Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Country Mouse/City Mouse

by Annette Dashofy

It’s pretty well known that I’m a country mouse. I’m used to looking out my kitchen window at green pastures and a herd of cattle. The scene out my bedroom window is more green fields and an occasional Great Blue Heron. But every so often I’m forced to step out of my comfort zone of country life to spend some time in the city. With my mom in Allegheny General Hospital recovering slowly from major surgery, this week has been one of those times.

Anytime anyone in my family needs to go to Pittsburgh, I’m the one who gets the call. I like the city. I feel comfortable strolling the downtown streets, although it definitely feels like foreign territory.

I’m not crazy about rush hour traffic, but I can deal with it. I don’t panic if I get lost, even though Pittsburgh is notorious for making it difficult to find your way around. Most cities are built in squares. Make a wrong left turn? Make three more left turns and you’re back where you started. Do that in Pittsburgh and you’re likely to end up in Wexford. I’ve been lost enough in the city that I can usually find something that looks familiar and regain my bearings.

I have even learned how to negotiate Penn Circle, which I used to refer to as the Bermuda Triangle of Pittsburgh.

City life fascinates me. Or at least the vignettes I catch as I drive by: the residents sitting on their stoops which often are little more than a step down onto the sidewalk from their front door; the community of homeless folks camped under an overpass; the old man balancing his grocery bags on the handlebars of his bicycle, darting through traffic. I love driving the variety of cultures in the city’s neighborhoods. I’m looking at it all through the eyes of an outsider, I know. But my writer’s curiosity allows me to imagine what that kind of life must be like.

Then there are the little events that you only find in the city. I was driving home from the hospital on Saturday and stopped for a red light. Music filled the air, blasting through my closed windows. I automatically assumed someone had cranked up their radio. But it didn’t sound right. That was when I noticed that a band had set up in a parking lot to my right, with a good-sized audience gathered. It was a parking lot. Not your normal run-of-the-mill concert venue. I wondered if some local garage band decided to throw an impromptu show when they couldn’t get booked into the corner club. I don’t know. But I thought, “that’s not something you would see out in the country.”

The band was pretty good, by the way. Someone should hire them.

Monday, I had to contend with rush hour traffic on Liberty Avenue. I should have stuck with my usual route of Fort Duquesne Boulevard, but I was feeling adventurous. Pittsburgh is also notorious for jaywalkers. I encountered a few dozen of them. Then there was the lady who was crossing the four lane street (legally, at a light), moving at a pace that…well…do you happen to remember Tim Conway’s old man routine on the Carol Burnett Show? He’d have beaten her in a foot race. The lady was half way across when the light changed. A bus was coming.

I didn’t hear about anyone getting flattened on the news that night, so I assume the approaching bus stopped for her. If she’d tried to cross Route 18 in front of my house, she’d have been mowed down by a 4x4 pickup. No doubt about it.

I envy some things about living in the city. Stores, shops, restaurants, and theatres all within walking distance intrigue me. Where I live, I have to drive at least a half hour to get to anywhere worth going. If I run out of an ingredient when I’m cooking supper, there is no running to the corner store. Instead, I have to make-do without or change the menu.

Could I pull up stakes and live in the city? I think so. It would make for an interesting experiment anyway. But I do think I’d soon yearn for the green open spaces of my rural upbringing. What about you city mice? Would you be able to move to the country if you had to? Or would the quiet and spaciousness drive you bonkers?


Tory said...

I love the picture of the Blue Heron!

I'd love to live in the country, but what keeps me in the city are the activities I enjoy: used to be folk dancing, now spiritual pursuits. I have to say, I think I'd get lonely on a constant diet of the country.

I also love a short commute.

How's your mom doing, Annette?

Annette said...

Thanks, Tory, but I didn't take the picture. I never seem to have the camera handy when they're around.

Mom is doing better each day, but still have some post-op complications that have put her about a week behind where she should be in her recovery and rehab.

At least I haven't come up with any material for a medical thriller yet!

Joyce said...

I'm kind of torn between city and country (maybe that's why I live in the suburbs). I love going downtown to see a show at the Benedum, but I think all those people that close would bug me after awhile.

That's one reason I'm looking forward to building my mountaintop cabin someday--to get away to peace and quiet, where the only thing I have to worry about are the bears. I don't think I could live there on a permanent basis, though. Way too long to get to a grocery store!

Gina said...

Annette - I think Pittsburgh's unofficial motto must be, "You can't get there from here." You captured that well with the allusion to ending up in Wexford; people from other parts of the country probably think that's an exaggeration, but we who live here know it's not really that far fetched.

When I worked for the parole board, I used a state pool car that had to be returned to Kaufmann's garage. I can't tell you how many times I ended up in Oakland trying to get into that downtown parking garage!

Annette said...

Gina, I once got "lost" down by the Carnegie Science Center, trying to get across the Fort Pitt Bridge to come home, but the downtown area was closed for the Pittsburgh Marathon. I drove in circles for an hour. I could see the road I wanted to get on, but couldn't figure out how to get up there. I really COULDN'T get there from here.

Joyce, the trick is to have a big freezer and pantry and stock up.

Anonymous said...

I'm a city girl who still gets lost in Oakland and the East Pittsburgh neighborhoods. I love the country, but I also the convenience of being close to shopping, dining, etc.

Our house now is nicely nestled between both city and country living. I'm 2 miles from the main business and shopping district yet just down the road in the other direction is pure farm country. I get the best of both worlds.

Cathy said...

I grew up in the country, but have spent most of my adult life in the city. Now I'm like Kristine, living halfway between both. So I've got to say that I love the city life, but also enjoy creation and unpopulated areas the best.

I'm so glad your mother has improved.

mike said...

I grew up on a farm, and loved it, or at least think I did! Then I recall breaking ice on the creek to fill the 5-gallon watering cans for the horses (before walking a mile to the bus stop), or cleaning their stalls, so I have to say, living in the city with access to great Thai and Vietnamese and Italian restaurants (hmmm, there goes the waist!) and so much more, well, let's just say I'm glad I had the country experience, but I'm really glad I'm living in the city.

I so sympathize with everyone who gets lost in the Burgh. I know the streets reasonably well for a non-native, but even I get confused at times. Recently, while pedaling around town, I get asked at least once, maybe twice for directions from drivers--a sure sign that classes are about to start at Pitt, CMU, Duquesne and others.

lisa curry said...

I grew up on a farm , and I love the country. I lived in the city -- both Atlanta and Pittsburgh -- and enjoyed that, too. Now I live in the suburbs, and while this is what works best for me and my family at this point in our lives, I have to say that of the three, I find suburban living the hardest to really like. It lacks the pastoral charm and privacy of the country as well as the shopping/ dining/ cultural appeal of the city. The only upside is that it's not too far from either.

Becky said...

Annette is right take it from someone who has ended up in Wexford twice trying to get out of Pittsburgh I guess we made it out only we where heading for Eighty Four. Becky

Becky said...

Annette is right take it from someone who has ended up in Wexford twice trying to get out of Pittsburgh I guess we made it out only we where heading for Eighty Four. Becky