Monday, April 07, 2008

Pittsburgh's Diplomatic Corps

From the Burgh Diaspora in Washington, DC:

If you search diligently in Western Pennsylvania, you might find a steel plant, and a more exacting search might even turn up a steelworker or two, but the industry is long gone from Pittsburgh, replaced by medical complexes and higher education. The bars of the South Side, I am proud to report, made the transition almost seamlessly, and the last time I went drinking there it was with a hospital administrator and some law students.

Still, the outsiders seem to find the place irresistibly exotic. Wrote a New York Times reporter, "Question to our Keystone State readers: What is it with this Pennsylvania fetish for bizarre world food combinations? In Johnstown, this New Yorker encountered the artery-clogging prospect of cheese fries."

Cheese fries? I'm thinking he was either overcome by the sheer foreignness of Johnstown, a city that puts the grit in gritty, or else he was the victim of an overly sheltered childhood. Cheese fries are readily available all over Manhattan, although perhaps not at the kinds of places where he dines.

Maybe Pennsylvania is as strange as the national press thinks and growing up there you just don't notice it. I was back in Pittsburgh for a convention of mainly out-of-staters and the hotel served what it called a Pittsburgh buffet: city chicken (breaded veal on a stick), kielbasa, stuffed cabbage, pierogi. The guests seemed to find this novel and unusual fare. I thought, "I'm back in my high-school cafeteria."

Ask permission before photographing the natives.

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