I found a mother and daughter working the counter in a bustling wholesale food store. The daughter was twentyish, with blond hair pulled back in a ponytail, and an oily face dotted red. The mother was older, larger, rounder, with an elfin nose and short brown hair glued into place by hairspray.
The mother answered whether people were isolated in Pittsburgh, "[Yeah, but] I think that's everywhere though. You know, it just depends on the person. The kind of personality you have. It depends on whether you want to be bothered or not. When Bobbie and I come home from work, we don't want to be bothered."
The daughter offered, "I think that the younger crowd is less isolated. The older people tend to stay to themselves more."
The mother said, "The Strip seems to have a nice mix 'cause it's business. This is one of the main reasons I like it: different cultures."
Leaving there, I asked two African American youths lounging on a bus stop bench along The Strip whether people here were isolated. They stopped joshing each other long enough to answer.
"Everybody gets along pretty well," one of them shrugged.
"What about African American relations?"
"Certain areas are all right," the other said, scrunching up his face.
"What about this area?" I asked.
"Aww, it's all right."
"It's boring," the first one interjected.
"You can get an education here," he continued. "We got a lot of schools. But as far as poverty, it's definitely bad in our area, I mean. No doubt. I mean there's neutral places. Maybe, like they said, here on The Strip you won't see it too much. But the city is definitely a racial [sic for racist] city. Other than that? It ain't the most livable city in the world," he snickered.
"To some it was," his friend said in defense. "To some it was."
"So you can get your education here, but you can't get a job here?" I asked.
"You know, we got our education, but we ain't making what we should be. You know what I'm saying? You don't know nobody to get in a job, there's basically no job. Minorities are not going to be able to step in and win a job against somebody with the same degree. Not unless you got more degrees and much more work experience than they do. You know what I'm saying? They help one another."
"I heard that before," I said. "It's the kind of town where friends hire friends." This is how all work gets done in Pittsburgh. An old boy’s network is ingrained, and many of the town’s families have been there for generations. Pennsylvania had the highest percentage of homeowners who had been in their homes more than 30 years, and 80% of Pennsylvania residents were born there. Perhaps the city’s famously downward spiraling economy inspired those with jobs to keep them all in the family.
"That's about it," he summed up. "But I can't complain. It's basically the same as any other city."
[The Strip]A meeting point in Pittsburgh for residents of the many isolated neighborhoods, "The Strip" begins at Sixteenth and Penn Avenue and runs along Liberty. It's so famous, a documentary was made about it by the local public television station. The strip goes on forever and seems mostly Italian, with a couple of Latino, Asian, Greek, and other ethnic shops thrown in.