163 Pittsburgh, PA: Dinah and Michelle

Dinah graciously offered not only to put me up but also to introduce me to some friends. That night, Dinah had arranged for us to have dinner with Michelle, a willing interviewee with girl-next-door looks. We all went to a church. Well, a church that was now a brewpub; rather fitting, I thought, in this town known for blue-collar steel-mill workers who worship a good quaff after a hard day on the job.

Our Lady of the Holy Ale (my name for it) was on a major North Side street. The nave was now painted bright blue and held the brewing apparatuses (religious gear to the current denizens). We sat in pews.

When I asked my question, Michelle thought for a while then breathed in deep and prefaced, "You really want an answer? I think people in Pittsburgh are some of the most isolated, parochially minded people I've ever met in my life. A lot of them never ventured out beyond Western Pennsylvania, nor do they want to. This is based on empirical research. I've lived here ten years, and people still can't pronounce or spell my name."

"Michelle?" I joked.

"That either," she laughed. "They think I'm saying Miss O. Honest to God. I don't think I have enunciation problems."

Switching gears, she shrugged, "It's been a really good starter city for me. I came here when I was twenty. I've sort of become an adult here. Cost of living is good. People in general are very friendly. I could do a hell of a lot worse than Pittsburgh. But sometimes it's a little bit suffocating 'cause you have to drag the river for somebody who's read a book."

Dinah deadpanned, "Yeah the smart-guy factor is definitely not good."

"Smart anybody factor," Michelle tacked on.

"I think that's typical of our culture overall," Dinah posited, and Michelle nodded. "Individually," Dinah continued, "I don't feel that way [isolated]. But a lot of people are in their own little world. In Pittsburgh, people live here, and they die here, generation after generation. Pittsburgh's its own microcosm, not worldly. But a lot of people come here from other places, and that kinda spruces things up a little bit."

Michelle wrinkled her nose, "I still don't think it's very diverse. I think about leaving here sometimes because it is really white bread. There's a lot of incest in hiring. You know, if they went to the same college, especially Pitt or Notre Dame. I think our priorities are a little bit screwed. I had to work my ass off, and I got an academic merit scholarship. But somebody who can't spell his own name gets a free ride through his school because he can kick a football."

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