Sunday, June 10, 2012


You know, Pittsburgh is like every other city in the world in at least one respect.  There are good things about it and there are bad things.  If you like living somewhere, you focus on the good things, if you don't, then you see what's ugly about it.  I remember when I was in Junior High, our social studies teacher had us read these two stories about living in New York City.  You probably know where I'm going with this already:  the first one we read focused on a poor African American family - I can't remember what borough they lived in any more, but I think it was the Bronx - and their struggles to live safely in the projects, get the food and clothing they need, and so on.  They wrote of the grey oppression of the vast concrete jungle of the city that for all intents and purposes holds them prisoners.  Next story of course is about a wealthy white couple in a glittering high rise apartment on Central Park West who love the pace and wealth of opportunity that is open before them.  The plays, concerts, museums, and restaurants the city offers is boundless and life is a constant adventure and cornucopia of new experience.  The moral of the stories naturally was about economic diversity, particularly among racial groups in America.  You'd like to think those stories have lost relevance umpteen years later, but of course they haven't.  The same two very different versions of living a day in any large city can still be told.  However, like a lot of morality tales I was told growing up, I remember it for a different reason.  I remember it because I was so struck by two families looking at essentially the same thing (not really appreciating the difference in geography between the Bronx and Manhattan at the time) and taking away such different perceptions of it.

And so it is that I think about this as I am in my 17th month here.  I've reached a state where I'm sort of oddly familiar, yet still struck by the city.  I was driving toward town the other day on Route 28, and as I rounded the bend to where the downtown skyline comes into view it first hit me.  I realized that it's no longer this shock to the system of "Oh, that's Pittsburgh!" like I'm half surprised it actually exists and totally surprised that I'm actually here.  It has a familiar feel to it that doesn't stop me from thinking, "Wow, I really live here," followed closely by, "Oh, shit, what exit am I supposed to take again?!" I'm gradually beginning to get the sense of comfort of someplace where I belong.  Things seem familiar, comfortable even in a way I'm not sure I ever got in Austin because I can look out at the yard and see maples and fur trees like the ones I grew up with, and there are rolling hills in the background, so it couples this new and unique experience with the nostalgia I have for my old home.

This is my home now though and by extension, the citizens who I share it with are therefore my people.  I tend to cut them some slack in ways that I confess surprises even me sometimes.  Because they are like everybody else all over the world:  a hodge-podge of personalities.  The vast majority of people in the world are neither saints nor extreme sinners, no matter where they live and as such they are capable of kindness, cruelty and gross stupidity in almost equal measures.  When I encounter them acting in the latter these days, I tend to shrug it off or excuse it.  I've noticed that Greg struggles with that more, whereas for most of our lives, it has been the opposite.  He was patient, forgiving and in general sweet natured with everyone, while I was quick tempered, judgmental and undoubtedly overly hard to please.  The biggest arena I see the dichotomy now is when we're out driving around.  Greg has a litany of things Pittsburgh drivers do that make him crazy, and he'll tell you about them as he weaves wildly in and out of traffic with no turn signal and rarely a glance to either side.  I honestly cannot tell you if he has adopted the habits of these Pittsburghian drivers without realizing it or if he was always sort of a jackass driver who now scares the snot out of me because he's driving on winding, sloping roads that are always under construction, but he seems happily oblivious to the fact that he is griping about people who are doing the exact same thing he is.

Sometimes I want to put a sign on him that says, "Be good to me, I'm from Texas." because he's definitely more sensitive to bad service now, and we've definitely been victims to it.  Slow food service, bad contractors, people who are rude or simply so self involved they are oblivious.  I'll tend to wave it all away, whereas he is not so quick to forgive and forget.  The exception to the rule seems to be our neighbors, the Mikes.  I still bristle at Mrs. Mike who just the other day finally acknowledged my existence in the most perfunctory way, and only because she was right up against my fence line, technically on my property digging a drainage trench and really couldn't ignore me.  He's much more sanguine with them and actually goes out of his way to force them to converse with him.  But, for the most part, our roles and personalities have reversed a little, and I realize it's because we're looking at the exact same thing and seeing it very differently.  It's not quite like the divide between the family in the Bronx and rich Manhattanites, but the city has some work to do to win my husband completely over.  I think I'll know it has happened when he stops referring to "Pittsburgh drivers" and just cusses them out as individuals.  If he uses the term "Jag-off" when he does it, I'll consider him totally acclimated.

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