It is often said that an imaginary line runs from north to south, cutting the state of Pennsylvania into two very different halves.
Those who fall on the western side of this invisible boundary often do not have much of an affection for anything, or anyone, that comes from the opposite side.
The same can generally be said for the easterners.
If you’re feeling adventurous, visit the city of Pittsburgh, or one of its nearby western Pennsylvanian towns, then head east on Interstate 80 toward the erroneous metropolis of the Commonwealth, more commonly referred to as Philadelphia.
What you will experience in each location is likely to contrast the other very strongly.
As a native western Pennsylvanian, there are certain things that you take particular pride in.
You likely put Heinz ketchup on everything you eat (if for no other reason than that you have actually seen the relative location of its invention); are fond of the idea of putting french fries, coleslaw, and hot sauce on a variety of sandwiches; commonly utter the word “yinz” when referring to a group of peers and grin as a new acquaintance labors over the definition of this indigenous jargon; and your blood is often tainted with the colors of black and gold.
You also feel a certain comfort in your own community, whether it results from a simple “good morning” offered to you by the cashier at the grocery store, or an unsuspected wave from a complete stranger as you politely allow them to pull in front of you at the McDonald’s drive-thru.
You, in turn, find yourself offering courteous smiles to complete strangers on the sidewalks or casually chatting about Sidney Crosby’s latest overtime heroics to the guy at the next gas pump.
Then, for whatever reason, you decide to visit your sister city to the east, Philadelphia.
Upon arriving in the “City of Brotherly Love” for the first time, you can’t help but be a little anxious to experience the new culture of a previously unexplored territory.
You want to take in all the sights from the Liberty Bell to Independence Hall, you want to meet new people, try new foods, and maybe even learn a thing or two.
So, you head into the nearest Subway to ask a few quick questions about the best way to get around the city and grab something quick to eat.
You lock eyes with the Subway employee, who looks like he hasn’t fully recovered from a long night, but he glances away before you can open your mouth.
You take your place at the end of the four-person line and decide to start some small talk with one of the people ahead of you.
Puzzled by the fact that no one seemed to even notice you walking past them, you wonder if you should attempt to interrupt what seem to be very involved thought processes occurring in the minds of your fellow sandwich seekers.
You decide against speaking out, and wait until it’s your turn to order something.
“Yeah, what’ll it be?” the employee asks.
You tell him you are visiting the city for the first time and you are wondering what the best method of public transportation is.
You also attempt to throw in something about sightseeing, but by this time, his eyes have already shifted to the back of the line.
“Yeah, uh, you gonna order or what?” he replies.
Shocked at his indecency and utter lack of courtesy, you decline politely and exit the store.
You attempt to stop a passerby on the sidewalk, but a “You talkin’ to me?” response once again thwarts your efforts.
After trying in vain to secure some advice from the locals, you decide to navigate yourself around the unfamiliar city.
You’re still hungry, but the image of the sidewalk vendor’s greasy cheesesteaks abruptly dulls your appetite.
You stumble across a visitor’s center and pick up a few maps and tourist guides.
You stroll up to the main desk at the office and ask the teller for a gumband to hold everything together.
She looks at you as if you had just insulted a member of her immediate family and asks “What the hell is a gumband?"
In a Wizard of Oz-like “You’re not in Kansas anymore” moment, you remember that “gumband” is in fact Pittsburghese for the more commonly accepted term, “rubber band”, and you rephrase your request.
Upon receiving the gumband, without an apology for the unreasonable outburst of ethnocentrism, you decide that it might be best not to speak to anyone else for the remainder of your time in the “City of Brotherly Love”.
From the window of the public bus you are riding, you catch a glimpse of Lincoln Financial Field, the home of the Eagles.
The sight of it entices the memory of stories you had heard from men three times your age about watching the Steelers and Eagles battle at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, the only stadium you had ever heard of that actually had jail cells within its confines as an easy solution to the often unruly fans.
You remember hearing Flyer fans boo Santa Claus during his yearly trip to the Wachovia Center and disrespect Mario Lemieux upon returning to the ice after being treated for cancer earlier that same day.
You hear a couple of guys a few rows behind you talking about how “this is the Eagles’ year” and mumbling something about how the current group of Flyers have resurrected the Broad Street Bullies of the 1970s and will be the toughest team to play against come October.
You want to turn around and tell them that penalty minutes don’t win hockey games, nor do they win Stanley Cups, as evidenced by the Flyers' lack of a championship since 1975.
You want to remind them that they could multiply the Eagles’ Super Bowl Championships by 1,000 and still come up with zero.
You want to reinforce the fact that the Phillies may have won the 2008 World Series, but they still fall three titles short of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
You want to boast, and gloat, but you decide to swallow your pride, because deep down inside, you figure they already know, they just won’t admit it.
You arrive at the City Center area of Philadelphia and begin your tour of the historic sights.
You read a sign about Philadelphia cream cheese, only to discover that it was actually invented in New York City, but named after Philadelphia since it was considered the home of “top quality food” at the time.
So the so-called home of top quality food didn’t make any of this food itself?
Continuing on, you come to the bottom of what seem to be a very familiar set of steps.
A plaque reminds you that the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum were made famous by Sylvester Stallone in the first “Rocky” movie.
First cream cheese, now Rocky; does this city not have any real significance?
You come to Independence Hall, which seems pretty realistically significant to you, and of course, the famous Liberty Bell, which you begin to wonder how many Philadelphians believe was rung to signal the reading of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, since you remember the History Channel telling you that the steeple in which the bell had hung had significantly deteriorated well before 1770.
You become increasingly irritated with the unrewarding nature of your trip and become determined to find something positive about this city in which you have just wasted six hours of your life.
You enter a bookstore and pick up a book entitled 1,000 Facts About Philly.
You discover that Philadelphia was once the temporary capital of the United States of America from 1790 to 1800, but you are discouraged to find that Baltimore, Lancaster, York, Annapolis, Trenton, and New York City also shared this distinction in the years preceding Philadelphia.
You read that both the federal and state governments left the city of Philadelphia in 1800, and you derive that they probably had to sit through an Eagles game and chuckle under your breath.
You read on to discover that Philadelphia was named the sixth-most dangerous city in the United States in 2005, which you quickly contrast to Pittsburgh’s distinction of the most livable city in the country in 2009.
This reminds you of the soggy newspaper you tripped over on the sidewalk outside of the bookstore, and you infer that Philly is likely nowhere near Pittsburgh’s ranking of one of the cleanest cities in the country.
Upon reading that Philadelphia was once the second largest city in the British Empire (after London), you suppose that this might be as close to something positive as you were going to find in this city.
On the return trip across I-80, you feel an increased sense of pride.
Pride in yourself, but more importantly, pride in where you come from.
It doesn’t matter as much that Philadelphia sports teams have been toiling in mediocrity for the duration of their existence, or that their cultural icons are fictitious Hollywood characters, or even that they really didn’t invent cream cheese; what really matters to you is that all in all, the city of Philadelphia is a miserable place.
The people were not welcoming, they weren’t even remotely courteous, the streets and sidewalks were far from clean, and the historical sights were a far cry from astonishing.
As you exit Philadelphia county and begin your journey westward, the thought of finally getting home to a bottle of Heinz ketchup, an Iron City beer, and a “yinz have a good time?” greeting from your neighbor never looked better.
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