In Praise of Pittsburgh

As I’ve been traveling more, I’ve been facing the sometimes-unpleasant comparative realities of Pittsburgh vs. other American cities. Pittsburgh is not a perfect place. And it might not be as beautiful or special or whatever else I thought it was, in my fanatical youth, when compared to the metropolises of our nation. And there will be a time when I honestly evaluate Pittsburgh from all angles, looking for both the good and the bad. But for now, here’s a brief praise of a blue-collar sh*ttown.

Pittsburgh is not very glamorous, or powerful, or important. Pittsburgh is homey, and not just because it’s my home. I love Pittsburgh for its homes and hearths. It does not contain the corridors of power. It does not boast monuments or luxury. It’s not aiming to be the center of the
world, nor the nexus for the newest or latest. It’s trying to be a place where people live. It’s home for the blue-collar man; and a praise of Pittsburgh really is a praise for this man. His virtue, even when he wears a white button down, is not his gruffness nor his dirt nor his poverty.
It’s his single-minded pursuit of the finer things—an honest living for a comfortable home for a lively family. Such a life is touched by faith, somehow mindful of the transcendent by the very fact of being so earthy. It builds a community of mutual support and enjoyment, precisely because it’s aiming for none of these things. Blue-collared men do not walk the corridors of power. They do not strive for innovation or grand ambitions. They are, by contrast, rather Tolkienesque—the hobbits of the real world, living simple lives that are all the richer for their simplicity.

And I will cheer them on the stronger. For any glitter and allure of the places of power of our age are fleeting and feeble in comparison. Sure, they aim to, and in fact produce, great deeds, building, technologies and nations. But the irony is that the blue-collar man, in his basic but relentless pursuit of the earthy life, also produces these things, though almost, as it were, by accident.

In the course of the pursuit of homey family life, man has built grand projects, discovered technologies, spread ideas, constructed monuments, planted beauty, and created new governments. But these of the blue-collar man, unlike those of the metropolises, end up being the ones worth creating. The hobbits save Gondor, and Gondor is all the more splendid for it. But Hobbiton persists almost unchanged, in the end—even if it sometimes needs some fresh scouring.

The blue-collar man isn’t afraid to get dirty in these pursuits. Hard work and honest dirt aren’t the ends, but they are unavoidable means of such a simple life. Sometimes, unfortunately, these things lead to the shadows of the blue-collar existence. Back aches, things get grimy, and beauty can be lost beneath run-down and tired old men, or buildings. The occasional scouring is needed, and Pittsburgh has many areas where this might be the case. But beneath the dirt is a gem more precious than any; not because it glitters, but because it doesn’t. This is the essence of Pittsburgh, and this is worth praising.

I have a hard time imagining it comparing to anything else.

Scroll to Top