I’ve lived in Pittsburgh for more than 40 years, but it took a visit by some friends from New York to show me how to look at my city in a new way. Of course I have my favorite places to show guests, which includes Mt. Washington, the Point, and the Fred Rogers’ statue on the North Shore, but my visitors opened my eyes to other ways of seeing some very familiar places.
For example, I’d never ridden the light rail transit system (known as ‘the T’) in the city because I’d never needed to—it was still under construction when I worked downtown, and by the time more routes were established, I was used to driving everywhere that it went. But since one of my guests was a New York City subway driver, he wanted to take a ride, and I was surprised to realize that it gave me a completely different outlook on the Golden Triangle!
I’ve always parked and walked around town; traveling across the river and over to Station Square on an elevated track let me see things that I’d never noticed when they were above my head—such as intricate carvings on buildings, as well as things below my feet, like the Monongahela River. It’s a lot easier to gawk when you’re crossing a railway bridge and someone else is driving!
Turns out, more than 23,000 people ride the T every day, many of whom were on their way home after a Pirates’ game when we took our trip—what a great way for my friends to experience the city’s sports-mania first-hand!
We also searched out craft beers in Lawrenceville (okay, so I’d had a little experience finding breweries in town) and attended a huge barbecue festival on the North Side by Heinz Field, which was open for tours. And while I’ve attended many a football game at the stadium, I’d never spent much time wandering through all of the displays and checking out ALL of the trophies that were won by local teams. A visit to the Heinz History Center brought back memories of my days as an ad copywriter in the city—and even I, a Pittsburgher who bleeds Heinz ketchup red, learned a wealth of new facts about the place I call home.
Even a local park took on a new aspect when we went kayaking on a nearby lake that I’d never tried despite the fact that it was 10 minutes from my house—kind of ridiculous, since I’ve kayaked so many other places in the state and along the East Coast. For some reason, it never occurred to me how much fun it would be to spend the day on the water so close to home; something that I learned simply because I was tailoring the trip to my friends’ interests instead of mine.
In December, I was able to visit these same friends in New York, where we did all the things that ‘tourists’ do, like see the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center and the window displays at Saks Fifth Avenue. I wasn’t surprised when one of my hosts commented that she never came downtown during the holiday season because of the crowds, but that she was really enjoying seeing her city through my eyes.
What a wonderful lesson it is to realize that even though you think you know a place, you can always discover something different if you avoid the familiar and search out new experiences. Everything old can seem new again when you travel out of your comfort zone.
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