I got into a conversation with a cashier last night and it took me a good 20 or so minutes to realize we were on two completely different plains of existence.
The gentlemen in question saw that I was wearing my WQED hoodie and started talking to me about people he knew that worked here and how he got the chance to meet Mister Rogers and tour the studio. Unfortunately, Mister Rogers, the set and the show are well before my time at this station. I assume that most of his friends have retired, because the names did not sound familiar.
— Oh yeah, by the way, did I tell you I now work at WQED, “the Mister Rogers station”? More on that another time. —
Anyway, I told him I wish I had the opportunity to meet more people in Pittsburgh, but that I did have a few friends from my jobs here. He of course, wanted to know where I was from and I said “Northeast Pennsylvania.” I find that by saying this, it triggers some knee jerk reaction about Philadelphia. In this case, he said “North East Pennsylvania? OH YEAH! I’ve been to the wine festival up there.” (note the difference in spacing)
I know there are a ton of wine festivals in Northeast PA, but a wine drinker I am not, so I mentioned the only two I could think of off the top of my head. “Montage Mountain? Tunkhannock?” He looked at me like I grew another head.
“No, it’s by the train station,” he said. “There’s an Italian restaurant we ate at near the tracks that was really good.”
Me: “Oh? Maybe you were in Scranton or East Stroudsburg?”
Him: *another puzzled look* “It’s by Lake Erie.”
He said “Well, you’re from up by Lake Erie, right? That’s where North East is.”
I told him I was NorthEASTERN Pennsylvania. “You know, by Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, the Poconos.” Another blank stare.
It took us a few more minutes of back and forth for us to figure out what the hell we were both talking about and then we had a good chuckle.
As it turns out, there is a small borough near Lake Erie, in Erie county, called “North East” and when you pair it with Pennsylvania it sounds like you’re referring to Northeastern, Pennsylvania (NEPA). These are two entirely different areas clear across the state from each other. I would have had no idea that this town even existed if it wasn’t for this awkward conversation. After I got a chance to sit down, relax, and boot up my computer last night, I googled North East, Pennsylvania. According to the borough’s website, the region is known for it’s fruit growing especially cherries and grapes. Welch Foods has a plant in North East and it is one of the area’s largest employers. There is an annual Cherry Festival in the summer and an annual Wine Country Harvest Festival in the fall — this must be the wine festival the cashier was referring to during our chat.
According to some other friends, there’s a rail museum (Lake Shore Railway Museum) and a hotel that’s on the National Register of Historic Places (Short’s Hotel). Additionally and equally confusing/hilarious, there’s a North East Fair, not to be confused with the Northeast Fair near Pittston.
Lesson learned! When you’re referring to Northeast PA on the western side of the state, it’s just easier to call it NEPA or give geographical reference points. Otherwise people will just assume you are from Erie.