Feb 6, 2008

On returning to PGH

Ø Re. today's editorial in the Post-Gazette entitled "State of Antiquity:" I was born and raised in PGH but have lived for the past 25+ years in NYC and Los Angeles. Having spent the last two and a half months here due to a family matter, I have had some time to observe what has and hasn't changed in my beloved hometown.

Yes, the PLCB is an embarrassing relic from the past, similar to state laws institutionalizing racism in the Deep South, although obviously not as onerous. In discussions with aquaintances here, I have heard evidence that some people have been flouting the legal stranglehold the LCB has on wine distribution. It involves having friends in states with a more enlightened attitude about, well, just about everything else. A bottle or two or more is carefully wrapped and shipped via any one of several shippers, from the USPS to Fed Ex,UPS, etc. I say, drink up, the spirit of the Whiskey Rebellion lives on.

Ø Another curious thing I've observed is the so called "rebirth" of Lawrenceville. Being used to sticker shock prices for real estate in NYC and LA, the allure of buying an early 20th century townhouse for $20K to $90K is tempting. The drawback is the vast amount of work it would take to renovate and restore a lot of them. A good deal, if not most of them, have been butchered over the years. Hideous wall-to-wall carpeting (Is there any other kind? No.); botched rewiring and plumbing; original windows ripped out and made smaller so prefab versions can be thrust in with mismatched brick calling attention to the savaging; exterior eyesores added over the years, ranging from metal awnings to aluminum siding to plastic and fake-looking stone face, sometimes all at the same time-- the list goes on.

The owners making these changes meant no harm. In their eyes, they were performing routine upgrades and maintainence to affordable housing for underpaid laborers working in the long-gone mills and factories. Preservation was less on their minds than survival. This was and still is a poor-to-middle-class community that exudes a unique charm with its unpretentious and unselfconscious ways. It doesn't need hipsters moving in and "rediscovering" the area, although there is the appearance of that happening with the meager scattering of boutiques and art galleries that fleck Butler St.

Hopefully Lville will not morph into another frat boy bar crawl strip like East Carson Street, but given the number of bars that have been there for ages, it wouldn't come as a surprise. What Lawrenceville needs is to remain as it is. PGH is not saturated with sophistication like NYC or DC or even Philadelphia. (And yes, I know I left Los Angeles off of that list, because even though I learned the truth in the cliche, "LA is not what it seems," if there is one thing it is not, it's sophisticated. I don't mean that in the pejorative; it's just the truth. But I digress.) The lack of pretentiousness and the rough urbanity that PGH possesses is what gives it its great charms. It's a vibrant, unique and glowing culture if you know where to look for it.

Ø This article in the Post-Gazette, about trying to "instill a bit of Paris?" Look, I know Wonder Boy's heart is in the right place but come on. PGH is not going to draw people looking for The Paris of Southwestern PA. It doesn't need to try to be something it's not. For starters, downtown needs better mass transit and cheap or free parking, because without either, it doesn't matter if you turn it into Sodom on the Mon, nobody will show up. (Except maybe me.)