Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Over the River...or not

There’s an odd tradition around the Pittsburgh area. Resistance to crossing a river.

Considering our city sits at the point where the Allegheny River joins the Monongahela River to give birth to the Ohio, and considering the city boasts more bridges than Venice, this is truly a strange problem.

People from the south won’t venture even a mile to the north if it means crossing a bridge. Residents of the North Hills won’t set foot on the South Side because it’s across the river. Or worse, it could mean crossing TWO bridges.

This makes planning events challenging.

Recently, a long-time local resident of one of the southern suburbs was trying to explain this conundrum to a woman who had flown in from North Carolina to put together a symposium in Pittsburgh. “Well,” my local friend said, “you can’t have it in the South Hills because people in the North Hills won’t attend. They’ll have to cross a river.”

The poor lady from North Carolina was flabbergasted. She was willing to fly all this way for the event, but Pittsburghers wouldn’t drive two miles...if they had to drive over a bridge.

My local friend and I tried to explain as best we could. But to be honest, I don’t get it either. I live west of the city, and I drive into and around downtown, the North Hills, the East End, the West End, the South Hills and the South Side (two different places, different side of the mountain) with no qualms. I cross big bridges and little rickety ones. No problem.

My parents were cityphobic. It wasn’t the bridge (at least I don’t think it was) so much as it was traffic patterns. In Pittsburgh, if you make a wrong turn, you’re screwed. We don’t have city blocks. We have triangles. And lots of one-way streets. And quite a few streets that end because someone at some point planted a building there. But the same street will pick up again a few blocks away. Or should I say, a few triangles away.

Even my GPS short circuits in Pittsburgh.

This cityphobia was the reason I became so proficient at driving over the bridges and into the city. If I wanted to do anything in town, I had to drive.

Now my husband has joined the bandwagon. He refuses to cross a bridge. So if I want to take advantage of all the goodies Pittsburgh has to offer, I have to drive.

Can someone in the city explain to me exactly WHY people here won’t cross a bridge? And for those of you who live elsewhere, does your town have any such quirk regarding travel?  


Gina said...

Don't look at me, Annette. I haven't even figured out why people won't drive through tunnels.

And I do cross bridges (and go through the tunnels), but I live within 3 miles of where I was born - within the same river boundaries. Even Pittsburghers who cross bridges to work or whatever will not move into a different neighborhood, suburb or town if it's a river away from their birthplace.

Joyce said...

Don't forget the streets that aren't streets--they're steps.

I think it's more of a neighborhood problem than a bridge problem. I grew up in the South Hills and now live in the North Hills, so like you, I'll go anywhere. And the South Side is one of my favorite places (Hofbrauhaus, anyone?).

When I tell NH people I grew up in the SH, they act like I'm from another planet. But it's the same in the city. Some people who live in Bloomfield won't venture over to Lawrenceville and that's right next door. I think it stems from the fact that each neighborhood in Pittsburgh used to have its own ethnic identity. Bloomfield was Italian, Lawrenceville was Polish, etc. Everyone stayed in the their own little world.

The problem is getting better though. The younger generation seems a little more flexible about the whole thing.

Annette said...

I, too, suspect the neighborhoods have a lot to do with it.

You're right, Joyce. I did forget about the streets that were steps.

Annette said...

Oh, and when I was on my ride along with the Pittsburgh Police, we were responding to a shooting in progress and ran out of street before we came to the house number. The officer had to radio in for directions on how to find the other end of the street we'd just been on. Amazing.

Ramona said...

I can one-up this. In south Louisiana, where I grew up, there are beaucoup bridges that open and close for boat traffic. If a boat (or boats sometimes) approach the bridge and you are on your way somewhere, tough luck. Boats have the right of way. So you sit on top of a bridge waiting for traffic flow to start up again.

I've only driven in Pittsburgh a few times. I remember drivers being polite and patient, esp. when I popped out of the Fort Pitt tunnel and found myself in the wrong lane--WAY in the wrong lane--and the other drivers let me cross over 4 or 5 lanes without a single rude gesture. Not many cities can you say that about, let me tell you!

Karen in Ohio said...

I have had two friends, and one daughter, who detest driving over water. Do not understand, although when bridges collapse I'm sure they can point to the disaster and justify their fears.

Here in Cincinnati it's an east-west thing. The I-75 interstate divides the county, and ne'er the twain shall meet. People who grow up on one side of town rarely venture across, and almost never move to the other side. I don't get that, either. There are some lovely places on both sides of town.

Annette said...

Ramona, you must have to leave plenty of time to get wherever you're going. Or does everyone use the boat excuse when they're late getting somewhere?

And you obviously drove through Pittsburgh on an especially good day! ;-) I will say, crossing all those lanes of traffic on the Fort Pitt bridge is so commonplace that drivers really are used to giving other drivers some slack.

Karen, sounds like a variation of the old "wrong side of the tracks" story.

Jenna said...

I have no idea why this would be, but it's fascinating. Personally, I'll drive over anything to get anywhere.

Here in Nashville, we have a river. Downtown - and most of the rest of town - is on one side, East Nashville on the other. Most people from the 'other' side won't cross over into East Nashville. It isn't the river, though; it's the 20-30 years of being the worst neighborhood in town, when people from the 'nice' areas would think they were taking their lives in their hands by crossing into the hood. It's actually very nice here (now), and no less safe than anywhere else, but a few people still persist in thinking East Nashville is the Wild West.

C.L. Phillips said...

OMG - we have the exact same phenonmena in Austin. My uncle
actually told me he would never come to my house if I moved "south of the river".

I'm so happy to know this happens elsewhere. Now as to why, I have no clue. It's not like you have to swim across.

Laurie said...

Annette, I was equally flabbergasted when I was attending one of the writers groups in Pittsburgh, and I started to grasp that there is this "whole not crossing over rivers into different neighborhoods" thing, which in my personal experience, to date, seemed to be unique to Pittsburgh.

As you know I drive from Ohio for these meetings and never give a thought as to what bridges I cross over, or tunnels that I drive through in order to reach my destination. I don't know if it's because I moved a lot in my youth, and don't think anything about different neighborhoods, or that in my adulthood I drive "all over the place" if there's something that I want to attend or someone to visit.

I will say though that I find this concept actually kind of quaint and just one more reason to love Pittsburgh!

Annette said...

Laurie, I thought it was unique to Pittsburgh, too. But I'm glad to hear other cities have similar quirks.

Ramona said...

Annette, I'm just remembering this. The Delaware Memorial Bridge, which connects Delaware to New Jersey, used to provide a driver service. If you were scared, a Bridge Authority officer would drive your car over. I had a friend who'd do this, and cower in the back seat. That service is gone now--budget cuts.

Gina said...

Wow, Ramona, if they could do that around here, we could wipe out unemployment in Southwestern Pennsylvania in a snap! Lot's of call for helpful drivers.

Becky said...

Ok laugh if you must but I have never heard of this tradition. Guess I need to get out more.