Thursday, January 12, 2012


On Tuesday, January 3, 2012, all hell broke loose. The Washington Post published an article in their "Lifestyle" section that touched upon some very fine nerves:

Portlandia, Your 15 Minutes Are Up. Long Live Pittsburgh

Oh. No. It finally happened. The rest of the world is discovering what we already knew: Pittsburgh is awesome. Of course, no one really wants to be deemed "in vogue," especially here where we tend to naturally stray from the "in vogue" things in life.

I've been espousing the greatness of Pittsburgh for years. My friends in Boston were probably partially happy to see me pack up my stuff and move back, just so they'd stop hearing about "everything better Pittsburgh" all the time. So it's been very difficult for me to read this article or see Pittsburgh on some sort of "in" list and not be extremely excited. It took most of my willpower this morning to not send this link out to a long list of people who I've been getting strange looks from for years because of my love of this city.

I think the only way I can possibly respond to this article is to ask my friend Pam a few questions about this whole Portland/Pittsburgh thing. I met Pam at Pitt when we both worked at WPTS. She lives in Portland now, but she has Pittsburgh in her heart. Here's her take:

Pam and friends on Pam's most recent visit to Pittsburgh (she has on glasses!)

First things first: Why on earth did you leave Pittsburgh?
I ask myself this all the time. There's a lot of reasons, mostly psychological. You may remember I left Pittsburgh six months after living through that house fire at my place in Wilkinsburg. I think, mentally, I felt like I needed to get away for awhile after all of that, so as soon as I graduated from law school, I moved to Philadelphia for a year and then to Portland. I moved to Philadelphia because it was still a bit familiar (I grew up in Harrisburg, which is actually a good bit closer to Philly than to the 'burgh) and because a good friend was moving there and needed a roommate. Philly and I never really clicked. But my best friend (BFFs since age 13) had moved to Portland about three years earlier for grad school and I always loved it when I visited,so as soon as my lease was up in Philly, I headed West. Plus I had to go see about a girl who lived way out there in Orygun.

Now, if you're not a native of Pittsburgh, how did you end up living there?
The summer before my senior year in high school I was trying to figure out the whole college thing. I did real well in high school (mega nerd) and on the SATs and all that jazz, so I was looking at a lot of schools. My mom had a conference she was heading in Pittsburgh (at the hotel in Station Square) and so my aforementioned BFF and I went along. We had nothing to do during the days so my mom encouraged us to go check out Pitt. I really knew absolutely nothing about Pitt, but I totally fell in love with it on the cheesy university tour. The buildings, the people...mostly the people. Everyone was so friendly. That was my first encounter with Scotty the Hot Dog Guy...and of course he knew what County I was from (York, for the record). I went home and applied. Pitt gave me a big scholarship and a year later I moved to town. Spent seven awesome years there and I've never had so much fun or loved people or places or specific nights so much. Little known fact, my law school entrance essay was about how much Pittsburgh means to me and how I didn't want to go to law school anywhere else. [ed. note: When I read this about Pam's essay, I smiled so hard.]

Do you ever actually feel the effects of the Portland "hype" where you live?
Eh, I think a lot of the hype about Portland is deserved, i.e. this city does a lot of things right (a lot of these related to how progressive it is, which is personally very important to me), but I think the hype has snowballed a little out of control and this is definitely a city that pats itself on the back a lot. I think that Portland loves itself a bit too much and Pittsburgh loves itself too little. Both cities are completely awesome and both should know that about themselves. Portland may just know that a little too much.

How accurately do you think Portland is being portrayed through the "hype"? Is what's being said close to what it's like to live there?
I guess this question could be restated "Is living in Portland like living in Portlandia?" The answer to that question is "yes and no." There are a few Portland-specific things to Portlandia, but in general I think it's much more a critique on an entire generation of humans. A generation that you and I are apart of that could tongue-in-cheek be referred to as "The First World Problems Generation." Some of the Portlandia stuff is definitely Portland-specific. Don't get me wrong...I didn't play Adult Hide and Seek but I definitley played Adult Kickball in a league called Recesstime Sports. Drinking beer while playing kickball with a bunch of drunk folks is wicked fun. And the bike skit...those dudes are a dime a dozen in Portland. But a lot of Portlandia is a commentary on our generation as a whole and could just as well have been set in San Franciscia or New Yorkia or Pittsburghia. [ed. note: I'd never seen an episode of Portlandia before reading Pam's answer. So, I felt it would be responsible of me to do some research. Holy. Crap. FUNNY. STUFF. "Portland is a city where young people go to retire." This music video that opens the pilot episode hit waaaaay too close to home at parts...]

What do people in Portland think of Pittsburgh?
I think all over there are folks who, when you say "Pittsburgh is awesome" and all they know of Pittsburgh is steel, they are like "Really?" But on the whole, I think Portlanders know and admire Pittsburgh. The word is out nationwide about Pittsburgh. I will definitely say that Portlanders don't make fun of Pittsburgh the way Pittsburghers make fun of Portland. :( I like Pittsburgh more than I like Portland...I 100% do, but there is a lot of good stuff about Portland and maybe one of those good things is that Portland isn't down on other places. I feel like since that whole "Portland Is Out, Pittsburgh Is In" article came out, I just keep seeing tweets and Facebook posts from Pittsburgh folks gloating about that. I don't really get the negativity. It's not zero sum...for one place to be awesome, another one doesn't have to be named non-awesome.

Name three things that Portland has that Pittsburgh doesn't, but you'd love to see pop up.
1. Professional soccer and basketball teams.
2. Really good breweries on every corner (and beer/wine in convenience stores).
3. Food carts galore.
Those are things that are maybe doable down the line in Pittsburgh. There are some natural beauty things that Portland has going on that Pittsburgh can't just acquire. Hard to grow a Mt. Hood in your backyard...

Name three lessons a place like Portland could learn from a place like Pittsburgh.
1. Sports rule. Even the scary ones where people run into each other.
2. Sometimes new isn't better.
3. Not to take itself so seriously.

I love Pittsburgh and when some stars align, yinz'll see me unloading my U-Haul. Clear out the snow and put up the lawn chairs now.


  1. This was lovely, though the second answer is missing.

    I totally agree with Pamo. Corey and I were discussing the article last week. The tone of that piece is so damn frustrating. Using derision and snark to comment on something your criticizing as derisive and snarky doesn't sit well with me. And it pains me to think that people left that article thinking "Damn, Pittsburghers have a fucking attitude."

    If we eliminated Pittsburgh from the running, Portland would probably be my first choice of places to live.

  2. Yeah, I'm not sure whats going on with that second question. I will check it out when I get home!

    The Washington Post article was almost difficult to decipher through the snark. Portland wouldn't ve in my top 5, put probably top 10.

  3. Truthfully, the only other places that have immediate appeal for me right now are Austin, Chicago and possibly Iowa City (hard to distinguish my attachment to the locale and the nostalgia). But you are a much more seasoned traveler than I!

  4. Read this for my take on cities where I'd live if PGH burned down: