I am a lifetime Pittsburgher, and yet for most of my life, I have felt foreign here.
See, I was born in Pittsburgh, and have since mostly lived here. My mother’s family is from this area, her father’s father ran the Northside newspaper just as it was merged into the Post-Gazette. This great-grandfather of mine was also instrumental in raising the funds for building the West End bridge. My mother’s father and his brothers remained in the Greater Pittsburgh area still running various newspapers and magazines. Despite this, I did not feel like I really belonged in Pittsburgh until very recently.
My first feeling of being a non-native was that I am well traveled. Growing up, I was under the impression that most “true” Pittsburghers almost never left the city, or if they did it was for a weekend trip to Erie or, if they’re very daring, to Washington, D.C. Contrasting to this, my father was a professor of Geology/Geophysics at the University of Pittsburgh, so we spent almost every summer on the road somewhere in the middle of nowhere — prime research area for a Geologist — excepting the summers we spent in Japan and Europe, and the six months we spent living in New England while he was on sabbatical. As an adult, I have moved to other cities only to return to Pittsburgh after a couple of years each, and I’ve continued to travel as frequently and as far as possible.
Another reason I felt like a natural born foreigner here is that I do not have a very large family in the area. It seemed to me that most natives had extremely large local families who gathered semi-annually for any occasion. As stated earlier, my mother’s family originated here, but her family have been moving to other parts of the country; those who have remained here have not had many children. My father was born to immigrants, and was raised in NYC and Baltimore; his family is very small and has no roots in this city.
In 2001, I was living in San Francisco and was a victim of the “Dot Bomb” — laid off with a huge rent on my budget and no job prospects there. I decided to move back to Pittsburgh where I had a job waiting, things were cheaper, and I could finally finish my degree. When I finished my degree in 2005, I fully intended to find a job in another city again; but fate had me find a job here with CMU. It has been since then that I have finally come around to feeling like a true local, and I have learned to love this city.
I cannot truly explain why in the past three years I have come around. I know part of this is that I have found a wonderful partner, who is also a native Pittsburgher who had been previously isolated from the city. Together we have been exploring everything we can find in this city; not only the old traditional “todos” like the Carnegie Museum, Mt. Washington and the Incline, or Phipps Conservatory, but also many of the newer happenings like Quantum Theater, Pittsburgh Beer Society, or going to the Mattress Factory’s latest new exhibit opening. We have also been trying as many as the new local restaurants as we can find, most of which have very tasty cuisine. These days we usually have to choose between the available options for what we want to do, there is so much going on.
Every one of the places we go, we continue to find people who are friendly and want to make new friends. It is this friendliness that I have always found very unique to Pittsburgh; it is not that other places aren’t friendly, but people in Pittsburgh are actually excited to meet new people. One day I realized that I appreciate this attitude very much, because I have been doing it myself everywhere I go, but only here in Pittsburgh do people really respond in kind.
A few months ago I bought a house in the Southside Flats, and we have decorated it primarily with historical pictures and maps of Pittsburgh. My brother also moved back to Pittsburgh recently with his native Pittsburgh wife, and their son is having his first birthday this week inviting in their now combined family. Thusly, my local family has grown tremendously, and we are gathering semi-annually for any excuse.
I finally consider myself truly native, and am happy to think that I will remain in Pittsburgh.