YES, I KNOW — my North Shore brothers and all my Boston friends have reminded me repeatedly: Our valiant Steelers did not compete with your evil Patriots for the AFC championship Sunday. But there’s a more important competition that Pittsburgh will win. You may be going to the Super Bowl. Amazon will come here, to Pittsburgh.
This city — so like Boston, a notion widely accepted everywhere except, of course, in Boston, where the concept of the “rest of the country’’ extends as far as Topsfield — is one of the 20 finalists for HQ2. You may not have heard, focused as you are on a mere gridiron game, while the eyes of Pittsburgh are on the far horizon of the tech future.
There, on that far horizon, sits a gleaming city of promise: Pittsburgh. Yes, Pittsburgh.
It was the farsighted English poet and educator Arthur Hugh Clough who, sitting in Oxford more than a century and a half ago — and obviously anticipating how the giant online retailer would reject Boston in favor of Pittsburgh — wrote: “And not by eastern windows only, /When daylight comes, comes in the light.”
Although you have the Atlantic coast, we have three rivers. The very day I typed this, I crossed one of those rivers for a business lunch — basically the equivalent of going from Central Square in Cambridge to Government Center in downtown Boston — on the subway. My fare: zero. Beat that, Boston. But Pittsburgh has other subway fare to spend against Boston’s bid for Amazon. Less traffic. Less snow. Dare I whisper this? Less pretension. Or this? Less of a sense of entitlement.
I’m no stranger to either place. I had a happy Boston childhood, was marinated in the exquisite agony of the 1960s Red Sox (Frank Malzone at third, Eddie Bressoud at shortstop), was shaped by Saturday mornings at the Science Museum (which may be why I’m the only one of my circle to know what a Van de Graaff generator is) and at the Symphony Hall youth concerts. (It didn’t take Michael Dukakis’s 1988 presidential campaign for me to learn who his father-in-law was. Harry Ellis Dickson, who conducted many of those youth concerts, personified classical music for me and thousands of others.)
Plus this: It is my devout conviction that the very best popcorn in the world is at the E.H. Hobbs stand at the Salem Willows park. (The only chop suey sandwich I’d ever eat is next door, at the Salem Lowe take-out.) Best ice cream? No question: Benson’s, on Washington Street in Boxford. Best blueberry muffin? To ask that question is to answer it: the Jordan Marsh bakery, of blessed memory.
But our children had a happy Pittsburgh childhood, finding cultural sustenance in our superb Pittsburgh Symphony (the ensemble and its music director, the noble Manfred Honeck, is greatly admired by our older daughter, who works in orchestra management in San Francisco) and spiritual sustenance in our devout community (our other daughter, inspired by Pittsburgh clergy, is two years from rabbinical ordination and committed to ministering to multi-faith families).
Let’s not even quibble about affordability. The monthly rent for a studio apartment in Jamaica Plain is about the size of my mortgage payment for a five-bedroom home on a cobblestone street in a lovely, leafy city neighborhood. Let me add that I drive to work, across one river, in about 12 minutes, hardly long enough to hear the sports-radio jocks spew on about how much they disdain Brady and Gronkowski.
You have MIT but we have Carnegie Mellon. You have the Freedom Trail, but we have bike trails galore, several threading through our downtown. You have Trinity Church, but we have the Allegheny County Courthouse, both designed by the architect H.H. Richardson. You have Castle Island and Fort Independence but we have Fort Pitt and Fort Necessity.
And when it comes to landing Amazon, you have squabbling politicos, while we have cooperating ones. You have a horrifying, decrepit site at Suffolk Downs, whereas we have several beautiful sites along the Allegheny, the Monongahela, and the Ohio. My friend Ken Rice, the anchor on KDKA’s night newscast, holds out the possibility of renaming one of those rivers. He thinks “Amazon River’’ has a nice ring to it.
So it’s settled. Boston’s an also-ran, Pittsburgh’s the choice.
One more thing. That controversial call in the last minute of the Patriots-Steelers game here in late December? It was a touchdown. We won, despite what the refs said.