Useful Notes: Pennsylvania

The Keystone State

"Pennsylvania: You have Philadelphia on one side, Pittsburgh on the other, and Alabama in the middle."
Old joke.note 

Ah, Pennsylvania, one of the original 13 colonies and current sixth most populous state in the union. The "Keystone State"; or, "The Quaker State". Often referred to by residents as "PA," the state's postal code, expect just about any media taking place here to be focused on the state's largest city of Philadelphia, with the occasional appearance of Pittsburgh. (There is also that one show about office workers which made Scranton, the state's sixth most populous city, nationally known.)

The state was founded by William Penn, a famous Quaker, in 1682 and its name means "Penn's Woods." However, it is not named for William Penn; or rather, it is not named for that William Penn. The land was given to Penn by Charles II in satisfaction of a debt owed to Penn's father, the Royalist Admiral Sir William Penn, for services during the English Civil War; the Quaker son would have preferred to call the territory "Sylvania" (for the woods) or "New Wales" (as many of the Quakers who had signed up to settle there were Welsh), but His Majesty insisted on naming the land after the loyal admiral to whom the debt had been owed. (The Welsh ended up naming a bunch of towns west of Philadelphia, with the area becoming known as the Welsh Tract.)

Benjamin Franklin is likely the most famous resident of Pennsylvania, moving there from Boston as a teenager. Pennsylvania is also well known for its many Amish folk, especially in the south-central parts of the state around Lancaster. (Pronounced "Lank-Ister." You'll immediately out yourself as an out-of-stater if you try to pronounce it "Lang-Caster")

Politically, as with most states, the urban areas of Pennsylvania tend to lean more liberal while the rural areas lean more conservative. Despite the state's long history dating back to the founding of the country, it has only produced one US president, (James Buchanan), who is generally considered to be one of the worst in the country's history at that.

One area Pennsylvania stands out is the variety and high quality of its food. Philly cheese steaks and Primanti Bros. sandwiches in Pittsburgh simply must be tried if you are visiting. Philadelphia also has its less well-known but still excellent roast pork sandwiches (a variation on the Italian porchetta that some visitors from Italy are willing to admit can compete with what's available in Italy). The entire state is known for pretzels (the first hard pretzel factory in the country opened in Lititz, a southeastern city, while "B" shaped soft pretzels can be found almost everywhere except for Philadelphia. Philly's pretzels are properly shaped like a French braid, and almost required to be served with brown mustard) A wide variety of traditionally German foods (known as "Pennsylvania Dutch") are also popular throughout the state. And that is without even mentioning the chocolate from Hershey.

Counties that share a border with Appalachia include Franklin, Cumberland, Dauphin, Berks, Lehigh, and Northampton counties.

Regions of Pennsylvania (by order of largest city):

