For starters, I'm proud of the fact that, when TV stations urge Pittsburghers to proudly announce where they are from, most of us roll our eyes. And jam our fingers in our ears.
Here's the thing about Pittsburgh pride, for all the boosters who try to export it in the form of "branding statements" and film footage of good-looking knowledge workers on rowing teams. People here love Pittsburgh, a lot, but we don't all like to make a big deal out of the fact. As a poet once said, it's like when your woman asks you to tell her you love her, but you can't.
So, yeah. I could say, "Well, I'm proud of the steel industry here, and the fact that without Pittsburgh, many of our bridges and skyscrapers would be manufactured in plywood." And I am. But saying so seems false somehow -- in part because that industry is all but gone now, and in part because some of the other people who claim to be proud of that industry helped to tear it down.
So one thing I'm proud of that we're hard to impress and thus hard to fool. Because we've been made fools of so many times in the past.
Which brings me to the second point: We have long memories. Too long, some would say, but the fact is that an ability to recall the past seems an increasingly rare gift. When visitors come here and talk about its charm and character, what they mean is that we haven't quite obliterated every trace of our history. The fact that outsiders notice this at all suggests that it is unusual. Since a lot of us stay here and very few arrive from somewhere else, the city as a whole has a much longer memory. If the past explains the present, there are a lot of people living elsewhere struggling to figure out what's going on today ... because they have little sense of what happened in their adopted cities before.
We can be too hidebound, of course, especially in matters of racial tolerance and the like. But Thoreau once said you never gain something without losing something too, and to turn our backs on the past entirely -- or to turn that history into some sort of theme park -- would be a sad thing.
Finally, I'm proud of our sheer contrariness. Some of the world's most fun and fascinating wackiness come from the Pittsburgh area: from the Glassport church that ritually flogged the Easter Bunny this spring, to the late great Lansberry toting his "Tom Murphy has no honor" sandwich board, to the founder of the Jehovah's Witnesses banging on North Side doors. The sheer number of Pittsburgh-related events that crop up in the nationally syndicated "News of the Weird" feature (found elsewhere in these pages) I regard as a barometer of our civic good health. If you can be a freak here, you can be a freak anywhere, as the success of native son Andy Warhol readily attests.
And as Dick Skrinjar, PennDOT's sage and spokesman, once put it, the chief form of recreation in Pittsburgh is busting each other's chops. Or as Laurie Graham says it in her elegiac book Singing the City, too much civility is seen "as artifice, a separation of the individual from who he really is. As such it is a form of dishonesty." And the guys at top get it the worst: We're toughest on the Steelers offense we'd pay anything to see. There's something deeply reassuring about that, especially in a so-called democracy that pays too much courtesy to the rich and powerful. And it leads to some of the shining moments in our history. Among our strongest claims to history, after all, was an act of defiance: the Homestead Steel Strike.
If only there were some way to seize control of WPXI's recording studio. Who's with me, you sons and daughters of Pittsburgh?