My residence became Pittsburgh’s north suburbs on July 31, 2010. The most frequently asked question that has come my way over the course of the past year, and as we have approached our first anniversary as Pennsylvania residents is, “Do you miss Texas?”
With apologies to my Texas friends in advance of answering this question, the answer is, “No.” I do miss friends I left there, absolutely. You can’t live in a place and work with people, many of them for as long as 22 years, and not miss their presence. Facebook, the blog, and the toll free calling on the cell phone is a big help, of course, and new friends and colleagues have made this a great year, but as far as missing the place itself, and the things that went along with it, no, I really don’t.
The most likely explanation for this is the fact that I am not a native Texan. My career drew me into the state and I spent most of the time I lived there in the Houston area. I enjoyed my work most of the time, which made everything else endurable. The climate left a lot to be desired. In twenty-two years, I can’t say that I ever remember drawing a clear breath. The humidity was stifling, hot and suffocating in the summer, warm and sweltering in the fall and spring, and on some winter days, a damp chill settled into your bones. I endured three hurricanes and a five hour attempt at evacuation from a fourth. Mosquitos and cockroaches are impervious to insecticide.
From a cultural perspective, Houston’s diversity separates it from the rest of the state and that was one of the positive aspects of living there. The proximity of Galveston made for some very pleasant weekends. Perhaps the best dining the Houston area has to offer is in the area of cowboy and barbeque cuisine, topped by the Saltgrass Steakhouse chain. My favorite ethnic food is Mexican, and while you would think that Houston would provide an abundance of excellence in this particular area, it does not compare with Tucson, which is where I grew up eating mouth-watering Sonoran style. Tex-Mex doesn’t come close, and I didn’t discover Chuy’s on Westheimer, or the Cadillac Bar until the last few years I lived there. But even Chuy’s doesn’t compare to a dozen different Tucson restaurants.
The weather in Pennsylvania has been as close to perfect as it can be, from my perspective. A long, cold, snowy winter was just the ticket for an Arizona native whose only exposure to a real winter was in extreme southern Missouri, and southern Kentucky just north of Nashville. Here, you get the real thing, from the cooldown which starts in late August, and makes you get the hoodies and jackets out in September, to the days when the temperature moves very slowly up toward freezing, but doesn’t quite make it. We had a blanket of snow on the ground from December 1 until the end of February, and several more snows after that, right into April. I’m 54 years old, and this was the first time in my life that I’ve ever had to get up and shovel snow off the walk and driveway. It will take a long time for me to get tired of doing that. Summer here is incomparable. With an average of fewer than 10 days of temperatures over 90, and not that many more days with humidity levels that get high in the afternoons, you can actually go outside in the evening without a wall of hot, moist air hitting you in the face, steaming up your glasses. My wife was sitting in the car at a gas station today while I was filling up. The windows were down, and it was comfortable inside.
Culturally, Pittsburgh, though much smaller than Houston, has a cultural life that exceeds what the Bayou City has to offer, including a large and active theater district, professional sports teams that actually win games and compete for championships, and the entire city is composed of distinctive neighborhoods, classic homes and buildings, and lots of excitement. There’s nothing in Houston that compares to Carson Street, which snakes through the South Side loaded with restaurants and all kinds of interesting shops and stores. Nor is there anything to compare with Pittsburgh’s architecture, buildings and houses that run up and down steep hills and streets, classic looking churches, and neighborhoods clustered around business districts at main intersections. The smells are wonderful, coming from an almost endless collection of ethnic restaurants of all kinds, dominated by Italian food. But if you are looking for good Serbian cooking, you can find that here too, along with German, French and Greek, and yes, I’ve found a Mexican restaurant that’s almost as good as anything Tucson has to offer.
Perhaps the best thing about living here is that I can be standing in front of the Washington Monument in about four hours, at Independence Hall in about five, and in Battery Park at the south end of Manhattan in about seven. If I want to watch Penn State, Ohio State, Pitt, or West Virginia on a Saturday afternoon, I don’t even have to get up early in the morning, and I can be in Ann Arbor in about five hours. Lake Erie is a little over an hour, Niagara Falls about two and a half, and we can leave after work for a weekend in Toronto and make it before it gets dark.
People are people everywhere. This was a big change for me, but I am finding that the satisfaction with my work, the people I work with, the people I go to church with, are not different than anyone else I’ve ever met in my life. It’s been a good year, and I’m looking forward to the next one, snow and all.