neighborhoods but while on these trips I occasionally catch up with friends and family, like I did on Friday night, most of the time I am traveling alone, for business, and I stay in a hotel with a great location to my conference but right in the middle of five restaurants all charging 52 dollars for a steak, side dishes not included.

I complained about this, just a tiny bit, to S. over the phone last night. “It would be different if I was here on vacation,” I said. “And logically I know that if I want a 52 dollar steak you would tell me to go ahead, indulge myself and pay for it out of my own pocket. But it’s the principle of the matter – that I only receive so much per day from work to eat and it basically covers orange juice, unless I want to trudge to a different neighborhood by myself.”

“Well, I’m loving Pittsburgh more and more,” said S. “I went to Rocky’s on Friday (Rocky is our drycleaner) just to drop off a load and they had our previous drop off ready from just two days ago! They asked me if I wanted it and bagged it up right away, even though we weren’t due to pick it up for several more days. That never would have happened in Detroit.”

And that is how Pittsburgh gets to you. Affordability, and little niceties.

S. and I have never really planned to live in one place, forever. The beginning of our relationship was marked by moves – first to North Carolina, then to West Virgina. Next came Pennsylvania, a four-year return to Michigan, and then back to Pittsburgh.  Now that we have E, our discussions about moving are much more calculated because we don’t want E growing up without roots or a hometown.  If we were to move again, it would either be out of necessity or at the very least, strategic in nature – a well-timed career move in conjunction with a school transition, or something like that.

That doesn’t mean I don’t dream of other places, though. I often dream of moving back to Northern Michigan so we could be closer to my parents, and the lakes I love. Other times I fantasize about moving to the deep south for a few years, an adventure S. and I often discussed in the past, to soak up an entirely different culture. My heart broke when left North Carolina and sometimes I contemplate a return there, while my more practical side salivates over the kind of jobs that exist in Washington D.C., and all of this is to say that even as a mother of one in her *almost* mid-thirties, I still retain a wild sense of possibility out there in the world and I am not entirely opposed to exploring it.

But the longer I live in Pittsburgh, the more I understand why people land here and never leave. It is by far the kindest city I have ever lived in or visited – the people here throw their arms and hearts open wide and welcome you into their city, their homes, their lives with incredible gusto.  The embodiment of what I consider southern hospitality is on display here, sometimes bordering on the nosey and every once in a while, on the very intrusive.  Admittedly it has taken S and I awhile to adjust to what the locals refer to as their natural “nebbyness,” born in the cold north as we were.

Perhaps equally important is Pittsburgh’s affordability. We own a house for significantly less than if we lived in any other major metropolitan area, and probably less than in a signficant portion of the U.S., as well.  While down the line schools will most certainly become as issue for us, right now we live near where we work and are able take advantage of walking and the bus system as well as driving.

I think sometimes S and I fear settling – that enjoying and finding comfort in Pittsburgh now could somehow lead to complacency down the road. We are both ambitious by nature, with deep-seated fears about not reaching our potential.  For the first couple of years we lived here (the second time around) we kept telling ourselves it was “okay for now, just not forever” but the longer we remain, with neighbors investing in the state of our garden and our friends starting families here – the more work we pour into our Victorian house and the more we watch our daughter thrive in the city she was born – the more often we say to one another, in the mornings over coffee as a weak sunlight streams through the dining room, or in the evenings over wine, relaxing after a long work day, that yes, we could see moving somewhere else, but if Pittsburgh is where we “end up,” in this house, on this street, forever – well, that would be incredibly lucky, too.

Affordability, and little niceties. They’ll get you every time.


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6 Responses to How Pittsburgh Sinks Its Teeth Into You

  1. Jennifer says:

    I can relate to this so much! We lived in Maryland, Philadelphia and New Jersey before coming to Pittsburgh. And I always kind of saw this as another stop on our journey. But we’ve grown so comfortable here that I think we’ve officially sprouted roots. And the hospitality here really does feel southern in some ways – it’s a really simple, welcoming, cozy thing that Pittsburgh offers.

  2. Anne Camille says:

    What a nice tribute to your adopted home town.

    We used to sneak into Chicago (e.g., without telling relatives) three times a year because we had series tickets to the Lyric Opera. I loved those long weekends, but the costs put a bite in your wallet. On an expense account, it seems so much worse. I commuted to NYC regularly a few years ago where the restaurant prices are much the same. I laughed at the $50 per diem. It was mostly gone before you even sat down for dinner. Still, I get that same feeling when in NYC that you get in Chicago.

  3. shoreacres says:

    I’m just laughing at all this talk of Pittsburgh being “southern”. We think of Pittsburgh as very nearly the land of mukluks and mushers! You’re very nearly in the Great Lakes! You’re – well, you’re in the NORTH!

    But if it’s a land of hospitality, kindness and tradition, then it surely does partake of some southern virtues, and I can see why you’d get hooked. When I came back to Texas in 1981, I wasn’t sure I’d be staying here, but now I can’t imagine living or dying anywhere else. We never know what the future will hold, but after thirty years here, it’s home in a way my birth state never was. Amazing, and wonderful.

  4. Kyle and I talk all the time about living somewhere else — I just called him this morning to ask what he thinks of Kentucky, since I have cousins who live out there and make it sound magical. But it’s also hard to imagine leaving, for exactly the reasons you listed (coupled with our families and roots being settled here). Pittsburgh seems to wrap you up in a giant, affordable, yinzer web of love, I suppose.

  5. Jennifer – yes, yes and yes. And having kids here really seems to have made a difference in my eyes, for whatever reason!
    Anne – we don’t even get a 50 dollar per diem! We are allotted 15 for breakfast, 35 for dinner and nothing for lunch. You can imagine how far that stretched in chicago…
    Shoreacres – oh, I don’t think I explained this correctly. It’s not that we think we are southern…it’s simply that to me, a consumnate northerner who lived in the south for a while, there is a certain feel here than reminds me of the south.
    Carrie – “wrap you up in a giant, affordable yinzer web of love” – yes. Just, yes!

  6. Emily Barton says:

    So funny how you can end up living somewhere forever (or at least for the more than 2 or 3 years you expected) where you never thought you would. I moved to Connecticut “until I could afford New York City” or “get up to Boston” and ended up living there 20 years before moving to PA, a state I never dreamed of living in. I will, though, come hell or high water, end up in my beloved state of Maine, permanently, one day (a dream I’ve had since first visiting the state way back in 1988).

    P.S. LOVE Chigaco, too! Not as expensive as New York or DC, but New York and DC have that old “proximity to the ocean” thing that most of us born and raised on the east coast prize, despite all midwesterners telling us about the Lakes.

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