On my first trip to Pittsburgh, I was a college-aged tourist: the main objective was to get obscenely drunk, and to see the Stillers play. That message I’d gotten after seeing a t-shirt that wasn’t officially promoting the Dutch beer, Heineken, yet had colors and style similar to it; the shirt read, “Pittsburgh: a drinking city with a football problem.” Through subsequent visits, though, the city’s subtleties eventually materialized so that I now view it with more in-depth appreciation than for all things touristy and fratty.
Some time following that visit, while a student at Arizona State University, I came across a book in Borders entitled, “The Steps of Pittsburgh: Portrait of a City.” In it were photos of the myriad flights of stairs that appeared along the city’s hillsides. Like snakes, some steps slithered up and down mild inclines past quaint homes while others rose high off the ground, seemingly teetering atop precarious concrete blocks for support. Many of the steps were accompanied by steel railings that likened the sets of stairs to skeletal limbs conjuring up through the full green branches of hillside trees in the summer, or through their bare branches in the winter. I stared at the pictures for a while, then I decided to buy a cup of coffee and sit to look at more. In contrast to the stucco-tinged, sprawling desert-landscape of Phoenix, images in the book evoked a tone of charming, urban antiquity of a city.
A favorite thing of mine in visiting Pittsburgh is feeling its quality of rust-belt grime. Even with the “unique vibe” of Crazy Mocha coffeehouses skipping in and showing up, there’s a gritty work ethic that’s passed itself down the generations since the city’s industrial heyday. The shambolic nature of old and winding narrow streets leading through hillside neighborhoods, along with the rusty, stony architecture across the city, is pleasant to experience coming from a growing city like Phoenix, where so much is so new. In Pittsburgh, I especially like passing through the neighborhoods on uneven roads, imagining myself living in one of the red-brick homes on a grassy mound.