Life in Pittsburgh.

17 June 2022

For reasons I don't quite understand I always equated growing up with situations where you can walk into someplace to do something, talk to someone, and immediately have a real conversation about life where you live. I was struck by this when I went to the car dealership to sell my mom's car the other day. While at the dealership talking to the salesman we chatted about where we were from (the yinzer shibboleth of "I'm from Pittsburgh," "Oh - where at in Pittsburgh?" "I'm from X." "I'm from Y, great to meet you!"), which lead to who we knew, when we graduated from high school, and then getting down to actual friendly business. I realized at that moment that I was actually old enough to have enough life experience and travel under my belt to have background connections meaningful to other people in Pittsburgh. To put it another way, I'm finally old enough to act like someone who's from someplace, have the experiences of that place, and communicate in the manner and method of that place with folks who live there.

I think the moment this notion was planted in my head was during the organization of my great-grandmother's funeral when I was quite small. Due to our general family situation my grandparents brought me along with them to the funeral home while they made arrangements. It was strange, even magical to watch my grandparents chat with Walter (who ran the funeral home and was an old friend of the family, in point of fact), reminisce about living in Pittsburgh, talk about my grandfather retiring from the plant, and stuff like that. I didn't understand all of it, but I did comprehend the idea of shared experience, of community, of being recognized as a person with social standing and agency and the capability to Go Out and Do Things so that People Will Remember You Someday.

When it came time to organize my mother's funeral I deliberately exercised this phenomenon to make everything happen. Walter doesn't work at the funeral home anymore, he's either retired or dead (and I don't much feel like doing a goto on him to find out). I deliberately started such a dialog with the now-manager (if not owner) of the funeral home, talked about the area, dropped a couple of names that I remembered from when I lived in Pittsburgh and he immediately warmed up to me. That shared experience made it possible for us to figure out how mom would be taken care of and what things would look like, in the context of what mom would have wanted. When setting up her estate I asked him casually if he knew a lawyer who could help, and he immediately gave me the contact information of an estate attorney whom he not only knows but goes bowling with every Friday night at the bowling alley a few blocks away. As I'd watched before he called up said estate attorney, put him on speakerphone, and we chatted in the same way, making connections, establishing shared experience. He's been very helpful to me time and again.

Then when it came to putting the homestead on the market, I asked him if he knew a realtor who knew the Pittsburgh housing market and could help. Unsurprisingly he knew a guy, rang him up and made introductions. Additionally, to my mild surprise, the realtor knew my grandfather. Before he went into real estate they worked at the plant together. So we chatted a bit about dzi-dzia and then started working on the logistics of putting the house on the market. We've chatted a bit outside of that context as well, mostly about the business practices of big online real estate brokerages and how life in Pittsburgh is slowly changing with each generation. Is this one of Those Things that means you're Grown Up?

For the moment I'm going to say "yes."

Considering these social interactions while ablumeditating I've come to the conclusion again that Pittsburgh is a very small world. The experiences I just wrote about have, over the years, reinforced the idea that it is indeed a tightly interconnected place to live. Making social connections happens almost without thinking about it so long as there is at leaset one social interaction somewhere in one's social network. This also got me thinking about how assumptions of the manner in which social networks, subcutural ones in particular, seem to work everywhere that isn't Pittsburgh.

For example, it is quite common for members of some group of people to say, when asked if they know someone else in the same group "I don't know this person X, not all Y know everybody who's Y!" when asked casually. At the very least this is seen as a faux pas if not a reaction to an upsetting situation. To be fair this makes a great deal of sense, even in an age where the Net has made so many millions of people tightly connected even if they didn't set out to do that. Large social networks don't normally work like that from what I can tell. In Pittsburgh it very much is like that and has been as long as I can remember. It's been my observation about this place, and in point of fact I've run a few small scale experiments to test this. It's how I found the general contractor who cleaned out mom's house a few weeks back.

Other cities I've lived in have, weirdly, not been like that.