Since I’ve graduated college and moved out west, I’ve made a concerted effort to return home at least three times a year. Unfortunately with each trip to Pittsburgh, I’m painfully reminded of the difficulties of living 2,500 mile away, in a strange, distant city.
I miss my family. I miss my friends. But most importantly, I miss my pizza.
I’ve traveled all over Los Angeles in search of the perfect pizza pie — Venice, Larchmont, Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, Hollywood. Nothing comes close to what Pittsburgh has to offer; notably, the “five families” of pizza: Mineo’s, Aiello’s, Napoli, Vincent’s, and Milky Way.
Sadly, a decent slice is not a luxury with which we’re afforded in Los Angeles. A competent public transportation system and an economically sound state budget also would be nice, but a good piece of pizza should be first on this city’s agenda.
I suppose I could freeze a pie and ship it out west, but I don’t quite trust the reanimation process. And thus, I’m forced to adulterously order from some random hack offering the standard two-for-one deal on a disgusting large plain. Needless to say, I’m always left feeling unsatisfied, impure and emotionally detached from society.
Los Angeles resident and expatriate Pittsburgher Ryan Abelman understands my contempt for L.A.’s lackluster pizzerias.
Ryan, 32, grew up in Squirrel Hill and attended Community Day School, Sterrett Classical Academy, Taylor Allderdice High School and eventually graduated from Michigan State University in 1998. He spent several years in New York City as a stand-up comedian before moving to Los Angeles in 2002 to pursue a career in acting. In all the cities he’s lived, Ryan admits that he’s always maintained a strong love for Pittsburgh pizza.
“Aside from my parents [phone] number, Napoli’s is the only [Pittsburgh] number I know,” says Ryan.
But Ryan says pizza isn’t the only problem on the West Coast.
“You can’t find a good hoagie out here. How hard is it to take a roll and slice it in half, put the meat on it and put it in the oven.”
Luckily, there’s much more to Ryan than the complexities of pizza and hoagies.
Since his move to L.A., Ryan has had cameo roles in the film, “The Little Black Book” and the NBC show, “Las Vegas,” but says his “first taste of acting” occurred during his senior year of high school while on-set of the movie “Houseguest,” which filmed in Pittsburgh.
While his passion lies in acting, during the week Ryan works as an investment analyst and acquisitions manager for the owners of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (in Los Angeles), requiring him to scout real estate prospects for the team owner and create incentives for season ticket holders.
“The Steelers are in my heart, but the Buccaneers pay my bills,” says Ryan.
Though both his coworkers and hometown friends occasionally tease his duality, Ryan’s loyalty and appreciation of Pittsburgh is nothing to be questioned.
“Pittsburgh has an intangible quality. Coming out from the airport through the Fort Pitt tunnels. The city just opens up and welcomes you,” says Ryan.
And even though he’s spent the last eight years in Hollywood, Ryan says he hopes to one day, star in a Pittsburgh-filmed move. After all, “Pittsburgh is the Hollywood of the East Coast. It can be used for anything because of its cobble stone roads, bridges, high-tech construction sites and tunnels. Pittsburgh has everything, except for palm trees,” he says, adding, “If Pittsburgh gets palm trees it’s a perfect town.”
God only know what will happen if L.A gets good pizza.
(Jay Firestone, a Pittsburgh native and staff writer for the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, writes about Pittsburghers who now live somewhere else. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)