A girl walks into a bar ...
OK, you've probably heard that one. How about this?
A girl from Monessen walks into a bar in Arlington, Va. She doesn't know anyone. She's alone. But it's Sunday -- a football Sunday -- and she's been trying to find people to watch her beloved Steelers with for years.
Out of the corner of her eye, she spots the black and gold. Like a cat attracted to shiny objects, she approaches. Two people named Katie and Keith, adorned in Steelers garb from head to pedicure, greet her. In fact, Katie stands and gives her a hug, welcoming her to the Arlington Black and Gold Club.
During the next couple of hours, more and more people show up, brought together through a Facebook page, Google searches and the Steelers flag hanging outside the bar, each wearing the signature colors and waving their Terrible Towels in unison.
This story might sound like a myth, but it happened.
This isn't the first time I've talked about my loneliness and homesickness during football season. The Post-Gazette published an essay of mine about it back in January 2011. When Katie Reeves decided she wanted to start a Steelers fan club in Arlington, she found that article through the power of the Internet and contacted me. That's the magic of Steelers Nation on full display.
As I walked into Union Jack's, a bar in the Ballston area of Arlington, on a recent Sunday I felt my life shift. Hundreds of miles away, my friends and relatives let out a collective sigh of relief that they no longer have to hear me complain about how I have no one to watch the games with. I won't have to scream at the TV in my apartment by myself, worried I might end up with a noise violation. And I may have just found a place where I fit in.
Those lucky enough to live in southwestern Pennsylvania or afford the NFL Network might not understand what it's like for the rest of us. It's not the easiest thing in the world to live apart from all of your family or to have your two closest friends live in a different state.
Sure, I'm proud of what I've accomplished over the years. Yes, I have my own personal Mary Tyler Moore moments. I might just make it after all, blah, blah, blah.
But the Washington, D.C., area is a strange, expensive place where everyone seems to be an aggressive driver and talk about politics all the time. Plus, they don't air every single Steelers game! It's a transient melting pot of different cultures, different points of view and different NFL teams to favor.
Our esteemed president, Katie (a Kiski Area alumna) and her husband Keith (converted Steelers fan from upstate New York -- Steelers women have that effect on people) explained to me over soft pretzels and cheeseburgers that they used to live in Fredericksburg, Va., where the Fredericksburg Black and Gold Club thrived.
Our goal in Arlington is to get more members and enjoy watching the games together. When it comes to watching my team, I want some Steelers friends. Because if there is any hat I'm throwing up in the air, it better have the Steelers logo on it. We all bonded immediately at Union Jack's over tales of Pittsburgh and that the Ravens lost that day.
While my first Steelers club meeting with the Arlington Black and Gold club was successful, it put me in a pensive mood. I had to ponder: What is Steelers Nation really? But the answer came to me quickly.
It's sitting down with complete strangers and talking as if we've known each other for years. It's having raffle tickets for Steelers swag and yelling at the television at the exact same time. It's shared memories of Kennywood and Super Bowl parties. It's understanding why we left the area that we love so much.
Likewise, it's knowing that despite where our lives, education or jobs take us, "home" will always be surrounded by three rivers.
Steelers Nation made my entire Sunday. And so long as that wonderful group of people I met isn't lying about liking me, too, it will make my next Steelers Sunday. Oh wait, Pittsburgh people don't lie.
So I guess I'll see yinz for the next game.
Kerri Carpenter, a freelance writer in Arlington, Va., can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The PG Portfolio welcomes "Steelers Nation" submissions and other reader essays. Send your writing to email@example.com; or by mail to Portfolio, Post-Gazette, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. Portfolio editor Gary Rotstein: 412-263-1255.