Gary Rotstein’s The Morning File: Travel Channel's Pittsburgh praise must be ignored


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Thanks a lot, Travel Channel.

It would have been nice to get to the Warhol Museum just once this summer without being squeezed among a big crowd of tourists who, like us, love to watch long films of people doing mundane everyday tasks. ("Wow, that is some serious tooth-brushing going on there -- and it's art, too!")

Then the Travel Channel had to come along and put us on its Top 10 list of "Best All-American Vacations 2014." In addition to Washington, D.C., which is indeed a great place to visit to watch lobbyists drink, we were listed right there alongside Nantucket, the Black Hills, the Everglades and other tourist gems.

Oh, and there's Bannack, Mont., which we had never heard of, but which is evidently a great example of an old West ghost town that people are free to explore. It's possible that the Travel Channel loves ghost towns so much that it previously placed Pittsburgh on its vacation list in the late 1980s, as a great Rust Belt example where visitors could freely roam without running into actual residents, who had all fled.

The new list's description of Pittsburgh referred to it as really hip, bubbling over with young people, a great arts destination, yada yada yada. All true, of course, as the Furries, Barack Obama and Steve Miller Band all must know, since they seem to show up here every three weeks or so.

But at the risk of sounding ungrateful for the umpteenth time, The Morning File really must insist of people composing city rankings: In the immortal words of the great British rock group Duran Duran, "No mas." (Editor's note: Readers should know that it was actually Panamanian boxer Roberto Duran who famously stopped a match by declaring "No mas," but we would also like readers to know the writer is an imbecile, so we are leaving his original sentence intact.)

If publications and institutions and TV channels keep citing Pittsburgh as the greatest place that nobody knows is the greatest place, and people flock here accordingly, what will we do with the extra cars trying to fit through the Fort Pitt Tunnel? Where will we find room for the extra bodies trying to watch our precious fireworks? How much will our renowned friendliness be tested by all these travelers asking, "Excuse me, but where are your steel mills?"

(What is the tipping point, by the way, for so many people having called Pittsburgh something like "one of our nation's most underrated cities" -- see Chicago Tribune, Jan. 4, 2014 -- that no one can accurately make such pronouncements of surprise anymore? Haven't we reached the stage where at least one underwhelmed soul enticed here has left saying, "Granted, it's rather pretty, and the people are refreshingly down to earth, and my own hometown sure doesn't have any locks and dams that can compare with those as Emsworth, but I just spent four days of my life in Pittsburgh? Pittsburgh?")

The Travel Channel pointed out The Warhol, Mattress Factory, Carnegie Museums, Fallingwater and Ohiopyle State Park among worthwhile local destinations, somehow omitting PNC Park on a game night, the Strip District on a Saturday morning, the Point fountain on a warm day and an incline ride up Mount Washington at any time.

If visitors take in all those things, all they'll do is return home advising their friends to come next year. That will be a big headache, because there won't be any alternative ride-sharing services available to help Yellow Cab haul them around, now that they've been banned.

"Pittsburgh is one of the hottest tourist destinations right now in the United States," says Craig Davis, CEO of the local tourism promotion agency VisitPittsburgh, which says the visitors are pumping $5.5 billion a year into the local economy. (We're guessing a billion or so of that is from extra gasoline purchases when lost on our confounding road network.)

Sunday's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette described how tourists and residents alike can take advantage here of walking tours, running tours, boat tours, eating tours, microbrewery tours, sports history tours, film-making tours, haunted site tours and more.

Our favorite, however, was the description of a Segway tour in which one of the participants steered one of those two-wheeled contraptions into the Allegheny River. We can only imagine the lyrics of that great Roberto Duran song, "Girls on Film," started running through her head: "She wonders how she ever got here as she goes under again."

(Editor's note: Yes, he screwed up the Durans again, and the woman on the Segway survived -- not that he would care -- or we wouldn't let him make a joke about it.)

Gary Rotstein: grotstein@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1255.


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