It's playoff season again, and I've got my routine down pat.
I leave work just in time to score a prime seat at the bar (before the last-minute crowd arrives 5 minutes before puck-drop to mob the place). I throw on my lucky Lemieux jersey, because the last time I forgot it at home we lost, so I can't do that again. I drop into my usual seat, wave a hand at the black-and-gold garbed bartender, and he returns a moment later with an Iron City beer. Some guy slaps me on the back, compliments my old-school choice in jersey. A girl in Sid gear takes the seat beside me, debating with her boyfriend whether Vokoun or Fleury should start tonight. The waitress whisks past in her "Geno is my homeboy" T-shirt on her way to serve the raucous mob already chanting "Let's Go Pens!" in the back room.
Sounds like any old hockey night in Pittsburgh, right?
Except this bar is in New York City, three blocks from Ranger territory in Madison Square Garden.
Hockey's been my sport of choice ever since the Penguins' glory days. I have hazy 6-year-old memories of chanting "You need glasses, ref!" with the burly biker dudes in the row behind us while the 1992 Pens blazed their way toward the cup.
That's probably why hockey was the first thing that keyed me into the drastic number of Pittsburgh transplants in my new home. How can there be an entire bar dedicated to an enemy sports team? I wondered all throughout my first hockey season in the Big Apple. Turns out that wasn't even the only Penguins bar in town. And the Pittsburghitis didn't stop there.
Summer rolled around. At the time, I lived in Hoboken, N.J., a growing town just 15 minutes from Midtown Manhattan on the PATH train. This was before Snooki tried to move in, so although most of my friends in Brooklyn and Queens had heard of Hoboken, it wasn't trendy yet.
The first time I rounded the corner to the train and was met by an oncoming mob of black-and-gold jerseys, I thought nothing of it. Until I remembered where I was. I paused, turned and stared as the Steelers crowd descended on the neighborhood bar ... in Hoboken.
Obviously, by this point in my stay, I'd guessed there would be Steelers bars in New York City. If there were multiple Pens bars, I could only imagine how many more watering holes would be dedicated to our city's most popular sports team. But I wasn't prepared to find one of those bars in a 1-square-mile town of 50,000 people.
I started to ask passersby where they were from. Youngstown, said one. Wilkes-Barre, another. But most of them were from neighborhoods I knew. Highland Park, East Liberty, Allentown, Oakland, Chartiers Valley, the South Hills, the North Hills.
The list of transplants I discovered only multiplied from there. A few weeks later, my two-person department at work hired a third person -- from Fox Chapel. I joined a 10-person dodgeball team to meet new people. Three of us were Pittsburgh natives (and two others had parents from Allegheny County). When I trudged all the way to Newark to watch a Devils/Penguins game, the stadium reverberated with cheers almost as loud as the home team's when we scored -- so loud it actually confused my friend into thinking the Devils must have gotten a goal instead.
Maybe there are just as many ex-Bostonites or former Philadelphians in New York as there are Pittsburghers. Maybe I'm only coded to notice my city's colors, or the "yinz" rather than the "wicked" in people's speech. Maybe the ex-pats from those other cities are just as exuberant.
But I don't think so. Something about Pittsburgh sticks with us long after we emigrate -- whether it's to New York or to anywhere else.
Our die-hard Steelers and Penguins loyalties are part of it (and OK, I guess the Pirates have some hard-core fans too, though mostly just people who were alive in the 70s). But it's the personality, too.
Walk into a Pittsburgh bar anywhere and people are chatty, friendly, ready to welcome you in (and not in a "hey baby, you coming home with me tonight?" way, either). When you talk about the city lights at night from the top of the incline, they get it. When you watch "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" with them, they tear up, too. When you go to see "The Dark Knight Rises," they're pointing out which streets are New York and which are Pittsburgh right along with you. And when you make a "yinz guys goin' dahntahn for the Stillers game?" joke, everybody laughs.
I've been in New York City for almost four years, which means most of my newcomer friends refer to me as a New Yorker. And I guess that's partly true. But I'll always be a Pittsburgh gal at heart.
Ellen Goodlett is a writer, an associate marketing manager at John Wiley & Sons and a native of Upper St. Clair (www.ellengoodlett.com).