Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Becoming an Islander

“I just want to know one thing – when do I get to become an islander?” Ellen Brody
“Ellen, never, never!  You’re not born here, you’re not an islander, that’s it,” Mrs. Taft
From Jaws

(SPOILER ALERT:  This has nothing whatsoever to do with the hockey team bearing that name.)

So, a Montana girl moves to Texas, spends three decades there, ages past the point of being deemed "girl" and finally settles into the City of Champions (hey, Ryan Secrest called it that before I did).  How's that acclimation going, you ask?

I figured that it was going pretty well, all things considered.  I already had the right wardrobe.  I already had the right sports affiliations.  I knew people who knew people here.  And most importantly, I chose it, so I wanted this for myself.  Whom you really want to ask is my poor husband, brought here unsuspecting of us Yankees and our ways.  Yet, as you know if you've followed along as I ventured out and about over the last twelve months, it wasn't quite as seamless as one might think.

There's the little stuff that still seems awkward:  I drink a pop about half the time, the rest of the time, it's a soda.  They are the same thing, just in case anyone is wondering.  No matter what I call it, someone is going to look at me funny.  I still have no idea where half of the little boroughs and townships that populate a state like this one are, so when I meet someone and they tell me they are from - say - Fairywood or Banksville, I can only stare somewhat blankly and confess I have no idea where that is.  There are over 90 "districts" in the city.  That is not counting areas like mine, which still boggles the mind, since I live in the Shaler Area and Glenshaw both, and it was my husband who hipped me to the fact that Glenshaw is the larger entity, the alpha if you will.  I thought all along is was Shaler, since it is an "area".  I'm not sure he's right actually because I pay taxes to Shaler, not Glenshaw, but I still marvel at the layers of bureaucracy around here.  That actually means I'm fitting right in, so do the locals.  But, it all seems to work in the end, the trash gets picked up, I get water when I turn on the faucet, and my streets are plowed on the rare occasion there is snow (this year anyway), so I do not lose sleep over it.

If you tell me you are from Houston, I will immediately assume you mean Texas, not the tiny little town south of here unless you are wearing a Steeler jersey when you say it.  But, if you say you are from California, I will probably judge which one you are talking about based on your tan.  If you are pale like me, I'll go with the little college town where my father went to school.  Otherwise, I may assume it's the other place west of here.  I still think 84 is the weirdest name for a town ever and am waiting for someone to tell me exactly how that came to be, and how, if you live there, do you write out your address?

I love potato pancakes and pierogis, but every once in a while I just want a cheese enchilada and a Corona with a lime.

In short, I am not quite firmly planted on northern soil yet.  This was confirmed recently when I had to travel twice back down south in rapid succession.  The second trip was to an area I was very familiar with, and I rented a car and drove myself around to save my co-workers the hassle of playing taxi service.  The sensation was extremely odd.  I knew the streets I was on, but in the year or so since I had been on them, things had changed.  Businesses closed, new ones taking their place.  New strip malls springing up along highways I had driven many times before, changing the landscape that had been cemented in my memory.  Life had moved along in Texas without me it seemed.  But, the flat, straight roads I traveled still felt more comfortable to drive on than the winding, confusing morass of roadway I deal with back "home" in PA.  The sensation of being both on familiar turf coupled with the inevitable changes was disorienting.  All I can for sure is that as I listened to the Pens game on the radio stream on my computer that night in my hotel, I was ready to get back.  I have many friends, people I love dearly, in Texas, but there are ghosts there for me.  I can't look at Reliant Stadium without thinking of taking Kelsey there for a Steeler game.  That's just one of a million triggers littered all over the state laying in wait to trip me up there.  I left Texas for a reason.  That was validated in no time flat in a brief time back.

I was curious therefore to see what I felt when I landed back in Pittsburgh.  Hard to say for sure, as Texas left me with a parting gift of food poisoning - or maybe I caught a little bug from the Giant Petri Dish in the Sky, who knows - so, stuck in a cramped window seat with a fever and an uncooperative stomach for two-plus hours, hoping I didn't make a fool of myself and get really sick on the same plane that Big Ben Roethlisberger occupied (fortunately well away from me up in first class), my impressions were tainted.  I can tell you this:  dragging a huge suitcase from the terminal to my parking space is a lot farther in Pittsburgh than in Austin.  But, as I drove the now familiar route home from the airport, I didn't have to think where I was going, and everything looked comfortably just as I had left it a few days before.  There was the Ikea looming up on my left.  There is the traffic jam as I approach the Ft. Pitt tunnel, there is the skyline exploding into my view as I leave the tunnel, there is Heinz Field and PNC Park off to my left, there is the compact downtown with Point State Park off to my right.  There was my little house and four dogs really, really glad to see me when I walked in.  I had spent my time away thinking I'm really a Man Without a Country right now, not really at home here in the 'Burgh yet, but clearly no longer belonging to the South.  Yet, as I sit here with my dogs at my feet, looking at the familiar landscape outside my window, I am happy to be here.  I may not have learned all there is to know about this strangely complex place, but that's half the fun.  So, Texas, yinz can keep your cheese enchiladas and Corona with lime, I've got everything I need right here.

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