Don’t judge a book by the city you bought it in. Time and again I catch myself doing something of that nature, but lessons can be learned in unexpected places and through the unlikeliest of people.
My recent travels took me to the city of Pittsburgh – a travel plan I had made on a whim just to mark the end of a hectic few months in my life. As the trip drew closer, I wondered why I sacrificed three whole days, not to mention another day spent solely on flying across the country. I imagined by day two I would be longing for a return to California. Instead, I found waiting for me a cathartic experience I never suspected possible, in a city that I thought only cared about their football team. But what a remarkable city it turned out to be. What I saw as just unnecessary pride in something as trivial as a football team was in fact, a symbol for a greater pride shared between the people and their city.
The city itself was charming and quaint in a way I was blind to previously. As I stood on top of Mt. Washington, the famous vista point overlooking the city, I had to catch my breath at the sight of the rolling landscape of bridges over its three rivers. The skyline was stark in its simplicity and moved me in a way I never expected from a concrete jungle.
But all of this would still not have make a lasting impression if it wasn’t for the group of local Pittsburghers I was fortunate to meet. It started as a trip to just hang out with a cousin. Through him, I had the pleasure of meeting the Pittsburgh Hash House Harriers – a motley collection of people of all age groups and from all walks of life who met every week to satisfy their sense of adventure by running trails through the city and satisfying a healthy (not really) appetite for beer. For whatever reason, they took to me instantly, accepting me as one of their own – probing me with questions, pulling my leg and allowing me to be privy to all their inside jokes. Never had I met a group like this before! They simply took my breath away. There were zero judging glances in my direction and absolutely no hesitancy in trusting me to enter their conversations, their lives, even their homes. I knew most of them by their hash names – names that were carefully chosen for each member, often with a hilariously naughty twist. I had no real need to learn their birth names though. As Shakespeare so accurately articulated, knowing their names did not add value because they already exposed their genuine selves to me. These people were the rare gems in a world riddled with hypocrisy and I consider myself blessed to enjoy their company.
That’s not to say the group was without it’s fair share of head butting. They were human after all. A trip that was supposed to just be a change of scenery caused a major shift in perspective and took me back to the values that really mattered – friendship, loyalty, genuine human compassion.
As I stare down at my pair of Nike’s on my feet during the plane ride back, muddied by trying to jump across damp ground (and clearly failing), I remember the hand reaching out to help me jump across the physical obstacle and at the same time, creating a human bond that will compel me back to this amazing city and its people once again. And maybe, just maybe, I might become a Steelers fan…