Monday, October 9, 2006


I drove to Pittsburgh in August. I went to represent my company at the National Flute Association convention. In fact, my second blog entry was done from a hotel room in Pittsburgh the night I arrived.

I have not mentioned exactly what I do for a living in comments on other blogs, and I’ve been torn about revealing my profession here. Given my screen name and the thumbnail photo in my profile, not to mention my Boston-area location, it should be pretty obvious, though, to anybody with a passing knowledge of woodwind instruments.

So, yes, I am in the musical instrument business, flutes and piccolos specifically. I’m responsible for a department in one of the oldest and best-known flute makers in the US. We have a reasonably large operation in the Boston area, where we make handmade custom instruments as well as a couple of other lines of less expensive flutes. We also have a separate company to offer other wind instruments, either imported or made from a variety of sources.

But I don’t want to get into the specifics of flute making or the musical instrument business here. This post is about Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh makes a good impression. It is a pleasant, mid-sized city in an exceptional location. The confluence of the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio Rivers is a lucky piece of North American geography and quite an obvious place to put a city. The rivers provided a way to transport relatively nearby raw materials and to ship finished goods from the iron and steel industries that dominated the place for more than a century. Now that heavy industry has gone, one of the nice surprises is how little the area has been permanently despoiled. I’m sure there is quite a lot of hidden pollution, but on a superficial level the air is clean, the rivers look good, and the countryside is green and pleasant. Pittsburgh seems to have found a new economic footing as well. It lacks the run-down look of old industrial cities such as Buffalo or Detroit.

Downtown Pittsburgh, like so many American central cities, has an unsafe feel at night, but during the day when the offices are filled it is quite tolerable. The Convention Center where we were is large and well-designed. The hotels are decent, and there are a few fairly good restaurants. Pittsburgh is not a large city, so the restaurant selection is limited, but you can eat quite well if you want.

WQED is probably the best classical music radio station in the US, much better than anything I’ve heard in Boston or the West Coast for a long time. Also the college stations of WRCT and WDUQ are quite good, again better than anything comparable I’ve heard elsewhere. In fact the quality and variety of radio in Pennsylvania are striking, and I’m wondering how this happens when radio has become so homogenized and bad elsewhere.

Below are a few pictures of Pittsburgh taken with my cell phone camera. I forgot to bring a digital camera, but the cell phone did the job in this pinch.

This first is from Google Earth and shows the Convention Center on the lower bank of the river to the right, with PNC Park on the opposite side to the left of the image. PNC Park is the relatively recent (2001) replacement for Three Rivers Stadium.

This is a morning view toward the 19th Street Bridge from my hotel room.

Here is a view toward the PNC Park from the bank of the Allegheny River. There is a nice below-ground walkway to a little observation/park area on the riverbank near the 19th St. Bridge. One of our guys was lucky enough to be taken to the Pirates game you see illuminated in this picture. He says it's a very good new ballpark built along classic lines complete with two decks of seats.

Finally, here is a slightlly fuzzy view of the walkway. It was cool on a summer evening with falling water lining the path.

Is anyone from the Pittsburgh area? What can you tell us about it? How is the economy? How is cultural life? Is it the pleasant, reasonable place it seems, or are there dark, hidden currents of despair in post-industrial Pittsburgh?