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Is there something in the water at Pittsburgh?

Features Columnist

Albany Herald Guest Columnist Loran Smith

Albany Herald Guest Columnist Loran Smith

This is one of my favorite cities with its admixture of cultures and peoples, highlighted by energy and vibrancy, an old-world work ethic, unparalleled passion for its sports teams, and not one but three rivers, which define the city’s landscape and its image.

Pittsburgh is a place of ethnic enclaves where immigrants, principally from the old countries of Europe, still follow the traditions of the past. In some cases they continue to speak their native language at home. They work hard and they play hard.

The common bonds are the Pittsburgh sports teams. Soon after the new baseball facility, PNC Park, cozy and sparkling, was built in 2001, I remember coming to a game when the Braves were in town. Sitting in the press box, I could look out into the city and see fans streaming to the game by walking over the Roberto Clemente Bridge, which spans the Allegheny River. They had taken public transportation from their respective neighborhoods to downtown, had disembarked, and were walking to the game. Such a beautiful sight to remind you of a city’s redeeming spirit and America’s unadulterated love of sport.

Right down from the Allegheny River is Heinz Field where the Steelers play their home games. Public transportation accommodates easy access when the Steelers play at home. Pittsburghers love their teams and they love their city.

At Lemont, a fine restaurant high up on Mount Washington, a window view of the city offers an experience that demands an encore. You observe the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela to form the Ohio, and you become enraptured with the view. You are loath to order. You linger through your meal as you slowly and softly inhale this spectacular scene. You want to come here in late afternoon and watch the sun glisten off the rivers and the city’s tall buildings as the sunlight segues into dusk. As nightfall envelopes the city, the twinkling of the city’s lights leaves you exhilarated. You know you are the beneficiary of an enriching experience. There is a fulfillment of emotions which cannot be put on paper or canvas.

You are overwhelmed by the three rivers. Allegheny and Monongahela come from Indian names like so many great streams in our country, but there is something both powerful and sobering about these tributaries. They are not all that long-the Allegheny is 325 miles and the Monongahela, 130 miles-nothing like the Mississippi or the Missouri, for example. However, there is abundant allure, just from the sound of their names. As I looked north, up river, the Allegheny seemed so peaceful. I began to hear in my memory banks the soothing rendition of “Allegheny Moon” by Patti Page, conjuring up harvest scenes along the river in October.

The Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio reflect their worth as rivers of transportation and recreation, but there is something romantic about a river-or rivers-which bisect and define a city. There are the Hudson and East rivers in New York. The Willamette River gives the city of Portland a certain distinction that makes you want to go there and see a city where it appears that buildings sprang up like wildflowers. If you are in Chicago, you want to find a restaurant overlooking the Chicago River. St. Louis and the Mississippi, Boston and the Charles, Kansas City and the Missouri, Cleveland and the Cuyahoga (but don’t strike a match if you remember years ago when the river actually caught on fire).

None, however, can compare with Pittsburgh’s three rivers at sundown from Mt. Washington. As you enjoy your meal, you think of the long ago rivalry of the English and the French for this territory. You look down at the waters of a gushing fountain, at Point State Park, shooting high in the sky and try to imagine what Ft. Pitt was like in 1759 when this country was moving west.

There’s history, there’s tradition in Pittsburgh. Most of all there’s a certain spirit which surely was spawned by the inspiration of the Allegheny and the Monongahela. Pittsburgh is a city which essentially lost its steel industry but made a spirited and alacritous comeback with banking, medicine, biotechnology, and computer software.

Could there be something in the water of these three rivers?

Loran Smith is affiliated with the University of Georgia and can be reached via e-mail at loransmithathens@bellsouth.net.