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Pittsburghers: Let's not see ourselves as pathetic

Tuesday, May 22, 2001

Let's face it: Some great ideas never quite work out -- one thinks of the Titanic, the Hindenburg and the leisure suit. Now Project 84, at least in its original form, seems destined to join this infamous company.

Project 84 is what the folks down at the Pittsburgh Technology Council and the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance call their advertising and marketing campaign to attract high-tech workers here.

Their bold idea was that high-tech workers in other parts of the country would be given an all-expenses-paid trip to a mystery city. The City That Dares Not Tell Its Name is, of course, our own dear Pittsburgh.

The implicit assumption was that no one in his right mind would want to come here if forewarned that Pittsburgh was the destination.

Presumably, the visiting nerds would realize their horrible mistake upon arrival and try to bolt back to the plane, only to be restrained by the county police. Then they would be herded onto buses for a fun-filled weekend, in which they would finally break down and say, "Wow, this place isn't as gross as we thought it was."

Of course, the city fathers would swoon to hear such compliments, and the national press would write flattering stories with headlines such as: "Pittsburgh, America's Most Desperate City, Uses Inferiority Complex to Sell Itself." Subheading: "City Officials Plead With Nerds to Come Here and Date Sisters (Girls to Wear Paper Bags Over Their Heads to Enhance Appeal)."

That was the original idea. Not surprisingly, it went over like a squadron of lead balloons. Now, I am told, Project 84's planners are rethinking the stealth part of the plan.

This is most wise. Perhaps the planners were influenced by various letter writers in the PG who pointed out the fundamental lunacy lurking here. The basic question raised by readers was this: Can we, as a city, be any more pathetic?

Well, of course we can. And I think we should all make the effort to help the technology council and the PRA out of their current embarrassment.

Perish the thought that I, for one, should ever try to demolish well-intentioned civic plans with low jokes and general smirking while never suggesting alternatives.

So, in the interests of being positive-minded, herewith are my suggestions:

The annual Three Rivers Arts Festival should be held year-round. High-tech people are not necessarily art lovers, but we need to do something about Pittsburgh's weather if we are to be on the cutting edge.

For some reason, those yellow pavilions erected for the festival offend the eye of heaven, and every year they are visited by thunderstorms, tornadoes, typhoons and monsoons. By keeping the festival going year-round, we ought to be able to get enough rainfall to fool newcomers into thinking that they are actually in Seattle.

Make speaking on cell phones compulsory for all conversations. The chronically cool love cell phones, and we should take the attitude that if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

With a progressive law in place, a guy who sees a friend across the street would no longer be able to holler, "Hey, Bob, how about them Penguins?" but instead would have to call him on a cell phone. In the Cultural District, we can turn our theaters into nests of cicadas with the chirping cell-phone rings, saving audiences the bother of listening to all that tiresome noise coming from the stage.

We need to put dot.com on every place and person's name in the Pittsburgh area.

Just as the Japanese use the suffix -san after a person's name, our way could be to refer to Murphy.com, Cyril.com, why even Sophie.com. Residents would soon get into the spirit of the thing, gladly taking a bus.com to come Dahntan.com and meet their friends.com under the Kaufmannsclock.com.

Middle-aged Pittsburghers should adopt young computer nerds in mass ceremonies, perhaps in one of the new ballparks, in the same way the Moonies hold mass weddings.

This could be held out as a threat to thoughtless local children who even dare to consider pursuing careers elsewhere. "If you don't live here, Mom and I will give your room to a geek."

Any one of these suggestions, if acted upon, would attract national media attention. At the same time, our city would be spared the shame of having to hide its name (TheBurgh.com).


Reg Henry's e-mail address is rhenry@post-gazette.com.



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