Almost seven months in Pittsburgh now. I’m still new. It’s my city but it’s not my city.
As much as I have embraced this city and it me, I am not of this place. I still have something to earn, something to prove.
I don’t yet have yinz privileges.
Some of that’s about language. Pittsburghese. The dropped infinitives, the flat vowels, downbeat instead of an upbeat at the ends of questions, the n’ats and gum bands and yinz-guyses. Maybe I know how to get from the South Side to Bloomfield without a map, but those aren’t words I get to use yet — mockingly or otherwise. Even if I wanted to, I could never out-Greg & Donny the actual Greg & Donny.
Living in Philly a decade ago, I inadvertently started occasionally dropping my Rs in words like “yesterday.” I did — to my mother’s heartbreak — say “wudder” for “water.” What I never did pick up was the “yous” — the Philly version of yinz or y’all. Not out of a feeling of respect or otherness, it just never felt like it fit in my mouth.
I do find myself saying y’all. And I did spend more than three years in the South. That’s when it came back to me. I had a high school teacher in Oregon who came from northern Louisiana — he said y’all. A lot. And I started saying it to poke fun.
Said it enough that it kind of stuck for a while. And there I was, Oregon kid from Southern California, saying y’all for no reason except I liked to be an idiot and make fun. That went away until I’d been in Arkansas a couple years and then it just seemed expedient. Saying “you guys” or some such just took too damn long. Always a chance I was going to need those syllables later for something more important.
There are different ways of getting to know a place. I’ve read plenty about Pittsburgh. The H, the Hump, the flood in 1936, the Hill District and jazz, Carnegie and Frick, Andy Warhol, Gene Kelly, that — holy crap — the Pirates used to be good.
But that’s not the same as experience. I’ve walked around where Forbes Field used to be. Been down to the Block House to touch it for myself. Seen shows at the O’Reilly and the Benedum. Spent time in the Heinz History Center archives for research. Happened across little things that tell something about this city.
A friend even got me in to see the CMU steam tunnels. Which was beyond cool.
And I’ve done a lot of learning with my tongue. The traditional. The new. The people trying to make something special. Those who have taken the time to help me, show me around, teach me something, give of themselves.
They share their food, their beer, their insights, their lives. With me.
Before I moved here, I heard a lot from other transplants about how hard a city Pittsburgh was to get inside. That it could be difficult to win acceptance or find the right guide. Natives would look at me skeptically, they told me. Connecting with people would be hard.
Maybe I just found the right people faster than I should have. Luck. Fluke.
I don’t think so.
My brother came through Pittsburgh a little while ago to play a gig in Polish Hill. We got to talking about Portland. That place can be a true closed society. Hard to meet people. Hard to know who your friends are. Hard to break into whatever club everyone else is a part of, the insouciant but vicious coolness of already living there.
I told him about Pittsburgh. The people I’ve met here. Jennie and Rob and Mike and Kelly and Abby and A.J. and Derrick and Gwen and Andrea and Andrea (two people) and Beth and Emily and Kim and Claire and Arthur and (another) Mike and Perry and Chris and James and Mindy and Hart and Adam and Cara and Dana and Amy and Tim. Yeah, not every one of them would get on a plane to post bail for me in another state, but they and a bunch of others have made this feel like home for me. And in not that much time.
I like it here. Think I’ll stay a while. Might even pick up those yinz privileges somewhere along the way.