You know those times when you learn about something for the first time — a word you’ve never seen in print and have to look up or a product a friend introduces you to that’s been on the market for months — and suddenly you begin to see it everywhere. It’s as if your awareness of its existence makes you aware of its existence. It’s like those Highlights magazine pages that ask you to find the tea kettle. Once you see it in the tree, you can’t not see it in the tree.
Perhaps that phenomenon explains much of my experience the past two days. Or perhaps it’s something else entirely: People in Pittsburgh are really nice. Canada nice. Southern hospitality nice. Hold open the door at a coffee shop, pull out your chair at lunch, say “excuse me” when walking through a crowded stadium nice. (All of which happened at some point this weekend.)
At halftime of the Steelers-Ravens game on Sunday, after interviewing two grandmas who had been coming to games since the 60s, I overheard a conversation between two twentysomething guys standing in line for food.
For accuracy sake, read this exchange with a Pittsburgh accent …
“It means a lot that you brought me to the game.”
“You’ve been such a good friend. It’s the least I could do.”
“But it’s the Ravens. I know you could have given these tickets to anyone.”
“I’m lucky to have such great friends. Really, really lucky.”
Now, it was halftime and it’s likely a Yuengling or two had been consumed at this point. And maybe my ears were searching for this conversation. But I don’t think so. Yes, I was in Pittsburgh to find out why the Steelers connect so well with women and certainly the family atmosphere at Heinz Field helps the cause. But I never had to look for rowdy behavior or fights at the Meadowlands, the NFL stadium I’ve spent the most time at over the past 10 years. Or Dodger Stadium. Or Florida Field. Heinz Field felt like a place I’d like to bring my grandma. Instead, I brought my niece Karlee’s grandma.
At the Pens game tonight, my mom and I found our seats about five minutes before player intros — Thanks, Jen! — and immediately, the guys to our right turned to us.
“Ladies. Ladies. Our friends are sitting at the other end of the row. They have lovely aisle seats. What are the chances you would switch with them so we can all sit together?”
“Of course. Easy. Love an aisle seat.” It was as if Consol Energy Center became one giant airplane.
“Really? You’d do that? That’s so nice. So nice. That just made our night.”
At the first intermission, they showed up at our new seats at the other end of the aisle — with two cans of Shock Top to say thank you.
I know what I said at the beginning of this post. But I don’t think it’s true. I don’t think I had these experiences because I was looking for them. I think I had them because Pittsburgh is full of really special people. Who really, really love their sports teams. It was so much fun getting to meet and talk to so many of them and to better get to know the city where I was born. I’m happy to head home and stick my feet in the sand.
But I’m really going to miss it here.