When I bought my house in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, my roommate, Jordan, and I noticed that there were always people huddled around this building at the corner of Wylie Ave and Erin Street. We were unsettled, but also a little curious as to what was really going on there. Jordan asked my neighbor, Sonny, what the deal was. Sonny simply answered, "That’s a jitney station." That didn’t help us much, and I think he could tell by the look on our faces.
He went on to explain, if you don’t have a car, you walk to the jitney station and someone there will give you a ride. It’s like an open market taxi service. People use their own cars to delivery people where they want to go. So some of the people that congregate there are people that want a ride, and some are people waiting to give people rides somewhere, and the rest are probably people that just like to be around other people. If you have spent any time in the Hill, you know how much truth there is to the latter.
That’s part of the culture of the Hill District; The people. Even the jitney by essence exemplifies the focus of people interacting with people on their own accord. It’s funny how…let me phrase this properly…
whites… caucasions… suburbanites?…. sheltered people…people who are scared of the Hill are scared of the unknown…but that they’d probably end up being more afraid of how congenial and engaging people are. It’s crazy to witness how far out of the way someone will go just to make sure the person they went to high school with 20 years ago hears them say "Hi!" to them. Everyone knows everyone in the Hill.
August Wilson wrote about the culture of the Hill District in his plays. That’s probably where the term "jitney" has gained most of it’s popularity. August’s childhood home is a couple blocks from me, in a state of much disrepair. (here’s a pano from Steve Mellon – http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08105/872496-429.stm )
It’s sad to see how much importance social interaction is in the Hill District and how much culture is valued, but how little is actually being done to preserve it. It’s almost a paradox way of life. How can you value both the present day person as they grow into the future, when they identify so strongly with staying connected to the past. Certainly a deeper question than what I wanted to cover in this post, but it’s there.
More on August Wilson and his plays – http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10127/1056192-325.stm?cmpid=newspanel01,055 views