I recently returned from an 11-day vacation in Pittsburgh. Far different from my typical weekend excursions, this extended stay was the longest time I had spent in Pittsburgh since graduating college in 2006.
Over the course of my retreat, I consumed approximately 12 slices of Mineo’s pizza (plus two slices of Aiello’s), drank roughly 64 ounces of Iron City beer and sat through an estimated 18 hours of Shabbat and Yom Tov services.
It was a meaningful High Holy Day season to say the least.
Amplified by the green trees, incredibly low cost of living and prolonged exposure to my parents, Pittsburgh’s gravitational pull had a profound effect on me.
I became a born-again ’Burgher.
I boarded the plane back to Los Angeles with two souvenirs in hand: a T-shirt that said “I’m an Italian Steeler Fan,” and a feeling that maybe my time in Pittsburgh doesn’t have to be limited to just holidays and long weekends.
Maybe I could live here.
Two-time expatriate Pittsburgher Lynn Samuels has felt the extreme gravitational pull of Pittsburgh.
A resident of Needham, Mass., a suburb of Boston, Samuels both grew up in Pittsburgh and experienced an 18 year stint here in her adult life.
Currently, she’s a merchandise manager for the corporate office of TJX, the company that owns Marshalls and T.J. Maxx.
“I pick the fashion trends of the season,” says Samuels.
Specializing in dresses and suits, Samuels is responsible for a group of buyers who purchase a certain category of apparel. When a brand name company has a surplus, Samuels directs her buyers on what styles to choose.
And with about 1,700 stores, Samuels enjoys making frequent trips to New York, Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
A native of Wilkins Township, Samuels went to Churchill High School and was an active member of Parkway Jewish Center. She graduated from Syracuse University’s marketing school of management in 1983 and immediately moved to New York to fulfill a lifelong dream of living in Manhattan.
But Pittsburgh’s gravitational pull was just too strong.
In 1994, she returned to the ’Burgh to work as a buyer and merchandise manager for Kaufmann’s.
“I had a second chance at Pittsburgh,” says Samuels, admitting she was somewhat “ambivalent” about moving back.
She soon remembered that [Pittsburgh] “is an easy town to make friends in … things fell into place. I had a fabulous job, great friends. I thought the city had a lot to offer.”
And not only was Samuels able to reconnect with old friends and frequent her favorite establishments, but she also built a house in Shadyside.
Unfortunately, after eight years of Pittsburgh 2.0, Samuels followed her career to Boston.
“It was hard to leave Pittsburgh,” she says. “I took six months off to take a breather because I knew leaving would be hard.”
While she may have escaped Pittsburgh’s gravitational pull, her life as an expat however isn’t void of its Pittsburgh identity (though she has adopted the Red Sox as her official baseball team). The house she built in Needham is identical to her house in Shadyside and she’s once again close with her childhood best friend who also lives in Boston.
Despite the fact that her family has since moved out of Pittsburgh, Samuels makes a point of visiting two or three times a year and regularly participates in the Pittsburgh-organized Amazing Journeys cruises, which take singles all over the world.
But whether you’re a born-again ’Burgher or a nonpracticing ’Burgher, Samuels knows that “Pittsburgh is wherever you go because you always look for fellow Pittsburghers — it’s close by.”
That’s the real gravity of the situation.
(Jay Firestone, a Pittsburgh native and Web editor for the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, writes about Pittsburghers who now live somewhere else. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)