Contrast of Longitudes

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Written by Columnist Dirk Ellingson

The recurring theme of this column is contrasting living north and south.  This week a change from latitudes to longitudes.

Five years after I moved 600 miles south, my daughter Claire moved over 800 miles east.  She and her husband Jacob migrated to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  They departed the friendly confines of Raytown, Missouri, a city so close to neighboring Kansas City they too are levied a 1% earnings tax to fund KC police and firefighters.

Both cities are characterized as part of the Midwest yet Pittsburgh is far more eastern in demeanor and not just because of its time zone.  Claire is now always an hour ahead of me.  I asked her to compare her resident cities present and former.

“People on the east coast in general are ruder and have a more pessimistic disposition towards strangers,” Claire said.  “Pittsburgh exhibits some of the east coast mindset, although overall is more Midwest in nature.  People do hold the doors for you here, not so much in New York City.”

When we lived north, my wife Lisa lamented bland victuals.  I don’t know if it’s aversion to spice, pepper availability, heat tolerance, or cooking skills but it’s true the median Missourian palate experiences more limited seasonings.  On the culinary front, Kansas City is famous for barbecue.  A vegetarian since she was a teen, Claire is often in settings where it’s hard to find meals without meat.  I asked about Pittsburgh.

“There’s lots of fried food in both locations but Pittsburgh is famous for their chicken wings,” she said.  “Jacob is a fan but there are very few places with cauliflower or vegan wings for me.  I’ve had a lot of good pizza out here from small hole-in-the-wall joints.”

I concede chow is better in Louisiana than Missouri.  Except pizza.  It’s far superior up north with more variety.  I could cite both regional chains and small businesses in Missouri making better pizza than we’re eating here.  Touchy family subject because Johnny the Pizza baron was Lisa’s uncle.  Johnny learned his craft at the Pizza Shack in Lamoni, Iowa where he attended college.  It’s good (most pizza is) but I miss the pizzerias of the north.

I frequently talk weather.  Like her old man, Claire prefers cold weather to hot.  Ellingsons are of Scandinavian descent and I guess the as yet unvisited old country still calls us.  

“In Kansas City, you never truly know what temperature it’s going to be regardless of the time of year,” Claire said.  “It could be snowing in May and 80 degrees in October, but thankfully not in Pittsburgh.  It’s unseasonably hot this summer, but typically stays consistent with southern Canadian temperatures since we’re located so close.  The winters are brutal.”

Whether snowy roads or clear, traffic and narrow streets are the worst changes in Claire’s new setting.

“I miss driving my car.  I never thought I would, but I miss being able to get in my old Chrysler and drive open wide highways without traffic.  The greater Kansas City area is massive and there are more roads and area in general for traffic to flow.  Pittsburgh is maybe a 20-minute drive without traffic from end to end whereas KC is at least double that time.  It’s an incredibly small city (compared to what I’m used to) with very old roads.  Unless you’re on the highway, most streets are extremely narrow.  It’s common for people to park on the sidewalks, lawns, or wherever they can fit.  Garages are not too common in this city but massive potholes are.  I’d say driving is what I hate the most about living here, but we don’t have to do it much since we’re now within walking distance of many attractions.”

Easing of pandemic restrictions finally allow Claire and Jacob to explore their new city.

“I haven’t been out enough since I’ve been vaccinated but I did love the Carnegie Natural History and Art Museum and we frequently go to Frick Park to walk our dog.  The waterfront area is beautiful.  Living near so many rivers and bridges makes me feel less landlocked than I did in Kanas City.  It’s cool to know a lot of these buildings have been around for at least a century.”

Claire and Jacob attended their first Pittsburgh Pirates baseball game this season.  PNC Park is much newer than Kauffman Stadium, home of the Kansas City Royals.

“PNC Park is a very clean stadium.  You get a view of the Allegheny River and a couple bridges instead of I-70 and a Denny’s.  The fans were louder and heckled opposing team players more often than I ever heard at Royals games.”

Claire said Pittsburgh fans screamed, “Steroids!”  I’m guessing because former Pirate Starling Marte now plays for the Miami Marlins, the visiting opponent at the game they attended.  While playing for Pittsburgh, Marte got in some trouble when he tested positive for performance enhancing drugs.  He was contrite in his 2017 statement to the press.  “With much embarrassment and helplessness, I ask for forgiveness for unintentionally disrespecting so many people who have trusted in my work.”

Sounds genuine to me but not enough for some Pirates fans.  Tragically, Marte lost his young wife to a heart attack last year.  Clearly a player fans should cut some slack.  Nope.  Not in Pennsylvania.  Perhaps some of that geographical rudeness Claire was talking about.

Pittsburgh fans are likely not as bellicose as those in Philadelphia on the eastern side of the state, but they’re clearly not as polite as Kansas City.  Claire’s friend Kara from Baltimore was reluctant to wear Oriole orange to a Royals game because of her experiences back home.  Claire assured her it would be okay.

When Lorenzo Cain, an outfielder on the 2015 Royals World Series champions, returned to Kauffman Stadium as a Milwaukee Brewer he was given a thunderous standing ovation.  While a Royals camera operator, I sometimes visited with opposing team fans.  The best behaved were fans of the Minnesota Twins, a team with an Iowa fan base willing to drive south to Kansas City.  

In my experience the entire Midwest swath of states including Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana are full of polite people.  Yet I’ve heard accusations of Missourians being ruder than southerners.  I guess because we don’t say sir and ma’am.  Eye and ear of the beholder.  Like Claire, I believe Missouri in the country center is plenty polite.  

Prior to our move, I lobbied Lisa we move to Minden instead of West Monroe because of tap water quality.  We’ve good water here.  Water in Pittsburgh has been an unpleasant surprise.

“Tap water here is heavily chlorinated,” Claire said.  “It must be like drinking from a YMCA pool.”  They had to invest in a pricey Brita water filter.

I’ve noted few Louisiana houses here have basements or garages.  Claire reports architecture in Pittsburgh is very different from Kansas City.

“The houses look literally like Mister Roger’s Neighborhood.  They’re all mere feet apart, built wherever there is space, and sitting atop ancient foundations still intact.  Our home was built in 1912.  Although most everything is redone, the bones, foundation, and brick are all original.  Houses here are very solid.  There are so many that they squish tightly together in most areas.  Rowhouse style is popular as well as slender Tudors in wealthier areas.”

Claire the nomad is happy she made the move east.

“I’m someone who loves to travel and although I have seen many cities and countries, I spent 29 years living in one place.  I’d like to live in another city or two before I die.  My soul rarely settles in one area.  I vibe to the movement of life and I’d love to see it all.”

Their dogs Ringo and Scully have a smaller backyard but there’s still room to frolic besides the aforementioned Frick Park.

“Even though our house now is much smaller, it’s actually longer in length so the pups have a big path to run around and play inside,” Claire said.  “I think they are comfortable in their new home.”

Claire and Jacob also have a cockatiel.  When asked for a quote about the change in scenery, Bird expressed, “No opinion.”

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