on Nov 7, 2006
Steven talks about the various places he’s lived and compares notes on the weather. This brings to mind the following…
I’ve only ever lived two places: Near Pittsburgh and near Boston. I lived an hour north of both cities. (Er. Not at the same time. You know what I mean.) The climate is similar, although the winters in Boston seem bleaker because the days seem shorter. The two places are in the same time zone, but Boston is several hundred miles northeast of Pittsburgh, and could easily be in the next time zone. So, the sun sets a good bit sooner. Specifically, it set before I got off work at 5:30, which means that during the winter I only really saw the sun on weekends.
But the big thing that made me crazy in Boston was the flatness. Western PA has the texture of a wrinkled blanket – you can never find a level spot. If you’re moving along the ground, then you are also either moving up or down. I never realized how important this was to me. (I can understand how someone from flatland would dislike Western PA. The hills would make them feel walled in and it might make someone seasick if they aren’t used to it, but I grew up here and so it feels normal.) Sometimes you’re driving uphill and all you see is the road leading off into the sky. Then you crest the hill and you can suddenly see for miles. Then it’s back down into another valley.
But Boston, being near the coast, is very level by comparison. I never expected this is be so irritating. I felt like I could never get an “overhead” view of where I was. Without great big hills giving the horizon some shape, I couldn’t map the place out or judge distance. If a winding road heading west-ish began to bend slowly Northwards, I couldn’t sense it because I didn’t have a fixed marker on the horizon. Since most roads were built before cars, the road system isn’t a grid; each town has a bunch of roads projecting from them at random angles. It looks more like the old “spiderweb” view of the WWW.
So, the roads were mapped out according to a system of total chaos. I couldn’t navigate by landmark because I was stuck on a flat plane. I couldn’t intuit where to go based on direction. The upshot of all of this was that I was lost all the dang time. It was pathetic. Even after living there for a year I was still wary of venturing too far off of my familiar commute between home and work, because a bad turn could get me lost for an hour.
They made a big deal about how beautiful the place was in the autumn, but autumn was the same in Pittsburgh. The only difference was that in Boston the trees right in front of you would occlude all of the trees behind them, so you could never get that big, panoramic view of golden trees going all the way to the horizon. Also, the place was so densely developed that if you did somehow see it from above, you’d see way more buildings than trees. There just weren’t that many trees left.
It’s interesting. Lots of people love it, but because it wasn’t what I was used to I just couldn’t. I suppose someone born there who moved here would be irritated for all of the opposite reasons.