  • Greater Philadelphia: The largest city in the state, and (to boot) the fifth-largest in the United States and second-largest on the East Coast. Situated where the Schuylkill River meets the Delaware. Its influence spills over into South Jersey and northern Delaware. Has an eternal rivalry with New York City in everything.
  • Greater Pittsburgh: AKA Southwest Pennsylvania. The second-largest city in the state, situated where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers meet to form the Ohio River, making for a very pretty triangular park. Formerly famous for steel mills; now famous for healthcare, education, and being a bit of a mecca for hipsters tired of the coasts. Definitely more Midwestern than Eastern; its influence spills over into Ohio, northern West Virginia, and the mountainous western tip of Maryland.
  • The Lehigh Valley: Centered on Allentown. Historically a manufacturing area (Mack Trucks were based there until 2008, and Air Products & Chemicals, one of the world's largest manufacturers of compressed gasses, still has its HQ in Allentown; also, the "Bethlehem" of "Bethlehem Steel" is in Lehigh County), today sort of a mini-Pittsburgh (despite being much closer to Philadelphia), with healthcare and services being major industries. Almost directly on the border with New Jersey (Allentown borders Easton, PA, which in turn is right across the Delaware from Phillipsburg, NJ), and the cultural Lehigh Valley is sometimes considered to include some or all of the New Jersey Skylands (particularly Warren County, which is on the Delaware River). Although it mostly looks to Philadelphia for cues, New York's influence is creeping in (with occasional talk of New Jersey Transit extending its Raritan Valley Line to Easton or Allentown to serve commuters and others going to New York Penn Station), as Allentown is more or less 80 miles due west of Manhattan as the crow flies (actual travel distance is closer to 100 miles).
  • Northwest Pennsylvania: Centered on Erie. Much of this region would have been part of New York State, but it was decided early on that Pennsylvania should have some access to the Great Lakes and the lucrative shipping traffic New York's Erie Canal had created.
  • Greater Reading/Upper Schuylkill: Centered on Reading, upstream on the Schuylkill from Philadelphia. Famously home to the Reading Railroad (yes, like in Monopoly) and gateway to the Pennsylvania Coal Country (with towns like Pottsville—incidentally also home of Philadelphia's favorite brew, Yuengling—famous for their coal mines). Taylor Swift is from nearby Wyomissing.
  • Wyoming Valley/Northeast Pennsylvania: Centered on Scranton (yes, like The Office). Also includes Wilkes-Barre (the second part of the word is either pronounced "berry" or "bear" if you value your ears). Another former manufacturing and anthracite mining region. "Northeast Pennsylvania" is a bit broader than the Wyoming Valley and includes the Poconos to the east (where Philadelphians and others go skiing). All other "Wyomings" in the US, including the state, were named after this one by overly-proud Pennsylvanians. The influence of New York City is slowly creeping in; New Jersey Transit has somewhat serious plans to extend its Montclair/Boonton Line into PA, potentially as far as Scranton, to serve commuters and others going to New York Penn Station.note 
  • South-Central Pennsylvania: Centered on Lancaster, Harrisburg, and York, and largely defined by the Susquehanna and Juniata Rivers (which meet just upstream of Harrisburg). The "Lancaster and York" thing is entirely intentional, with the cities quite proudly associating themselves with red and white roses, respectively. Lancaster is associated with the Amish/Pennsylvania Dutch, with an Amish market, etc. Harrisburg, as the state capital, is associated with incompetent and/or corrupt state officials and boredom. York is mostly rural except for the titular city. The part the Pennsylvania Turnpike runs through as people rush between Pittsburgh (and points west) and Philly (and points east—and south: it's the best way to get to Washington, DC by car from much of the Midwest). Also of note: Hershey is just outside Harrisburg.
  • The Northern Tier: The north-central part of Pennsylvania, a sort of mirror-image of New York State's Southern Tier and sharing much in common with it note . No major cities. Characterized by gorgeous mountains that people in a rush to get to New York on I-80 completely ignore, and not much else.

Tropes Commonly Associated With Pennsylvania:

