Friday, December 17, 2010

Part the 3rd: Pittsburgh (PGH)

As for this interesting city, The City of Bridges, the City of Champions, a city full of yinzers, I am glad I am here. From living in Spokane, I always wanted to try out a big city. Just to see what it is like. Granted, Pittsburgh is more like a giant collection of neighborhoods, and no one actually lives downtown (or dahntahn if you are from here…), I still have enjoyed the urban atmosphere. I love that I can walk wherever or take the bus. I love people watching here, it is great! There is such a diverse population. I am growing accustomed to the local fare (even though I am stoked about getting some decent Mexican, thank goodness I am flying to San Diego!). I am even figuring out how to get around in my car without my trusty GPS. This city has a lot of history (like most do…), and a very diverse history.

But the interesting thing to me is how passionate people are about their city. “Luv ya Black and Gold” is plastered everywhere, On game day, grocery stores are ghost towns. And you may think: “Yeah, but that is just people being excited about their team…” Nope. The Stillers, the Bucks and the Pens are more than just sports teams to this city, they are part of the Pittsburgh identity. To wear a Steelers shirt is to support Pittsburgh, and vice versa. This passion goes down to the very neighborhood you live in. Being around Jeff (who is not from Pittsburgh, but embraces the love for the city) and Gwyn (who does bleed Black and Gold) I have come to appreciate this. Most recently they were discussing how the location of the bar where you celebrate your birthday says a lot about what you think of yourself. It was a long conversation, but some of the highlights include: If you are in a bar in the strip it means that you are a Pittsburgh Lifer, your dad, and most likely your grandpa sat at the very same bar on their 22nd birthday. If you are in Shadyside, you are just trying to relive your college days. If you are on the south side you are trying to be cool and hip… and for Jeff young. If you are partying in Oakland, there is something wrong with you.  I have heard people say: “No I couldn’t live there, I would not fit in. I am more of a Highland park, or Squirrel Hill (pronounced Skerrl, light k sound instead of q, and drop the ‘el’ sound)  person.” Not that I have beaten this point to death, there are shirts for specific neighborhoods. They are great!

On the topic of Pittsburghese: I don’t know if I have gone in to depth about this. I know my mother commented on it in their post on my parents visit. List some places, Pittsburgh has a local vernacular and dialect. This very strongly relates to the local identity of the city, this would be were the term Yinzer comes from. Locals, even those who don’t use the language, still identify with it. Generally speaking, the “educated middle class” and up stay away from using it, like most accents they think it is associated with being uneducated. I unfortunately don’t really hang out around Pittsburghers as I go to an international school. The slight glimpses in to this language have been highly amusing: most notably Luke, who intentionally slips in to (his version) of the accent for amusement, and Catlin, who as a gift to Gwyn for her birthday, read a children’s book in Pittsburgese. “The” is never fully pronounced, it is more of “da.” Down is pronounced dahn, so Downtown is dahntahn. Yes, yinz (which is used a lot) is you all. Reddy or Redd up, is to clean something. Gum band is a rubber band; this is the first encounter I had with the different words. I cooked some frozen peas, and asked Larry if there were any rubber bands. He said: “There is some Gummies in that drawer.” I had no idea what he was talking about. Slippy is when it is slippery. The list goes on and on. As stereotypical as it is, think of a old steel worker. Mix that with George from “Of mice and Men” and you get the general feeling of the accent. I cannot really do it any justice, but it is quite the thing.

If you have been reading this blog, you know about my fascination with the little pockets of joy, also known as Pierogies. No they are not originally from Pittsburgh, they are a Polish creation. But given that one of the neighborhoods in town is called Polish Hill, there is a large population of them here. Kilbase (I don’t know if this is different than Kilbasa) and Pierogies are very common. As an analogy, Pierogies are to Pittsburgh like Cheese steaks are to Philadelphia. I still have yet to go to a church and by some, apparently this is the true way to get them. I really have only had the ones I have made (which I have been told by a Polish descendent were good) and the ones at the Church Brew Works (which I was also told were rather authentic). I will continue to perfect the art, as well as infusing some alternate fillings… potatoes and onion is just so boring when you could have pieracos, or tacogies (I don’t remember how my dad said it…). Another local ‘thing’ is French fries. They put them on the strangest things. Yes, you have heard about them on the famous Primanti’s Brothers sandwiches (or samich here), but it extends to pizza (both on the pizza, and as a side), the Pittsburgh salad (which is more or less a chef salad with fries), and yep pierogies! I overheard some foreign students on the bus discussing how Pittsburgh has a lot of comfort food, lots of greasy, fatty, glorious comfort food. People here are big on Hot Dogs, Hoagies, meat and potatoes, and fries. I wouldn’t say I have had anything that I have not had before, but I have certainly enjoyed this interesting take on standards; or, been in an establishment like the O shop that is a rather successful business based solely on selling Hot Dogs.

And one last note about PGH: Bridges and Tunnels. According to the locals, if it is over a bridge, or you have to go through a tunnel, whatever is there is too far. Seeing as the majority of the city is packed right between the Monongahela and Allegheny (yes Gramps, the confluence) rivers, there are a lot of bridges. Back in the old days, the main part of the city housed the factories and mills, and all of the people lived on the hills on the opposing sides of the river. This construct still stands, but the factories have been replaced by large office buildings. The people still live on the hills surrounding the main part of the city. The bridges were built, and still function to get people from one side (the housing) to the other (the jobs). In addition to this, the city’s expansion seems to not care about the natural binderies like valleys, thus even more bridges are spanning the great valleys that are all over the land mass. This is where the city gets one of its names, The City of Bridges. I partially know why people don’t like the bridges… getting to them can be a bear. The city planners (or more like the city modifiers here…) had a heck of a job, and they did the best they could. The roads here are super confusing, and rarely make logical sense. The use of 6 to 8 road intersections is common, and they are rarely ever 90 degree intersections. I argue that as a result, people are rather generous drivers. They don’t follow most traffic rules, but they generally are fair and nice drivers. In situations where you have merging traffic, there is a strict, every-other flow. Drivers are rather aware of driving situations, and tend to force traffic so that it flows better. A perfect example being the “Pittsburgh left:” at a controlled intersection, if the first car is turning left (unprotected) and they are paying attention, they will be given the right of way. Sometimes this extends for 2 cars, so two left turning cars take the left, in front of a line of straight moving traffic. But, if you stop and think about it, traffic ends up flowing better, for the line of cars to wait for one single car to turn, it allows all of the cars behind it to pass though. If not they would have to wait for an entire cycle to go. Amazing! I just need to pay attention to not do that in Spokane!

(on a side note, there is a girl who is falling asleep, and doing the whole nodding off thing… but she is not just leaning forward a little, but violently coming close to hitting her head on the seat in front of her. It looks like she is head banging to a really slow song.)

Again, I will restate: I have enjoyed living in this town so far. It is a very livable place (look it up! It is one of the most livable!). I love the uniqueness and quirkiness of some of their customs. It is no Spokane, but I could live here for a while.

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