A Letter to Pittsburgh


Pittsburgh grandmas. Let me tell you … they’re something else. They’re the biggest characters in the world, man.

A few weeks ago, when we first started hearing reports of the coronavirus spreading to America, I was hunkered down at home with my wife and kids, when my mom called to check in. And as we’re talking, like just in passing, she mentions that my grandma is over in East Liberty at the Target.

That stopped me in my tracks. Immediately, in my head, I’m like….

Grandma’s where?!

Seriously? Now?


My grandmother — who I absolutely love more than anything, and who, I promise, I’m not picking on here (love ya, Grandma!) — is in her 80s. And now I’m being told she’s making her weekly Target run. During the onset of a global pandemic. Just chillin’. Doing grandma stuff.

I couldn’t believe it.

But my mom, she just moves on to the next topic, like it’s nothing.

I had to stop her.

“Wait, wait, wait. Hold on. She’s at Target? What the heck is Grandma doing at Target right now?”

And, well … you ready for this, Pittsburgh?

Was she stocking up on toilet paper? Was she buying water?


“She just said she had to return something real quick.”

Pittsburgh grandmas always got something to return, man! They live for that customer service window on a Saturday morning. They got the receipts. You know they got the receipts.

Pittsburgh grandmas love being out ’n’ about, right? So that’s what we’re up against right now, Pittsburgh.

And to some extent, you know what? I get it. When you come from a tough, hard-nosed town, and your family is filled with people who have lived through pretty much everything, there’s a tendency to think you’ll always be fine, no matter what.

Courtesy of Cameron Heyward

In some ways it’s endearing — it’s like a trademark of this place. Right now, though, that mind-set is one that’s very, very dangerous. And if we don’t work together to keep it in check, it’s going to put lots of people in our city at risk.

My grandparents mean the world to me. Judy and Rufus Jordan. Highland Park legends. They’ve been in the same house for the past for 47 years, and I’ve been running around their living room from the time I took my first steps.

When you come from a tough, hard-nosed town, there’s a tendency to think you’ll always be fine, no matter what.

When I was in elementary school out in Monroeville, I’d head over to their house on the weekends and my grandfather would take me over to Frick Park to feed the ducks. He and my grandma, they’ve always been huge Steelers fans, so for Christmas every year me and my brother would always get Steelers stuff under the tree. (To this day, if you go to my brother’s house in Georgia and look at his walls, you’ll see that he still has those Bettis and Polamalu Fatheads they got him.) My grandparents are Pittsburgh through and through.

They’re also both educators, and longtime pillars of our community. They’re people who love this city and who’ve always given back. I respect them both beyond what words can convey. They are my heart.

Look, we all know Pittsburgh has a huge elderly population, and we also all know that those folks oftentimes want to do what they want. So, to some extent, it’s up to the rest of us to look out for them right now, in a few different ways.

Jared Wickerham/Pittsburgh City Paper

First of all, here’s something you can do immediately. I want you to take a second and do me a quick favor. If you have grandparents, or your parents are older, pick up your phone right now and dial them up.

Ask them how they’re doing. Check in. See if they need anything.

Just that alone will be a huge help.

But after that, remind them in the strongest terms possible that they need to stay home no matter what right now. Make the case. Do your best impression of a trial lawyer. Convince them. I’m here to tell you it can be done — my grandma hasn’t been out and about since that afternoon at Target, and she’s been fully on board with the stay-at-home recommendations. She’s actually been holed up doing puzzles with my grandfather.

The second thing you can do is, if you’re healthy and can make it happen, tell them that if they need anything, you’ll go get it for them yourself. Or you’ll track down someone who can.

Protect them. Make this your mission.

Beyond that, the other big thing we can all do to help our older residents is simply stay home ourselves — to practice what we preach.

It’s not easy, and it’s definitely not fun, but social distancing works. And I know you’ve heard about keeping your distance to the point of it getting annoying, but there’s a good reason why. Our discipline in locking down right now will save a ton of lives in the near future.

And it’s not just the elderly you’ll be helping, it’s all sorts of folks who are more susceptible to getting really sick from this virus — people who are young and look healthy, but may have weakened immune systems stemming from other conditions.

Our discipline in locking down right now will save a ton of lives in the near future.

You could be helping me.

I’m one of those people. I’ve had asthma since I was a little kid, and I still carry an inhaler with me everywhere I go. So please, please let this sink in: This virus is capable of taking down anyone, no matter how big and strong and healthy they might appear to be.

Even though you might be feeling fine, and everything’s normal, you could still be a carrier of this virus, and you might be transmitting it to others.

Quite simply: If you stay home, you’re helping to keep everyone else healthy and safe. If you need help doing that, or could use a hand, then please reach out to friends, family, neighbors, or local community groups and ask for assistance.

But please just do it.

Do it for our city.

The third thing you can do, if you are fortunate enough to have the means in this difficult time, is to donate to the Emergency Action Fund at The Pittsburgh Foundation. They provide grants to nonprofits that assist those who are being most affected by the coronavirus crisis — senior citizens, health-care providers, children, the homeless.

They’ve already raised more than $11 million in the past few weeks, which is just incredible, but I know we can push that number higher.

We’re all in this together, Pittsburgh. Let’s hunker down. Let’s be patient. Let’s do this for each other.

If I’ve ever learned anything from all those drives from the airport to downtown, it’s that there’s always light at the end of the tunnel.

Love you, Pittsburgh.