  • Abandoned Mine: Pennsylvania was a major coal-producing state for a long time, and still sits on the largest reserves of anthracite coal in the entire world. However, with coal on its way out due both to environmental concerns leading to cleaner fuel sources being made more readily available and because petroleum and natural gas are much more convenient resources than coal (and it just so happens that Pennsylvania has a lot of natural gas, too), much of this industry has dried up and left abandoned coal mines scattered throughout the state.
    • Numerous coal mines and mining towns have been abandoned due to mine fires as well. Illegal mining was quite common in some areas, so it can be difficult to predict where a mine fire will travel and it's not unusual to see whole seams abandoned because of their proximity to another seam that has caught on fire. The possibility of this becoming more and more widespread has resulted in many Pennsylvanians being relieved that coal mining's been slowly phased out of the state, largely for environmental and economic reasons. Centralia is just the most famous example.
  • American Accents: Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have famous ones of their own. Appalachian is present in the southwestern part of the state. Pennsylvania Dutch is a unique one common in the rural areas of the state, and can be so incomprehensible to outsiders that it's practically its own language (and we are not talking about actual Pennsylvania German, which is its own language and still spoken).
  • The American Civil War: The Battle of Gettysburg took place here in Adams County, a southern county. It's one of the most famous battles of the war and is considered the war's major turning point.
  • American Football: Two NFL teams, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles, and a number of college programs including, most famously, Penn State. The western part of the state is also well known for producing many legendary football players, especially quarterbacks (Joe Montana, Dan Marino, Johnny Unitas, and many others.)
  • Amusement Park: Hershey Park is a big one. Kennywood in Pittsburgh is another. Knoebels is a regionally popular one in central PA. Also Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom in Allentown, and Camelbeach waterpark in Tannersville (the Poconos).
  • Arcadia: Most of the rural areas and farmlands certainly qualify.
  • Baseball: Two MLB teams, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Philadelphia Phillies. The Little League World Series also takes place in Williamsport every August.
  • Basketball: The only one of the four major American sports leagues where PA doesn't have two teams, having only the Philadelphia 76ers.
  • Cuisines in America: PA has a lot of German (called "PA Dutch") heritage in its cuisine, generally speaking. It is also home to the oldest operating brewing company in the US, Yuengling (also German—it was originally Jüngling—but not PA Dutch). Both Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are good centers for Italian-derived food—Philadelphia especially is one of the few places in America that can compete with New York for high-quality good old-fashioned Italian-American food.
  • Drives Like Crazy: Pennsylvania is notorious for the poor quality of its roads almost to the point of parody, which leads to their drivers having to adapt their driving styles to deal with the consistently poor conditions. Drivers from other states who have to share the road with Pennsylvanians often do not appreciate this.
  • Egopolis: Averted. William Penn was a Quaker and too humble to name the colony after himself. Instead, as per a suggestion—well, more like a "suggestion", given that it came from the King—he named it after his father, a revered British admiral.
  • Fandom Rivalry:
    • Fans of teams from Pittsburgh and Philadelphia can be like this, though it is not as extreme as it is in some other states. Due to the Steelers and Eagles playing in different conferences in the NFL, and the Pirates and Phillies playing in different divisions in baseball, there hasn't been as much opportunity to develop a rivalry. It is most prominently seen in the rivalry between Penguins and Flyers fans in the NHL.
    • That said, while Philadelphia may not have much of a rivalry with Pittsburgh outside of ice hockey, they more than make up for it with their rivalries with everyone else. Philly sports fans have a reputation as being the closest thing America has to hooligans — a reputation they've embraced and exaggerated. They're actually somewhat confused in situations when opposing fans don't visibly hate or at least purport to hate them (the Upper Midwestern friendliness of Packers and Vikings home crowds has bewildered a large number of Eagles fans following the team to the annual trips to Green Bay and Minneapolis).
    • In Philadelphia, the eternal question is "Geno's or Pat's?" when it comes to the best place for cheesesteak... at least, if you're from out of town. Most Philly natives, and even people who have only lived there a few years, regard both Pat's and Geno's as overpriced and subpar tourist traps, and declare for a number of other options instead (prime candidates include Tony Luke's, John's Roast Pork—despite the name, the cheesesteak is more famous—and Jim's—if you've been reveling on South Street).
    • Sheetz vs. Wawa (chains of convenience stores featuring both gas and surprisingly excellent made-to-order food) is another. Saying you prefer one in the territory of another can count as "fighting words," so beware. And Turkey Hill (another chain, previously co-owned with Turkey Hill Dairy; now one of a number of chains owned by Kroger) supporters get caught in the middle. (For the Lehigh Valley, it's even worse, since they're both in large quantities; and then when you get to the New Jersey side of the Valley, there aren't any Sheetz or Turkey Hill locations; instead you've got QuickChek, The Bagelsmith, independents, and there are only a few scattered Wawas through North Jersey.)
