I don’t mean to be ungracious to the writer, Lucas Peterson. He really got around and packed his piece with accurate stats, interesting historical brush strokes and nice local color in a readable way.
But it’s the nature of travel pieces, particularly Times’ travel pieces, to have a kind of wide-eyed wonder if they find anyone west of the Hudson River is doing anything mildly urbane.
After reading the story “Built on Steel, Pittsburgh Now Thrives on Culture,” the PG’s Chris Potter tweeted this question last week:
“Who will pay me to go to NYC and write about how a city once known for Civil War riots blends authenticity w/ hedge funds and hipster bars?”
Suzie Berry tweeted back, “I hear they have a pretty good statue there worth seeing. And some kind of park ... in the center ... or something.’’
More people chimed in, but you get the idea. Some Pittsburghers are getting tired of being discovered by the chattering classes. They’d just as soon see the chattering cease. Me, I thought I’d trace how the Times’ take has evolved over the years in its Pittsburgh travel pieces.
“Tell a co-worker that you’re headed to Pittsburgh for the weekend and the response might be a puzzled stare — or a cock of the head that signals readiness for the punch line.”
OK, back then, the writer assumed complete bafflement, and he probably knew his audience. Some of the musts for any Pittsburgh visit were established then: the Inclines, the Andy Warhol Museum, a Primanti Brothers sandwich (“excessive. Perhaps obscene. But good”).
(Yes, the Times was here less than two years ago but still saw fit to discover us again last week.)
“Sometimes gritty, always hilly, Steel City’s charms are often hidden below the surface.”
That’s fair. Our being “a canvas for the kind of urban dreams that more crowded and expensive cities can’t foster” is, too. When he suggests Pittsburgh “can easily be explored by bike or even on foot,” he’s overstating things, but it’s probably evidence the Times audience has more cyclists than it had even 13 years ago.
Some of the suggested travel stops of 2002 — Station Square and the Grand Concourse — aren’t mentioned this time. Now the writer suggests checking out the public art produced by exiled writers at the City of Asylum on the North Side, numerous trendy restaurants and hotels that weren’t here a decade ago, plus Row House Cinema in Lawrenceville and Bicycle Heaven on the North Side.
Mr. Peterson mentioned some of the same musts of 2002, such as Primanti’s and the Warhol. He echoed the 2015 pitch for the public art sponsored by City of Asylum, praised an exhibition of Teenie Harris photos at the August Wilson Center, and included a couple of the new must-stops for visiting travel writers: Banjo Night at the Allegheny Elks Lodge, and Randyland, both on the North Side.
The latter is Randy Gilson’s house at the corner of Arch and Jacksonia streets. If the entire Crayola 64-pack could mate with a child’s toy box, it might produce something as visually arresting as this three-story wonder. More than 12,000 people now search directions to Randyland on Google each month, 90 percent of them from outside Allegheny County.
Those stats come courtesy of Pittsburgh’s own Foo Conner, the transformational journalist with 93,000 Twitter followers who has co-directed Randyland into a selfie mecca.
“We get so many people from Ohio, it’s insane,” Mr. Gilson told me.
Most of them don’t even read the Times.
You know what? About halfway through this column I changed my mind. I like that the Times travel writers keep coming back. They’ve made me want to go back to some places I haven’t been in a while. They’re good at what they do.
Now I just hope this newspaper sends Mr. Potter to New York to write about what it might have going. You know it nearly went bankrupt in the 1970s, but lately I’ve been hearing good things about Brooklyn.
Brian O’Neill: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1947 on Twitter @brotheroneill
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