Sunday, February 27, 2011

Living on a Different Planet

I've always heard the saying, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do."  If you think about it, isn't that a slightly messed up philosophy?  Didn't the Romans do a lot of bad things, like persecute Jews and Christians, conquer and subjugate other races, and feed some of them to wild animals while they watched for sport?  I would rather not, thank you.  So, I prefer to tell myself:  Watch, Listen, then Blend in.  I like doing the first two, I'm a little more awkward at the last one, having always been a little more fond of being perceived as individualistic.  Ironically, other than the twang in my voice, which I'm sure is obvious to everyone but me, and the Texas license plate on my car, my style of dress is uniquely suited to my new home:  black and gold.  And now that I've slowed down on the incredibly stupid activities, such as locking myself out of this Fort Knox of a house and spilling latex paint on the carpet, I think I've stopped calling so much attention to myself both as the new guy in town, but as the idiot new guy in town.  Which is fine for now because I can stand back quietly and watch and learn.  Here's what I've learned so far:

First of all, I've always been more of a strong centralized federal government kind of a girl.  We're all the United States of America, after all, I would have reasoned.  Politically, I have not changed my stripes, but I've tempered my opinion on State's Rights just a tad in the last month because you realize exactly how dramatically different regions of this vast country are.  When I first got here, I literally felt almost as though I had landed on foreign soil.  Things operate very differently here.  Not just because of geography, which is a huge component, but culturally.  For starters, Pittsburgh tends to treat its citizens like unruly children who must be constrained in certain respects.  The brand spanking new grocery store where I shop does have a beer section, modest though it may be.  You have to pay for your beer in that section; you cannot leave the area with it, and you must have your license with you, whether you are 21 or 81 or they're not selling it to you.  And, those of us who shop there are lucky.  Most stores in the area don't even have that.  Don't try and look for the wine section, which I immediately did.  There isn't one.  If you want a bottle of wine, you have to go to one of the state stores where they sell wine and spirits.  Some spirits.  I am partial to Bacardi Anejo personally.  I will have to learn to live without it.  I cannot get it here.  Period.  I've asked; they can't even order it for me.  Fine.  I should give it up anyway.  But, if I'm away from my grocery store, and I want a beer for the game that night, I will have to wander away from the state store and find a place that sells beer specifically (or, beer and tobacco products).  The state liquor stores don't.  I've seen two in the general area where I live, one of which I likely will never find again.  They aren't just everywhere.  What is everywhere:  little neighborhood taverns.  I asked my lovely Philly friend, who is a Pittsburgh native, if this has stemmed the tide of alcoholism in the area.  Not surprisingly, she said it hasn't.  My guess:  it's just made drunk driving more prevalent because you have to drive all over the place to get your buzz.  All of this is mildly inconvenient, slightly annoying (because it seems condescending to the general populace), but highly amusing to me, having come from a state where the groceries stores often have such sophisticated wine sections, they take up a fifth of the store, and where there are little locally owned liquor stores in almost every strip center.

Then there is the local government.  I was already a little confused by it before I got here.  Living here has not clarified it really.  It's deeply layered.  I live in Shaler Township.  If I drive less than a mile one way, I'm in a different township.  A mile the other direction, and I'm in still another one.  They all operate slightly differently.  As one of my neighbors told me the other day after the five inches of snow descended on the area, those differences can be problematic.  He was right outside of Shaler in one of those little neighborhood taverns, having a couple of beers with some friends after work.  By the time they parted company to drive the couple of miles home, the roads were nearly impassable.  He told me fire trucks were literally ramming cars to try and get them off the roads to keep them passable for emergency vehicles.  He had to find a way around some of the steeper hills in our area, he simply could not traverse up them with the road conditions being what they were.  Once he finally hit our little township, he was home free however.  Our roads had been plowed and salted.  Shaler it seems does truly keep snow removal very seriously.  I am very lucky to have just completely by accident landed here in that case, scared as I am to drive in any type of adverse weather conditions as it is.   Of course, now I more fully understand the wild fluctuations in tax rates I saw when I was house hunting.  I need a score card to keep track of all the taxable entities I'll contribute into.  And, my not-so-distant neighbors in Etna, just down the road, probably have the same problem, just different payees on the multiple checks they write every year.  Some townships, I'm gathering, are pretty well funded.  Others scrape by.  The city of Pittsburgh proper, I've been told more than once, is nearly bankrupt, although I'm repeating gossip; I have yet to delve into any of the local politics first hand.  Yet, as my neighbor pointed out, while all these multiple entities is highly inconsistent and inefficient, it is unlikely to change, everything and everyone here is pretty deeply entrenched.

Which I had already gathered.  As I walk Cheyenne around, I not only marvel at the amazing architecture of some of the houses just in my little area, but I make observations about the people who live in them.  For one thing, they seem to stay put.  There is the house on the next road over that Greg actually looked at back in the summer that is still for sale, but other than that, I rarely see a for sale sign in my general vicinity.  Many of the residents are older.  Which helps my midlife crisis no end.  I sense some of the them, like the widow next door and the nosy man across the street, moved in when the houses were new, raised their families here and are rooted in until they absolutely, positively cannot live independently any longer.  There are younger families here as well of course, but even they seem pretty content not to disturb the lay of the land.  What I mean by that is, with a few exceptions where it looks as though new homes have been built on these old lots, the homes here are well maintained, but with an eye to keeping the integrity of the original style of architecture.  My little house included.  The owners here installed new windows, probably to put it on the market, but were careful to keep to the original style.  Most of the light fixtures in my house are original to the home.  Those that aren't meld in nicely.  Modern improvements, like central a/c condensers, are tucked away out of street view discreetly.  Pittsburgh has got to be a movie-maker's dream.  The history of the place is incredible.  Depending upon what street I walk on, I can almost believe I'm back in the 1920's, the 1950's with the little post war houses, of which mine is one, or the early 60's.  Even the couple of homes I've seen that appear to have been re-built are in keeping with the general architectural style of the other houses on the block.  And my little post-war boxy red brick house, which is most of what my street seems to be, keeps company with some gorgeous turn-of-the-century estates only a block or two away.  I was told yesterday that's not atypical.  There is often a show street in a neighborhood and more modest homes will occupy the streets just back from it.  No one seems to mind this.  It's the way it is here.  Just take pride in what you've got because it reflects who you are.  There are some homeowner's associations in the state, but when I mentioned what I did to my neighbor, he shook his head as though he had never heard of it.  There are no covenants, conditions and restrictions here - some building guidelines that Shaler enforces - but they aren't really needed.  People police themselves here.  Granted, on my way to the major commercial street where I do most of my shopping, I pass by a hideously painted Dodger Blue house that I'm very glad I don't live next to, but by and large I think the liquor authorities of the state should look at how adult homeowners act in terms of their home maintenance and maybe realize they can handle it if they were allowed to buy adult beverages a little more conveniently.

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