I'm sure my love for this city nestled in the Appalachian hills may seen strange. Compared to the young cities of the South and West, Pittsburgh looks cramped and ramshackle. Tall weeds jut from cracked sidewalks and litter collects at street corners. Boarded-up houses sit muffled in every neighborhood, and odd graffiti runs rampant over the streets, the bridges, vehicles and even the retaining walls alongside route 28.
But it is the organic chaos of this city that I find so appealing. For over 200 years people have eked out a life on these rivers, clinging to the hillside and shoveling rock. Even when the skies were darkened with coal smoke and scented with the sulfur twinge of slag, people walked a hundred steps uphill to their house, planted flowers and swung babies in their arms. Life wasn't easy, but who could complain? You had your church on one corner, your bar on the other, and enough friends and family at hand to make things worthwhile.
Which is not to say that Pittsburgh is not a beautiful town; it is. The topography of hills and ravines blesses every overlook with a breathtaking view. The industry barons left the city studded with stunning public works and an architecturally pristine infrastructure that would be at home in Western Europe. There is something about the light in Pittsburgh, and the way it paints in the evening hours with a pinkish orange glow that makes the bricks hum with warmth. Even downtown, a jumbled hodgepodge of a century of skyscrapers, can catch the light of a long afternoon and shine like a jewel.
And Pittsburghers love this city. Strike up a conversation with the man on a street, and nine times out of ten he can name his city counselperson. Pittsburghers patronize the public libraries, ride the buses, and know all the secret spots in their neighborhood. The nosiness of neighbors is so widespread there is a regional term for it. Even the graffiti in this city smacks of affection. A concrete wall reads "Pittsburgh you're beautiful. ♥ Thor"
I'm working in Oakland, not a far distance as the crow flies but a good hour and two buses from my hilltop home. Every morning I watch the sunlight shatter over the silent rivers and illuminate the steel and aluminum spires of downtown. And every afternoon I gaze out from a rumbling window seat, watching the swirl of humanity pouring from buses and buildings and engulfing the sidewalks like a wildfire. My book lies in my lap, open but unread; I cannot take my eyes off this city.