Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Disoriented but Happy in the Burgh

By Guest Blogger, Kathleen George

I need a GPS system for everyday life because I’m severely challenged when it comes to directions, maps, anything that indicates how a person gets from one place to another. Yet I dare to put Pittsburgh, the city, in my novels. To do so, the cops and criminals have to go where I go, eat what I eat. And most of the time, I have to research how to get them there.

But I love using Pittsburgh as a setting. I’m attracted to the mood and the ethos here—we are a gritty, cheerful working class city. I love putting my cops and criminals on the bridges, driving the parkway, in the parks, in the restaurants.

There was the old view of Pittsburgh—dirty and unsophisticated. Films like the Preston Sturges Sullivan’s Travels and the dark Requiem for a Heavyweight make jokes about how undesirable it would be to end up in our city. But now we’re rated the #1 livable city in America by Places Rated Almanac for 2007. Some of the beauty of Pittsburgh will surely be featured in the film of Chabon’s The Mysteries of Pittsburgh. I’m especially thrilled every time the young boy, Shane, in Showtime’s Weeds (trying to save his family from disaster, constantly doing research on the Internet) says he knows where they need to go to make everything right—Pittsburgh. We’ve surely arrived as desirable on the national scene.

But those who were here a long time ago still love the place. The Post-Gazette of December 3 features a photographer/CEO of Hearst Publishing who not only fondly remembers living here, but has done a book of photos of the city.

The editor for my novel, AFTERIMAGE, the legendary Ruth Cavin, was born and raised in Pittsburgh. She attended what was then Carnegie Tech. She must surely have eaten in Cantor’s and Weinsteins restaurants. As I did. She’s now eighty-eight years old and still smarter than everybody else around her. When I directed her to my website and especially to the section called A Cop’s Culinary Tour of Pittsburgh, she wrote to me that she was having this fantasy: “to find a small house near the Carnegie campus (Please! That’s Car-NEG-ie!, you New York dopes!) and settle down happily.”

If she comes for so much as a visit, I will happily drive her around. I can get her to Tessaro’s, Primanti’s, Squirrel Hill, Carnegie Mellon and Pitt Campuses. Who cares if we get lost downtown, there’s plenty to see. If she wants to go to Swissvale or Moon Township, I will need a GPS system.

Kathleen George is a professor of theatre at Pitt and the author of TAKEN, FALLEN, and AFTERIMAGE.


Anonymous said...

Kathy -
Kudos for meeting the challenge of setting your books here. The greatest mystery of Pittsburgh is its geography -- with all the rivers and creeks and hills and gullies and bridges and tunnels, roads tend to run up, down, over, under, around and through. In fact, our unofficial motto is: "You can't get there from here." Add in the tendency we have of giving directions that begin: "You go out past where the Kaufmanns used to be . . ."

My ex-husband grew up in Cleveland, where the streets are flat and straight and consecutively numbered. I ended up sending maps to his family rather than trying to explain to
how the University Oratory, where we were getting married, could be on the corner of Bigelow and Bigelow -- where it makes one of many turns and where a few more streets join in.

Anonymous said...

When I first moved to Pittsburgh in '89, I remember being blown away by the experience of traveling along a road with industrial yuck on either side, and turning a corner and finding myself facing a breath-taking view. It was, and still is, awesome.

I also remember driving on the North side with a map, and after every intersection pulling over and consulting the map to see if I was still on the same street or was now on a different street. (No GPS back then.)

Thanks for blogging, Kathleen. I love your books!

Annette said...

I just heard on the news last night that Pittsburgh is the 9th most walkable cities in the country. And walking is definitely my preferred method of getting around. It never fails that when I'm driving, the only way to get to where I need to be involves a one-way street going the wrong way.

Welcome to Working Stiffs, Kathleen. I can't wait to read the new book!

Joyce Tremel said...

Welcome, Kathy! Great blog.

I'm a native Pittsburgher and our weird streets don't faze me in the least. I'll drive anywhere--I don't care!

I think the Pittsburgh area is a great setting for books. We really do have it all.

Anonymous said...

Joyce: no ocean!

Anonymous said...

My introduction to Pittsburgh's crazy-quilt streets in '77 was eased by a partner who loved to shop, anywhere. I quickly learned how to use main roads and back roads to get from our home in Highland Park to Monroeville, the South Hills, and North Hills. My first newspaper job had me covering borough council and school board meetings all over the South Hills. Still, getting lost in Pgh. can be fun--once we missed a turn and ended up in Swisshelm Park, a perfect gem of a community--and considered the city's safest neighborhood because so many cops live there. But there are still some parts of Downtown and Mt. Washington and its neighborhoods that completely befuddle me. I can see how GPS would be a god-send for anyone new to the city, tho I have to agree with Gina, even that might not help when you have Bigelow intersecting with Bigelow! Great post, Kathy, and welcome.

Anonymous said...

Will somebody explain to me why Sandy Creek Road (which turns into Coal Run Road and ends up at a corner that is in Churchill and Edgewood and Blackridge AND Monroeville) is still closed after a landslide LAST SUMMER?? It's very frustrating.

Joyce Tremel said...

Tory, who needs an ocean? We have three rivers!

I've never used GPS, but if it's anything like mapquest, forget it. I've never once had a map or directions that didn't try to take me on non-existent streets!

Anonymous said...

Heh. I'll never forget seeing Pittsburgh for the first time when I moved here in '94 after hearing my husband's tales of having to drive around with your headlights on during the seventies.

I think my favorite Pittsburgh on film slur is in Auntie Mame (the Rosalind Russell one, of course):

Patrick Dennis: Is the English lady sick, Auntie Mame?
Auntie Mame: She's not English, darling... she's from Pittsburgh.
Patrick Dennis: She sounded English.
Auntie Mame: Well, when you're from Pittsburgh, you have to do something.

Kathy MH

Anonymous said...

Welcome, Kathy!

I'm getting better at finding my way around Pittsburgh, but there are some areas that are completely lost to me (such as Oakland!). The GPS system is a wonderful invention, I think, even though I don't have one (yet).

I think it's great that you set your books in Pittsburgh. I think the city offers a lot to writers and readers.