Tuesday, March 15, 2011


I was born in 1960 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a hard-working steel town that was still in the process of transforming itself from an immigrant-dominated, working class city to its current status as a well-respected corporate headquarters.

There's something about Pittsburgh that has stayed with me long after I left to go to college in Massachusetts. Maybe it’s the location. Before St. Louis, Pittsburgh was the "Gateway to the West." Only 300 miles from the Atlantic Ocean, Pittsburgh’s three rivers made travel and transport possible between the East Coast and further west. However, in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the Allegheny Mountains made getting people and goods to Pittsburgh from the East Coast difficult, so Pittsburghers created their own goods to sell which led to the city’s evolution into an industrial “smokey old town.” In some ways, Pittsburgh is similar to other industrial cities like Chicago and Detroit, but as a sort of dividing line between the East and the Midwest—Pittsburgh is unique.

I've now lived in New York City longer than I lived in Pittsburgh and while I am one of those New Yorkers who is deeply in love with the wild energy that is NYC, in my heart I am and always will be a Pittsburgher. I went to my first protest march in Pittsburgh, saw my first opera, heard my first symphony, and got my driver's license there too. I got my resourcefulness and stick-to-it-iveness from the values that emerged from the 'burgh’s industrial history and the keen sense that we're all in this together—no matter what kind of job we're doing, level of education we've received, or salary we're pulling down—from its role as a true ethnic melting pot.

It’s hard to imagine now, but for many years, Pittsburgh didn’t appeal to me. After living in Paris and New York, the city seemed too self-conscious and not nearly sophisticated enough for me. It symbolized everything about my past that I wanted to forget—especially my struggles with my father. My dad was a powerhouse of a man, and to me Pittsburgh belonged to him. In order for me to carve out my own life, we needed to live in different cities. And since New York is a hell of a town, I didn’t think I’d ever need Pittsburgh again. After my dad’s death, however, I felt the need to reclaim Pittsburgh as my own and now I know why.

Like the city of my birth, I am a gateway—not to the west like Pittsburgh—but to the Soul. And after all these years I know how to get there. Come with me and let’s ride the river together. A new frontier beckons.