Monday, December 03, 2007

Why I love Pittsburgh...

I admit it, I'm a Pittsburgh guy. Born at St. Francis Hospital, educated at Taylor Allderdice, CCAC, and Robert Morris. I've eaten my share of Peppi's Number 7 sandwiches, Primanti Bros monstrosities w/ the fries and the cole slaw on the sandwich, naturally. And also knocked back more Iron City Beer than anyone of sound mind should ever do. I root for the Pirates, Steelers and Penguins, and I live on the same street in the same house I was raised in, and if I owned a car, I'd put a chair out front of the house to save my parking place. I've walked most if not all of the City's major parks, know where the best make-out spots are, and if Port Authority Transit gave out frequent rider miles, I'd have enough to circle the planet at least twice. I'm downtown at least twice a week, and I even know what the beacon atop the Gulf Building is flashing in Morse Code. I am Pittsburgh through and through, and proud to make that statement.

Now I know what you're thinking: "Ohh boy, just another parochial yinzer who's never crossed the rivers and never been out of town. Obviously, this clown hasn't seen what the rest of the country has to offer." As my old Navy company commander used to say when one of the misguided yutes under his charge said or did something astoundingly stupid, (which occurred with alarmingly regularity in the early weeks of boot camp...) :"Wrong F&^%)(G Answer, recruit!!!" I have ventured beyond the land of the Rivers Three and have seen and lived in such respectable cities as: San Francisco, and the Bay Area in general; San Diego; Chicago; Seattle; and the Tidewater region of Southeast Virginia. And in my overseas travels at taxpayer expense, I have enjoyed such great places as: Monaco; Perth, Australia; Hong Kong; Honolulu; Vancouver, BC; Japan, South Korea and the Phillipines (as we all know what goes on in the PI stays in the PI, if you get my drift.)
And those places have their virtues and are very nice places to live. But no sight, and I mean, no sight in America gets this Burgh Boy's heart thumping more than coming out of the Fort Pitt Tunnel and having the Pittsburgh skyline hit me square in the face. That is a sight that has been known to induce orgasm in some ladies of the opposite sex, I'm told. I love the neighborhoods, the topography, the access to world-class educational and health care institutions. There is so much that this town has to offer.

Now does Pittsburgh has its faults? Damn skippy it does. Like any city, there are things wrong with it. And Pittsburgh has its share of warts. But like any relationship between two people, or in this case, a person and his hometown, you find a way to love it in spite of its deficiencies and try to point them out in a an effort to improve them. Like, it irritates me to no end how the overwhelming majority of voters in this town continue to vote Democrat even when the city has slid down so far under the Dem's watch. Every election, just like clockwork, the Democrats roll out the same tired bunch of hacks, cronies and losers and the voters keep putting them back into office. All because we're told from the time we pop out of the womb, Democrats, good...Republicans bad. We vote Democrat, because our parents and their parents and their parents and so on, and so on ad infinitum had it drilled into their heads that you didn't sell out by voting Republican. Keep voting that straight party ticket and you'll never go wrong. If that's the case, then why is this city is such dire financial straits?

Talk all you want about a third of the city's taxable land being taken off the tax rolls by non-profits like UPMC and Pitt, Duquesne, CMU, RMU and so on. Talk about the exodus of young people leaving to find job opportunities elsewhere, leaving a city where the average age of the residents is "deceased." Talk about the demise of the steel industry which plunged this region into the toilet, all of those are viable and proper reasons for the problems Pittsburgh is having. But despite all this, what have our political leaders done? We hear their interminable speeches and promises. They promise the moon, and deliver...nothing, or nothing worth noting.

We recently voted to re-elect our 27 yr old mayor, Luke Ravenstahl to finish out the term of previous mayor, Bob O'Connor who tragically passed away seven months after taking office. We thought that Luke would bring a young person's perspective to solving the city's problems, yet our boy Luke decided to have some fun wielding the power of the mayor's office taking advantage of the trappings, but eschewing the responsibilities. He's crashed golf tournament meet and greets, he's used official Homeland Security vehicles as party vans to go to concerts, he's blown off meetings with aggrieved women's and black citizens groups. But despite showing compelling evidence that he lacks the maturity to run a city, the residents of Pittsburgh, come election day, like lemmings marching off a cliff, gave into their innate Democratic brainwashing, and voted Ravenstahl back into office by a 2/3 margin. And remember those black folks I told you about whom Mr. Ravenstahl blew off?? They re-elected him by a 90%-10% margin. Sigh. Now that we're stuck with Loopy Luke for the foreseeable future, he's got a little over a year to convince us that he's worth re-election to his own full term. He has a lot to overcome before I'll consider voting for him. Pittsburghers need to start taking off the Donkey-shaped glasses and realize that if this city and this region are to survive much longer into the 21st century, it must do so with a bi-partisan government, allow both parties and even serious third parties the chance to add their input to the way this town needs to function. One-party rule whether Democrat or Republican is a sure recipe for disaster, and at least two of Pittsburgh's 32 wards figured that out by voting for Mr. Ravenstahl's opponent, Republican Mark deSantis. The time of the same as usual politics in Pittsburgh has to come to an end.

