For the New Orleans native, life itself was an adventure. My formative years were filled with moments from the spectacular to the bizarre that made us chuckle and say, “only in New Orleans,” with a gaze that let people know we wouldn’t have it any other way. When I considered prospective landing spots after Hurricane Katrina separated me from my home in 2005, I decided to fulfill a dream to live in the Metro DC area. I called Silver Spring, Maryland, (and the neighboring city of Rockville) home for eight and a half years. I had a job I liked and friends I adored, and I made wonderful memories there.
So, why (or how) did I choose Pittsburgh? There’s a transient spirit that hangs over DC and the surrounding area. Something about it doesn’t make you think of extending your roots. My friends were irreplaceable. However, I felt I could pick them up, drop them in any other city, and it would have changed nothing. As someone who grew up in one of the most unique cities in the world, the sterility of DC made me feel a bit like I lived in purgatory’s parlor. I missed the low, slightly exasperated chuckle that came with my beloved “only in…” adventures. I wanted to be around people who knew their city’s history with bursting pride.
I missed “only in…”
When people talk about falling in love with their life partner, they speak of that moment where they saw them and just knew. That was the feeling I got as my bus cruised along the Ohio River, offering a perfect view of the Carnegie Science Center and Heinz Field, lit up like something out of an electric dream. Despite having spent all of ten minutes of my life in Pittsburgh, I offered a prayer consisting of a single word: Please.
The following days felt like the stuff of kismet. My job interviews were promising. (I got an offer with the second place that interviewed me, unlike my DC interview which netted an offer a mere 20 minutes after I left my first interview.) I fell in love with the hills and the valleys, with South Side and Oakland. My mouth watered when I saw all the deliciousness Shadyside had to offer. This could be home. But would my kids like it?
The difficult thing about teenagers is their opinion. My kids were incredibly resistant to the idea of moving anywhere, so I wanted to make sure that I chose a place they would enjoy. I was blessed with a friend who had children in my kids’ age group and so did her friends. My kids get along with everybody, so the only hard part was getting them here. As expected, they not only embraced their ready-made friendship group, but made close friends of their own.
One of Pittsburgh’s greatest assets is its people. They love it here. So many of the young attorneys I work with are Pittsburgh natives who never left. That is a clear difference from my experience in DC, where everyone is from elsewhere. When I hear older Pittsburgh natives still refer to the recently closed downtown Macy’s as Kaufmann’s, it reminds me of my fellow native New Orleanians who still talk about D. H. Holmes and refuse to call Rite-Aid anything but “the K&B.” Pittsburghers love the Steelers as much as I love the Saints, and they salute Primanti Brothers like I pledge allegiance to the po’boy.
My kids and I settled in Mount Washington, in an unassuming old house that felt like home the first day I walked into it. It’s not fancy, but it’s perfect for my family: quirky, funky and welcoming to anyone who wants a seat on the porch. I know all my neighbors, because that’s what you do in Pittsburgh. You meet your neighbors. You learn their names and look out for them. We gossip a little more than we should, but that’s how we keep tabs on these rowdy teenagers we’re all trying to raise the best way we can. My son plays football at Brashear and my daughter and I are there to cheer him on. I find myself pulled into the pride when I say “Oh, yeah. I’m a newborn Mount Washington girl.”
I was joking with my sister recently when she asked how I liked living here. I chuckled and said, “Honey, only in Pittsburgh could aliens land here and not have to ask a single soul where they were because literally every resident has an article of clothing or accessory branded with the word ‘Pittsburgh’ on it.” And that’s when I realized that I found it. This weary Creole expatriate had her first “only in” in ten years.
I think I’ll stay.