By Tim Hayes
Over the past week, clients and associates and friends – none of whom had ever known or been introduced to each other – crossed paths three times. As George on “Seinfeld” would cry, “Worlds are colliding!” but it didn’t surprise me at all. It’s absolutely a non-event, par for the course.
And why? Because I live in Pittsburgh, PA, the biggest small town in the world.
For all of his faults – and they are many – film maker Woody Allen’s movies have been interpreted as love letters to his hometown of New York. This is mine to Pittsburgh.
Folks who have been born here and never left may consider Pittsburgh a major East Coast metropolis. Ummm, no. Pittsburgh feels more like a Midwestern city – big enough to have the great sports teams, the cultural advantages, and the commerce to sustain itself, but small enough to remain more a collection of neighborhoods than a singular urban center. More St. Louis than Boston, more Cincinnati than Chicago. More Minneapolis than (perish the thought) Philadelphia.
And forget “six degrees of separation,” the notion that any one person is connected by no more than six direct relationships from anyone else. Nah. Around here it’s no more than three, usually two – as proven by the connections I witnessed just this past week.
I’ll tell you, this wonderful dynamic at work in my hometown makes marketing for an independent consultant like me so much easier. Here’s the deal. If you do a good job at a fair rate and don’t irritate people, word gets around and business so many times finds you from positive word of mouth.
On the other hand, if you’re ripping people off and being a jerk? In this town, you’re done. There’s nowhere to hide, no way people won’t find out. We stick together and we stick up for each other here.
Honestly, it used to bother me that Pittsburgh felt so parochial. But after living in other cities during the first few years of our marriage, I’m glad things are how they are here. Living in a city of neighborhoods enables a stronger civic sense of pride, unity, and shared destiny.
A few days ago, an announcement came out that the local legendary amusement park, Kennywood, was joining with our local legendary football team, the Steelers, to create a new section of the park with a brand new, world-class roller coaster with a Steeler theme. And I thought the whole town might spontaneously combust from a release of unabashed joy. How much more of slam dunk could you ask for? Kennywood AND the Steelers? My hands tremble just typing this sentence.
We love our city and all of the great legacies it has given us. Sometimes too much. It’s like the old joke:
How many Pittsburghers does it take to change a light bulb? Ten – one to actually change the light bulb, and nine to stand around and talk about how great the old light bulb was.
But hey, if that’s a fault, I’ll gladly accept it. This isn’t to say that Pittsburgh doesn’t have issues and problems, like any other city. Of course it does. But should you ask visitors or people who come here from other cities whether Pittsburgh and its people have a different vibe, a more welcoming attitude, a more positive baseline stance about the place where they live and work, you’ll find that they do.
A local TV station years ago ran a promo jingle with the line, “From the warm and friendly city, where three rivers flow.” The nation’s first flagship radio station, KDKA, used “Someplace Special” as its description of Pittsburgh for years. They were both right.
This city and its people have an uncanny blend of blue-collar, hard-working, no-nonsense loyalty and friendliness, combined with a futuristic belief that the path to a better, safer, happier, healthier, more tech-driven life can spring from these three rivers. The connecting tissue between those two distinct poles, however, is what makes this town so special.
We keep our heads about us and we never give up – on each other, on ourselves, or on our city. We pulled ourselves up from the crash of the steel industry. We have world-class health care and research facilities. We have emerged as a vital center of innovative advances in technology and life sciences. Yet even as our stature rises and our “secret” is revealed more and more, that comfortable, manageable, respectful, wonderful Midwestern vibe remains.
We’re steady. We may not always boom, but we also rarely bust in this warm and friendly city. This Someplace Special. My hometown. Pittsburgh, PA.
Copyright 2018 Timothy P. Hayes