After spending just five weeks in this city, I've heard all sorts of things about Pittsburgh residents.
They're close knit. They're skeptical of outsiders. They're sports fanatics. They take pride in their city, but can't fathom why anyone else would want to live in it. They toss around the word "yinz" as a common second-person plural pronoun, supposedly a dialect offshoot of Scotch-Irish tradition similar to the phrase "you'uns" encountered in the Appalachians. But to be honest, I haven't observed most of those qualities much in the Pittsburghers I've encountered (setting aside a devout love of sports and an occasional use of "yinz"). In fact, there's just one thing I've noticed time and time again:
Pittsburghers are kind.
Sure, it sounds naive, but you know how people talk about the importance of small acts of kindness? Pittsburghers seem to embrace that concept. I don't know what to attribute it to. Maybe it's the close proximity to the Midwest, where people are known for being friendlier and more relaxed, despite the fact that Pittsburgh technically sits in the Northeast. Or maybe it's a manifestation of the close-knit community that people say defines the area. Maybe it's something else entirely. Regardless, I'm grateful for it.
There was the first week I went grocery shopping at Giant Eagle. When the employee at the register asked me whether I had an advantage card, I realized all too late that no, I had forgotten to register. Ugh. But the cashier seemed less concerned, suggesting I just borrow one from another customer, which apparently is not uncommon.
Then there was the kind bus driver, who allowed me to board the 28x on its drop-off only route from Downtown toward Squirrel Hill. It was still my first week in the city, and I had hardly gotten my bearings, much less learned the various bus routes and stops. I went to board the 28x home after my first day of work (the only bus I recognized, having initially taken it from the airport), and the driver chimed "drop-off only" at me. Apologizing, I went to get off, but she kindly ushered me back on, and even refused to let me pay the fare.
Kindest of all, though, have been the Pittsburgh drivers.
I'm not from here. I'm utterly unfamiliar with the roads and, quite frankly, they don't make much sense to me. They wind, twist, meander and curve in often illogical directions. I can only assume the convoluted layout reflects the unpredictable, hilly terrain. There is a Downtown bus stop called 6th Ave. at 5th. While cross streets are generally marked (though sometimes in small green signs with tiny white lettering), Pittsburgh seems to make of habit of not telling you what street you are actually traveling on. Problematic? Yes.
It would be a nightmare in other places I've driven — mostly towns and cities around Boston, where drivers have no patience for slowness or uncertainty, and no qualms about cutting you off or honking loudly at you — but not in Pittsburgh. Drivers here let me switch lanes every time, something unheard of in Massachusetts. Often they even slow down and beckon me along. They don't care when I hesitate, pull into their parking lots or turn around in their driveways. Earlier this week, I became horribly lost en route to a reporting assignment and showed up 45 minutes late. Afterward, the PR woman told me she was heading toward Downtown anyway, and insisted on having me follow her back to the Smithfield Street Bridge. I am forever indebted to her.
I probably shouldn't be so surprised by how good these people have been. The Post-Gazette runs "Random Acts of Kindness" blurbs every week, and people write in with all sorts of amazing stories. But reading it and experiencing it are two very different things.