I used to be afraid of the city before I lived here. It was fear of the unknown, really. I didn’t actually know anything about Pittsburgh. All I knew was that the roads were terribly confusing and that traffic could be atrocious when there was a Steelers or Pens game, which were the only real reasons to go into the city anyway.
I imagined that cities were full of cruel and terrible people who jump out, steal your money, rape women, pillage and plunder. It only took a few off-handed stories for me to form this stereotype in my mind.
But despite this, cities had always fascinated me. From Pens and Pirates games to my abbreviated tour of New York City, I had always thought that the urban lifestyle looked so glamorous and romantic. People who lived in cities seem to live totally different kinds of lives that I will never grasp. Skyscrapers, cars, traffic, taxis, outdoor cafes, rooftop bars, apartments, buses and trains– there’s so much going on and so much movement. Everyone just walks everywhere, always somewhere to go, someplace to be. People run to catch buses, they push strollers across intersections, they walk with rolling baskets to carry groceries, they meet for lunch or coffee or drinks. They are busy with their own lives, but they’re all part of this big, urban machine.
It was this utter fascination with the city lifestyle that made me want to try living here. I was convinced that despite all the bad people, the poor areas, the places to avoid, the thieves, the traffic, the high rent, and everything else that could go wrong, living in the city in your twenties would be one hundred times more fun than living in the suburbs.
And I was right.
But when I moved here almost a year ago, I had no idea what to expect and therefore expected the worst. I carried my pepper spray in my coat pocket with one finger over the cap, suspicious of every person on the street. I didn’t go out after 7 p.m., not even to take the trash out. When I got out of my car, I pressed the lock button four times just to be sure.
I relaxed a little bit when Jim joined me a month later, and the longer we’re here the more confident we become. (I did say confident, not cocky.) We are always aware that we still live in the city and anything could happen, but we let ourselves enjoy our city life and our surroundings.
We have found restaurants we love, bars we frequent, and friends we trust. I found a welcoming church and a nearby gym. We have discovered new streets and trails and ways to get places.
The city has surprised me in many ways. I assure you, it is not full of criminals. There are families here, many young professionals, and older folks. There are people who can afford the old mansions and people who can barely make rent on a one-bedroom apartment. People don’t bike as much as I thought they would. (But, it is Pittsburgh, after all.) I’ve never seen so many potholes and there is more construction than I ever thought possible. Everything is closer than I’d thought and the roads aren’t as confusing as they seemed. And the people we’ve met or simply passed by are kind, helpful, honest and passionate.
Yesterday, I took a leap on the path to becoming a “city-girl” and rode the Port Authority bus for the first time. (It took almost a year, but I finally did it.) I had been terrified of the kinds of people that would be on the bus, where to get on, where to get off, how to pay– the usual fears. It was a big step for me and not nearly as scary as I made up in my mind.
Jim and I ventured into downtown for the Three Rivers Arts Festival, where we met up with my co-worker and her boyfriend. We saw the Point for the first time and walked around the city streets, seeing so many different and interesting people. We had a few beers at a rooftop bar and then the four of us drove back through the Fort Pitt Tunnel to try out the most delicious barbecue I’ve ever had. Then we got to come home to our one-bedroom apartment, in a renovated mansion– our own little piece of the urban pie.
The city is every bit as glamorous and romantic as I thought it would be, if you look in the right places.