Could Pittsburgh's famous inferiority complex be fading?

So much to do, so little time ...

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So I'm driving on the Parkway East from Downtown around 6:30 p.m., and the sky has this mysterious glow of magenta. I say mysterious because it's more a feeling of color than anything visible.

Where is it coming from? I pull over and search the horizon for incipient streaks of heliotrope, the kind that Post-Gazette photographer Darrell Sapp is so masterful at capturing for our front page. But there's no actual color anywhere, just an eerie sense that it's hiding out there, waiting to seep through and saturate the clouds.

There is, no doubt, a scientific explanation for this phenomenon (like, oh, the early stages of sunset). But I prefer to experience it on an emotional level. Because the source is not the blast furnaces of my youth that filled the heavens with a dramatic but ungodly spectacle of red/brown/yellow flames and smoke.

This is a spectacle of nature, not industry, one that does not require closing the windows against the stench of sulfur. And although it is much more subtle than anything rising from the J&L factory, it's still pretty dramatic.

Before I knew it, the color unfolded and I was in a full-blown Pittsburgh reverie. What a beautiful skyline. Look at those clean, glistening rivers, bordered by walking/biking paths on the North Shore and South Side.

How 'bout them Pirates? Didja think they'd ever get us into October again, let alone unite the region with Bucco fever? Wasn't that party on the Roberto Clemente Bridge the best ever? Isn't Andrew McCutchen marvelous to behold? How great is it that the most beautiful ballpark in America finally got a team worthy of it this year? Isn't it it fun to say, "We'll get 'em next year," and really mean it?

And, OMG, that giant rubber duck is so hilariously weird and wonderful. People who would never come to town for the Carnegie International now underway have been streaming in from far and near, choking the streets and parking lots for a glimpse of the bathtub toy on steroids, angling for the best vantage point for a selfie. And what American city got it first? Pittsburgh, that's what. Nyaa, nyaa, San Francisco, which was also in the running. Why on earth did my daughter move there when she could be here, laughing her head off at a bright yellow 40-foot water fowl? Don't answer that.

Plus, good grief, there is so much to see and do here I cant keep track. Rock music, jazz and R&B, symphony concerts, grand opera, plays, art and history exhibits, ballet and modern dance performances, the corpse flower at Phipps Conservatory that blooms only every six to 10 years, festivals of film, music, dance and more. You'd have to be a time traveler to take it all in.

Where did all these young people come from? I don't know, but it's wonderful that their presence is helping to revitalize the city like nobody's business, turning Lawrenceville and other neighborhoods into hot properties in cool locations. Then there's the boom in residential housing Downtown -- I was hoping that would happen in my lifetime and here it is.

Market Square has never looked better. The former stretch of seedy storefronts is now the Cultural District, chock-full of restaurants, galleries and theaters. Even if you don't go into them, it makes for a lovely stroll on well-lit streets.

Come to think of it, it's been several weeks since I last heard the usual snarky remarks about what a loser town this is, full of loser people, uttered by the losers themselves. Is it possible that this longstanding inferiority complex is fading, even a little bit?

And those skies. Is it my imagination, or have the evening colors been more intense this year?

I know, I know. This is a bit heavy on the boosterism, which is not my default posture. I attribute it to two things.

1. Some colleagues and I have been working on a series comparing aspects of Pittsburgh today with those of 30 years ago. It's pretty eye-opening to see how far we've progressed in certain areas, and it gives reason to hope that things will keep improving.

2. I'm on drugs. Pain pills, actually, which make me a little loopy.

Look, it's not that I'm downplaying our foibles. Any native can reel them off on automatic pilot. Heck, even non-natives can do it without thinking too hard: the forced resignation of Pittsburgh Police Chief Nate Harper; the ongoing probe into our disappearing mayor, Luke Ravenstahl, and his activities; a Republican mayoral wannabe who is campaigning much of the time from Israel; continued problems with parking, mass transit, the city school budget and student achievement; tight budgets, shrinking tax base, property assessments, fracking, the UPMC/Highmark battle; the August Wilson center in foreclosure; a slew of convicted politicians including Mike Veon, Bill DeWeese and the Orie sisters Jane, Janeen and Joan; too many tiny municipalities hanging onto their turf -- and the list goes on.

Drawbacks will always be with us in one form or another. It doesn't hurt to take a break from thinking about them. One day off from the whack-job Congress shutting down the government and all the ensuing fallout, one day to absorb the gorgeous autumn colors, the tart apples that snap when you bite into them, the (relatively) clean air and rivers ... it's all there, waiting to be noticed. Even if you're not on pain killers.

sallykalson

Sally Kalson is a columnist for the Post-Gazette (skalson@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1610). First Published October 12, 2013 8:00 PM


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