It's Sunday, the Pittsburgh Penguins are up 3-0 over the Carolina Hurricanes in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and I'm relieved that the threatening phone calls have stopped.
Ever since the Penguins, of my beloved hometown Pittsburgh, became matched against the Hurricanes, of my beloved new home region, I've become defensive like Joe Corvo. (Or like Sergei Gonchar, I hasten to add.) I imagine that my relatives, co-workers, neighbors even—all want to know where my loyalties lie.
My relatives sniffed out that waffling right away; loyalty is paramount to any Pittsburgher, and not just for sports teams. The questions began almost immediately after Scott Walker scored that overtime goal in Game 7 to carry the upstart Hurricanes over the Boston Bruins. Which team would I be rooting for? My family demanded. I tried to stall for time.
I pictured myself defending both teams, both areas. To some relatives I would have to say, "Hey, watch the redneck jokes, y'all! And yes I just used the word y'all!" And around here, I would have to patiently ask, "Have you ever BEEN to Pittsburgh? It's a beautiful city. Your stereotype is about 30 years out of date."
Then, just prior to Game 1, Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker made a bet: If the Canes won, Ravenstahl would send Meeker a package of Isaly's chipped ham, some pierogies (stuffed dumplings) and Iron City beer. If the Penguins won, Meeker would send Ed Mitchell's barbecue (from The Pit) and some Big Boss beer.
Chipped ham (sometimes called chipped-chopped ham) is a deli ham, more like a boiled ham than a baked ham, served on sandwiches. The name comes from how it's sliced—paper thin, almost shaved—so the meat coming off the slicer looks like a fluffy pile rather than a uniform stack. The folks at Isaly's (pronounced IZE-lees) Deli either invented or perfected the technique and became famous for chipped ham.
I grew up eating chipped ham from the Isaly's on either Washington Road or Beverly Road, both in Mt. Lebanon, south of the city. My mom—not a Pittsburgh native, interestingly—reminded me that a true chipped ham sandwich is served on an egg roll (similar to challah). The Isaly's chain went out of business some years back, but new owners (according to www.isalys.com) bought the rights and still make chipped ham available in Western Pennsylvania and nearby.
It's good stuff. Mr. Mayor, you might like it. Then again, Eastern North Carolina barbecue, as perfected by Ed Mitchell, is mighty good. There may be no comparison.
So, as it stands now, my family is happy, my neighbors are not. I still can't decide.
Am I finding out that I'm neither a Pittsburgher nor a true Carolinian?
Maybe the evidence comes from food. I cannot drink sweet tea. I'd love to, trust me. I love sugar in many forms (e.g. brownies) but can't help that the true sweet tea—similar in texture and taste to maple syrup—makes my teeth hurt. I must settle for half-sweet, half-unsweet.
Or, I mix my unsweet tea with lemonade, which in Western Pennsylvania is called an Arnold Palmer. Ah, but that's another sport, and another era. I'll continue to take the fence-sitter's way out and raise my glass to both teams.
Correction (May 29, 2009): This article originally had the terms of the bet reversed.