I was born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA. Allegheny County, Western Pennsylvania. Point Breeze, East End. Allegheny Plateau. Not quite East Coast, not quite Mid West. We practically have our own language and to this day my brother and I can have an entire conversation in Pittsburgh-related references to old mayors and WDVE morning show bits and city neighborhoods and places and memories that no one around us can understand if they too weren’t born and raised there. I left the city because while I loved it with all my heart I was afraid that if I didn’t leave right away that I never would and I wanted to see something different, even if that was another working class town just a single state away.
I loved that I could live in a city but at the same time could walk down the street and be in the woods of the 500 acre Frick Park - nature more easily accessed than most of my suburban friends. All of high school was spent running in the parks where my dad would quiz me on the different types of oak trees and the difference between a Red Tailed and Red Shouldered hawk. When I was old enough to drive, I’d spend late nights driving across the bridges just to see where I would end up and watch the lights of the city fade and then come back into view in my mirrors. I’d drive up to Mt Washington where you could see all three rivers come together at the Point, the rest of the city spreading backwards from the axis. Instead of hanging out at bars, I stayed at the 61C coffee shop until it closed at 11pm writing and watching the world go by over cups of regular with cream and sugar and a piece of biscotti.
After I left the city, it became my favorite place to fly into because of all the green opening up under the wings of the plane - the hills and valleys making so much land undevelopable (tho we try anyway and have streets of only steps to prove it). It’s one of the grayest places in the country, but there’s something comforting to me in that grey and it makes the sunny days all the more cherished because of their rarity. When you refer to the Strip in Pittsburgh, it has nothing to do with naked girls and is all about the neighborhood along the Allegheny River where the barges used to empty their food related goods to be sold. The only place I know of where they have a cheesemonger and traditional Greek and Italian and Mexican and Chinese along with Prestogeorge’s coffee and tea and all the Steelers, Penguins and Pirates merchandise you can want.
I love that each neighborhood has a story and I have something new to learn every time I come home. I love that no matter where I’ve been or where I go, it will always feel like home. It has been imprinted on my soul, and I like to think that I’ve left little pieces of mine scattered around the city, like stardust or breadcrumbs, waiting for me to run back into one day, or for someone else to pick up along the way, and when they get that feeling of “just right” they will know that they have connected with that place on a deeper level, that they have met another soul there without ever even knowing who it was.