Monday, January 23, 2006

AFC Championship - The story of my two cities

I wrote the following essay over the weekend. The muse struck a little too late to get my reflections into the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but I thought I'd post them here:

Last week I watched the local news with interest as reporters from both Pittsburgh and Denver compared the merits, not only of the Broncos and the Steelers, but also of the cities of Denver and Pittsburgh. Why did that interest me? Because I'm a Denver native who has lived for the last six and half years in Pittsburgh.

A columnist from the Rocky Mountain News visiting here from Denver last week made the mistake of calling Pittsburgh a "butt-ugly town." He backed off his crude statement later in the week, but the sentiment behind it rankled me.

I have often thought about the differences between Denver and Pittsburgh. Colorado's beauty is dramatic—the skies are intensely blue, the sunsets are nearly always spectacularly red and pink and orange, and the mountains provide a gorgeous backdrop to the trendy and growing Denver metro area. My home state is full of variety too—the wide open plains, the bold granite peaks, the Aspen trees quaking on the hillsides. The Great Sand Dunes and Mesa Verde National Park are in the southwest section of the state. Further north, Rocky Mountain National Park (one of my favorite places on earth) bursts with natural beauty—streams, breathtaking vistas, tons of wildlife: elk, moose, beavers. There are great college towns like Boulder and other cities nestled up against the peaks, like Colorado Springs. Colorado is nothing if it's not dramatic and full of variety.

Pennsylvania's beauty is more subtle. Here I've discovered the incredible variety of trees (hence the name "Pennsylvania"—Penn's woods), the delicate ferns that grow on the forest floor, the wild turkeys that roam through neighborhoods. In South Park, I discovered that the sassafras tree bears leaves in three distinct shapes. I saw firsthand the age-old process of maple tapping at Round Hill Farm.

I also love that Pittsburgh's neighborhoods retain their old world charm. Pittsburgh is full of fabulous restaurants tucked away in neighborhoods that have been serving the same tried and true recipes for who knows how long--places like Max's Allegheny Tavern on the North Side, and unique spots like Primanti's on one end of the spectrum and the Grand Concourse on the other.

I've always loved (as much as my cars haven't) the brick-lined streets in our neighborhoods, like the gorgeous Hornaday Road in Carrick. When you step on a brick street, you know that it's been here longer than a decade. And it makes you wonder what life was like 50, 100 or more years before.

Other charms: the Strip District, with its specialty food shops—the train that runs through Wholey's, the delicious aroma of fresh-ground coffee at Presto George's. The lovely Heinz Hall with our jewel of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Some neighborhoods, like the area around Zion Lutheran Church in Lawrenceville seem like they've been pulled out of old Europe, with an American flair. These are things a casual observer who's in the city for a three-day stint isn't necessarily going to appreciate. But I know Pittsburghers do.

And many Pittsburgh homes retain their uniqueness with archways, stained glass, and interesting nooks and crannies in even modest homes. Every house is different, unlike many cookie-cutter newer suburbs in places like Denver.

A non-charming aspect of this "old-worldliness" is the fact that streets can change names numerous times within the span of just a few miles. This can make navigating the city tough-going. I must admit that my first couple of years here were difficult as far as getting around. I learned the hard way that I should never leave home without 1) a map, 2) detailed directions, and 3) a cell phone.

Yet, when I have gotten lost, I find people who really try to be helpful (they say: "you know where that old King's restaurant used to be?"—not exactly a good landmark for a newcomer) and always-friendly drivers—drivers who go out of their way to outdo each other in being friendly.

Every place is unique in its history. Colorado is known for its lively characters—people like Molly Brown of the Titanic or Doc Holiday who died in the mountains near Glenwood Springs. Colorado's gold rush is historic and many ghost towns that were built and died almost overnight attest to this part of Colorado's history. The homesteaders on the prairies of Colorado must have been hardy souls. The ancient Anazasi people scraped a city out of the sandstone in Mesa Verde in southwest Colorado.

Pennsylvania's history holds its own charms, especially its importance in American history. WQED just produced a television special on the French and Indian War and Pennsylvania's role in that "war that made America." And "George Washington slept here" is a sign that Pennsylvanians could boast. Within our borders is the Liberty Bell, that wonderful symbol of American freedom.

So, you ask: who did you root for in yesterday's game? Well, put it this way: I almost bought a black and gold shirt for myself today. (And I was glad the Steelers won!)


  1. Good Post!

  2. Go Steelers! One for the thumb...

    The wheels on the Bus go 'round and 'round and 'round...

    Pittsburgh is a great city. Loved this post.