A year in Pittsburgh

It was a year ago today that I arrived in Pittsburgh.[1] It has, in many ways, been a distressing year, one which has brought me new awareness of racism and poverty,[2] one in which I have failed to escape driving for Uber and Lyft,[3] and one in which old memories, both good and bad, have resurfaced as I have considered my relationship with my grandparents who lived in Dormont and recalled my childhood.

This is a place whose importance in my childhood exists all out of proportion to the number of years I spent here. The time I spent with my grandfather, in particular, was the only time, really in my entire life, I have ever felt truly safe. But my peers here were as vicious as they had been in San Francisco and my father was no less violent.

The trauma I endured as a child would be reinforced by my adult experiences of destitution, of abusive employers, and of being unable to find a real job.[4]

Back then, I was a kid, walking to an elementary school about three blocks away along narrow streets, walking to my grandparents’ house in Dormont, to a great uncle and aunt’s house also in Dormont but in a different direction, walking with my grandfather to breakfast at a corner restaurant where there is now a Vietnamese restaurant on a main street (Potomac Avenue) now mostly remade to appeal to a much younger and wealthier generation. I didn’t cover anything like the territory I do now.

So this is also a place very different from my childhood memories. Yes, the neighborhoods where I lived, where my grandparents lived, and many others look very much the same. The houses are the same. But I did not see then the social inequality that pervades my present experience, that surrounds me even in the apartment complex where I now reside. I can only wonder how much has actually changed and how much is really the same.

And as I drive for Uber and Lyft, every day, all day, I have little time for proper inquiry. I see now incredibly obnoxious, rude, and aggressive driving, even as I also see courtesy I would never see in California.[5] I had a passenger last night who told me she had been rear-ended at high speed on the 16th Street Bridge, a bridge that connects surface streets—no one should be driving on it at a speed that put her in a hospital with her face split open—but there we were, crossing that very same bridge. Driving here gives me nightmares. I can only wonder what it will be like for her.

I don’t have the luxury of exploring what Pittsburgh has to offer, the microbrew pubs especially, or the surrounding countryside, although I did have a trip that took me out to Saxonburg yesterday, with somebody who had been given an address that I’m not sure exists. He got out of my car in a neighborhood where I think he knew no one, where he clearly was not at home. I can only hope it worked out.

It’s good I came, even if the experience has often not been pleasant. My eyes are more open, even to what I had seen but failed to be shocked by in California because I mostly grew up there: The way things are there is what I had lived with nearly my entire life, even as it had changed, both for better and (mostly) for worse. Coming here teaches me not only about this place, but the one I left behind.

I don’t know what I’ll do in the future. I would move almost anywhere for a real job but that seems not really to be a factor. I love the woods here and I am enjoying the four seasons, but I despise the conservatism, I am disturbed by the social inequality, and I despise the way people here take their environment so very much for granted. At this point in my life, I just want peace, quiet, and—the core value underpinning human rights which I have been denied my entire life—dignity, and that doesn’t seem to be an option either.


Apparently, a quote from the New York Times in reference to Donald Trump’s suggestion at a White House briefing that disinfectants or sunlight might be useful in treating COVID-19:[6]

But oh yeah, we were supposed to listen to Donald Trump when he advocated hydroxychloroquine.[7]

Honestly, what do I do with shit like this? What?

Allyson Chiu, Katie Shepherd, and Brittany Shammas, “Trump comments prompt doctors, and Lysol, to warn against injecting disinfectants,” Washington Post, April 24, 2020, source

  1. [1]David Benfell, “Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,” Irregular Bullshit, April 24, 2019, https://disunitedstates.com/2019/04/24/pittsburgh-pennsylvania/
  2. [2]David Benfell, “The banners and the guns: Flagrant racism in Pittsburgh,” Not Housebroken, October 12, 2019, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/09/20/the-banners-and-the-guns-flagrant-racism-in-pittsburgh/
  3. [3]David Benfell, “About my job hunt,” Not Housebroken, n.d., https://disunitedstates.org/about-my-job-hunt/
  4. [4]David Benfell, “About my job hunt,” Not Housebroken, n.d., https://disunitedstates.org/about-my-job-hunt/
  5. [5]David Benfell, “Pittsburgh driving for the uninitiated,” Irregular Bullshit, n.d., https://disunitedstates.com/pittsburgh-driving-for-the-uninitiated/
  6. [6]Allyson Chiu, Katie Shepherd, and Brittany Shammas, “Trump comments prompt doctors, and Lysol, to warn against injecting disinfectants,” Washington Post, April 24, 2020, source
  7. [7]Marilynn Marchione, “Heart woes spur partial stop of malaria drug study for virus,” Washington Post, April 13, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/heart-woes-spur-partial-stop-of-malaria-drug-study-for-virus/2020/04/13/c6460050-7db6-11ea-84c2-0792d8591911_story.html; Aaron Rupar, “Trump and Fox News want to send their hydroxychloroquine hype down the memory hole,” Vox, April 22, 2020, https://www.vox.com/2020/4/22/21230982/hydroxychloroquine-coronavirus-trump-fox-news-hype; Michael D. Shear and Maggie Haberman, “Health Dept. Official Says Doubts on Hydroxychloroquine Led to His Ouster,” New York Times, April 22, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/22/us/politics/rick-bright-trump-hydroxychloroquine.html; Ishaan Tharoor, “Trump wants to lift lockdowns. Other countries’ attempts show why the U.S. isn’t ready,” Washington Post, April 21, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2020/04/21/trump-wants-lift-lockdowns-other-countries-attempts-show-why-us-isnt-ready/; Paul Waldman, “The real reason Trump is obsessed with hydroxychloroquine,” Washington Post, April 7, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/04/07/real-reason-trump-is-obsessed-with-hydroxychloroquine/

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