See Yinz: PittGirl Says Goodbye
After writing for seven years about the city for Pittsburgh Magazine and pittsburghmagazine.com, Virginia Montanez is discontinuing her blog and column.
Editor’s Note: After writing for seven years about the city for Pittsburgh Magazine and pittsburghmagazine.com, Virginia Montanez has made the difficult decision to discontinue her “PittGirl” blog and column. We thank her deeply for her invaluable contributions to the magazine — and to the city. A new voice (another Pittsburgh favorite) will appear in this space beginning next month.
he thing with Pittsburgh is this: It gets you.
If it doesn’t yet have you, there eventually comes a time when it will reach out … and get you.
And it will keep you.
No matter how far you wander from it, to the ends of our earth, you will still be gotten.
I don’t know when Pittsburgh got me, but I do know it didn’t always have me. Growing up here, you take things for granted. You cross a bridge. Shoot out of a tunnel. Ride an incline. Eat the salad fries. Take in a Bucs game. Walk a path along the shore. Feel the breeze off the river. Hear a kind voice. Witness a selfless act. Do work. See beauty. Feel love.
Often what regularly surrounds you isn’t fully appreciated until that comforting presence no longer is enveloping you with warm familiarity. When you’re without it, feeling the chill, that’s when you hungrily seek it out with fresh, appreciative eyes.
I went to Texas for four years. Left Pittsburgh behind to study. To get educated. To learn who I was 1,000 miles from a city that didn’t yet have me.
When I came home, I gradually realized Pittsburgh was more than bridges, inclines, rivers and sports. It was a story. A saga. It was a reinvention — scratching and clawing out of the mire of the steel collapse. It was determination. It was lovingly clinging to blue-collar roots. It was pride. It was promise. It was work-weathered hands joining to hold together that which threatened to fall apart. It was strength. It was brains. It was a city on a path to greatness from which it would not stray.
So I walked along that path, and as all of those realizations dawned on me, I stretched out a hand. I learned when you reach out just a bit to Pittsburgh — lean a little, open yourself up — that’s when Pittsburgh reaches for you. That’s when it gets you, and it carries you with it.
When you learn the history, volunteer to help its suffering people, get involved to try to affect a small positive change, create something beautiful and meaningful here … your eyes open. You realize the richness of the history and how it shaped us into a community of neighborhoods. You become unable to ignore the incredible value and unmatched strength of people who need a little help. You realize the ease with which change can take place, with just a little elbow grease. Your creation is supported and valued and lifted up by others, for others to see and love. Your widened eyes open your softened heart, and Pittsburgh gets you.
That’s how it got me. I learned the history. In my 20s, I often sat alone by the fountain at the Point during lunch. I leaned toward her … heart open, eyes closed, breeze welcomed. In my 30s, I cared enough to get angry at the aspects that were not what they could be. To help. To feel a burning passion to have any small part in making Pittsburgh into a city unlike any other.
And Pittsburgh had me — really had me and would not let go.
I say this not to sound melodramatic or to wax eloquent, but because it’s the only way I can adequately describe to you my love for our city: Pittsburgh is in my soul. I know it so well, value it so pricelessly, want so much for it that it has become half of me. The rivers course through my veins, the fountain erupts in my heart, the bridges connect all of the parts of my identity, the inclines rise and fall with every breath I take. It is one of the most valuable relationships in my life, and it has shaped me into who and what I am.
When Pittsburgh really has you, you’ll feel that way too.
If it doesn’t already have you, I hope Pittsburgh gets you soon. I hope you’ll lean just a bit toward her. Soften, change, reach, so that she will reach back to you and show you the gleaming glory and character-shaping pain of her past. Why she’s worthy of your hard work to better her, why she’s deserving of you becoming the best, most loving kind of neighbor you can be, and why, once she has you, she’ll take care of you for as long as you take care of her.
Pittsburgh reached out for me. It has got me. It will never not have me, no matter what comes next.
Thank you for reading, and thank you for loving Pittsburgh as much as I do.
I’ll see yinz around the neighborhood.