A Case for Pittsburgh's Small Town Vibe
Recently, I wrote an Instagram caption about three things I love and hate about Pittsburgh. It’s “small town vibe” made it on the pro and con list. I love that I have so many great friends and a supportive community, but I didn’t like that I run into people every time I walk out of my house. I was feeling particularly exasperated when I ran into someone I didn’t want to twice in one week while driving. How and why that happens is a mystery to me, but Pittsburgh will do that to you I guess. That same week, my friend ran into an ex in a bar. Another friend had to avoid one end of a we were in bar, because someone she didn’t want to see was there. Interestingly enough, this phenomenon seems to be more prevalent in our generation. My parents grew up within the city limits of Pittsburgh. I asked them if they ran into exes or enemies when they went out, and they said “never.” During the 90s, there were a lot of nightclubs and bars in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, but now almost all night-life is located within the city. People are closer on nights out and they bar-hop from place to place. It’s rare that you stay in one place on a night out. As a result, there’s a heck of a lot better chance of running into people you know. Let’s not forget social media either. We tag our locations on Instagram story and have a creepy Snapchat map available to us. If social media made the world smaller, it made Pittsburgh teeny-tiny.
As I’m preparing to make my move to Chicago, where I have absolutely no established friendships, I began reflecting on the ones I’ll miss from Pittsburgh. I lost count pretty quickly. My mind didn’t only go to my close friends, but also to the varied connections I have with people from work, blogging, modeling, vintage, music…the list goes on. For as many times I’ve agonized over Pittsburgh’s small town vibe, it has brought ten times more joy. I go to work at the coffee shop, and I know 90% of our customers by name. I know their order. They ask me about my upcoming graduate studies or tell me something funny their kid said while I make their coffee. When I walk across the street to my neighborhood bar, nearly everyone knows me and my parents. At Defer Coffee in the Strip District, I know the baristas there and we follow each other on the ‘gram. I run into people I love at the bar, not just people I want to avoid. I run into folks at the grocery store and cashiers know me by name. The feeling of being a “regular” to a place gives you belonging & connection. Feeling known to and seen by so many fortifies the soul.
And let’s not pretend like social media is useless in forging real human connections. The majority of my following is from Pittsburgh, and I have several good friends I made on Instagram. I’ve slid into so many of my friends DMs, and because Pittsburgh is small, we can always easily arrange hang outs.
Pittsburgh may not be where I’m staying, but it will always be home and where I started, and I hope to bring my “small town vibe” to Chicago and forge meaningful connections in my craft, and in my daily life. Pittsburgh has taught me that it’s “small town vibe” is more than the physical space it occupies; it’s a state of mind. You can go unseen and unknown just about anywhere. But if you introduce yourself to that barista, remain present with your customer at work, and view everyone as someone with an interesting story to share, you may just feel connected, fulfilled, and forge real friendships. And I hate to drag one of my favorite quotes into a post agaaiiinnnn, buuuut, as Moss Hart writes in his play, You Can’t Take It With You,