Another one of Pittsburgh's charms which can also be one of its detriments is the perception that Pittsburgh is "behind the times." We are a town that embraces its tendency to be anti-hip. In some ways, us Pittsburghers enjoy being 10-20 years behind the times. We don't do change well here. Example: What are the most popular music stations in Pittsburgh? Answer: it ain't the alternative music stations, although they have their following. Pittsburghers tend to like their music old. We still cling to the music of the '50s and '60s and the leading rock station in this town has to play at least one song a day from the Stones, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Lynrd Skynrd, or Aerosmith, or all the yinzers driving the beat-up Firebird Trans-Ams with their tube-top wearing, gum snapping, teased hair girlfriends will "come dahn 'ere and kick some ass 'an at." I admit my musical tastes tend not to follow music made after the mid '90s. To me a lot of what is called alternative, or new rock sounds like what happens when you throw 10 lbs of nuts and bolts and 5 cats into a clothes dryer and let it run for about an hour.

There are folk who like that audio assault and they are welcome to it. As was indicated above, I'm not totally against change and the occasional airing out and bringing in fresh new ideas. Hell, the moment we stop changing, is the moment we start dying.

But some advantages in being a town that is behind the times are that we don't nearly the issue with crime that larger more hip cities have. We have real live neighborhoods with local bars and hangouts owned by real Pittsburgh people. Not every corner has a national chain store on it, although recent development in such places as Lawrenceville and East Liberty are bringing in the mega retailers.

Some of those neighborhoods are in better shape than others. Where I live, Homewood, is struggling with black on black crime and drugs, teenage pregnancy, a lack of viable businesses and subpar schools. The residents have tried to get help from the City, but ultimately it takes the majority of effort coming from within to effect turnaround. I sometimes wonder if we can ever be serious about turning the community around. It seems like the community goes through this constant cycle. A wave of crime hits the community, the local politicians, ministers, and government types hold a town meeting, anti-violence summit, " Save Our Kids" rally, and everybody gets there and there's a lot of speechifying, teachifying, preachifying by the usual suspects from the NAACP, the Urban League and various grassroots groups, everybody bitches and complains, and blames the cops, the city government, and everybody else about why the neighborhood has gone to seed. There's a lot of venting, and emotion and other drama. The crowd gets geeked up to effect change, they all go home and...nothing happens until the next wave of crime or senseless shooting occurs when the cycle repeats all over again. To me, true change doesn't happen when people scream and holler, but when they quietly roll up their sleeves, get to work, and direct their energy into solving the problems instead of the old saying"Smoke and Fury...signifying Nothing."

Despite its problems, Pittsburgh is a city that has the potential of doing great things for the future. New construction on the North Side, the Pen's new arenain the Hill/Uptown, the development of South Side Works, herald the opening of a new chapter in Pittsburgh's history, but even with all the sexy, glittery new projects going up, the government needs to concentrate on upgrading a century old water and sewage system. The seven hundred bridges that are within this region need to be maintained, streets need to be paved, trees need to be trimmed. The stuff that tourists don't see mean just as much as the public face Pittsburgh presents to the world. The City and the county need to consolidate services to eliminate redundancies, and much of that is going on. There's a unified 911 system and the confusing and archaic row offices are being phased out. And there are other areas where city and county services are neing merged. There is talk about the consolidation of the City and County like in Philadelphia. But the folks in the suburbs are against that idea because they don't want to be saddled with the city's problems. They say that the City should take care of its own house before thinking about consolidation. But with an aging and declining population, more and more vacant lots and properties not producing tax revenues, and almost a third of the land area off the tax rolls because it's own by major non-profits, can the City get its act together?? Not without some help from Harrisburg. And those in the suburbs should not be so quick to look down on the city, because left unchecked, those problems that beset the city will eventually affect the suburbs. A region with an unhealthy core, will not last long. The city and its suburbs need to work together for their mutual benefit and survival.