  • Flyover Country: Aside from Philly, Pittsburgh, and until recently Scranton, much of the state is characterized as this. Take for instance the Lehigh Valley, a large area roughly squeezed inbetween Scranton, the Poconos, Harrisburg and Philly, full of suburbs and farmland mostly; they're not only kinda isolated, but also hard to get over-the-air TV signals to, to the point where the locally-owned independent TV station, WFMZ-TV 69 (yes, that's really their channel number), airs 39 hours of news a week, including a 4-hour morning newscast, a half-hour at noon, hours at 4 and 5PM, a half-hour at 6, and an hour at 10PM, followed by a half-hour Spanish newscast at 11PM. And the 5:30 and 10:30 half-hours are Berks Edition, for nearby Berks County. And to add to that, part of New Jersey (specifically Warren and Hunterdon Counties) are also counted as part of the area, so you have news from there as well. And their graphics, talent, and presentation are all top-notch, with many ex-staffers going on to bigger stations and such (as it's technically a part of the Philly media market, so hence they have a news sharing agreement in place with WPVI-TV 6, the people who make Philly's famous Action News).
  • Formula One and Indy Car: The famous Andretti racing family hails from Nazareth and the surrounding area.
  • Ghibli Hills: Get deep into the state and you'll find acres of forests and hilly terrain resulting in some beautiful landscapes, such as Pine Creek Gorge. Fittingly, given the state's name (see Meaningful Name below).
  • Ghost Town: Centralia. All but abandoned due to a coal fire raging beneath the town, releasing toxic gasses and causing unstable ground.
  • Ice Hockey: Two NHL teams, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers also have several minor league teams, like the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, recently moved there to play in the new PPL Center in Center City Allentown.
  • Hillbilly Horrors: Eastern Pennsylvanians, especially Philaldelphians, typically regard the middle and western parts of the state as backwards & backwater, with Pittsburgh, State College (home of Penn State), and the few cities therein seen as the sole shining beacons of civilization and reason. The fact that area is officially part of Appalachia, and is VERY politically Conservative while Philaldelphia and the surrounding areas are solidly Liberal, doesn't help matters in the slightest, and Easterners have unflatteringly (and unabashedly) dubbed that entire area, "Pennsytucky". The Westerners call the east "Philavania", and have similar opinions.
  • Soiled Cityona Hill: The central part of the state’s opinion of Philadelphia. They are seen as uncultured and incompetent, incapable of understanding the complex network of family alliances that empower the outlying regions, and bullying us for tax money we will never see the benefits of.
  • Little Known Fact: The Rhoads Opera House Fire occurred during the year of January 13, 1908. Killing hundreds of people and is a primary reason most public places have a push-to-open door. The town the Opera House Fire occurred in also has the first Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force as a claim to fame.
  • Meaningful Name: "Pennsylvania" means "Penn's Woods." It was named after Sir William Penn, and it's got plenty of forest.
  • NASCAR: The famous three-sided Pocono Raceway is found here.
  • Non-Indicative Name: "Pennsylvania Dutch" have nothing to do with people from the Netherlands. They're actually of German decent, with "Dutch" coming from "Deutsch."
    • Fun Fact: Dutch USED to be a catch-all term for anyone from the general Germanic regions of the Holy Roman Empire. So back in the mid-1800s and earlier, "Pennsylvania Dutch" made perfect sense as to mean "Pennsylvania Germans". But as Society Marches On, especially after Germany et all gained independence, and "Dutch" has come to mean people from the Netherlands specifically, the name's meaning has become quite confusing to modern ears.
  • No Pronunciation Guide: Pronunciation of certain places and things is different (and frequently inconsistent) throughout the state. A few prime examples:
    • "Lancaster" is pronounced "Lank-Ister," NEVER "Lang-Caster."
    • Yuengling beer is not pronounced "Young-Ling" as many out-of-staters will try to say. It's pronounced so that it rhymes: "Ying-Ling."
    • Good luck with any place that has a french name. Some are arbitrarily pronounced in french fashion, such as Duquesne University. Others, such as the town of Dubois, are not. (It is pronounced "Do-Boyz.")
    • Likewise, many of the Welsh names are impossible to pronounce if you're not familiar with either Welsh or are from the region (a prominent college near Philadelphia, Gwynedd Mercy, is not "GWIN-ed, but GWEN-ith", for example). Even then, not even Philadelphians say all the names properly (Bala Cynwyd is pronounced "Bala KIN-wood" by natives, even though the proper way is "Bala KUHN-wid")
    • Famously, in the eastern part of the state, it's not "water" it's "wudder"; they're not the "Eagles" they're the "Iggles"; and neither you nor Wile E. Coyote shop at the "Acme" (a Philly supermarket chain), it's the "A-ka-mee."
    • Philaldelphians can immediately tell if someone's from out of state when they say they're going to visit to where the Continental Congress signed the Declaration... it's not "Con-tin-en-tal", it's "Con'n'en'al" - t's are silent after n's (similarly, it's not "TREN-ton," it's "Tren'n").
  • Professional Wrestling:
    • Kurt Angle, Bruno Sammartino, and Shane Douglas are from Pittsburgh.
    • A number of historic pro wrestling events have happened in the state. The legendary The Undertaker vs. Mankind Hell in a Cell match took place in Pittsburgh.
    • The venerable "Studio Wrestling" television program was filmed in Pittsburgh between 1959 and 1972 and featured a number of famous wrestlers.
    • The original ECW was headquartered in Philadelphia and harbors a large fanbase there to this day.
  • Scenery Porn: Central Pennsylvania is full of this, since it has some of highest points of the Appalachian Mountains as well as less people to settle there.
  • Schizo Tech: Dealing with the Amish can lead to this. It's not uncommon in Amish Country to see a woman in a bonnet and homespun dress operating electronics—particularly a modern cash register and credit card machine—or a man with the big Amish beard driving a horse pulling gas-driven farming equipment, or to see families of Amish riding a Greyhound bus. The clash is perhaps most striking in Philadelphia's Reading Terminal Market, which is an emphatically modern take on an indoor market and is set on all sides by the trappings of hip modern living—and the numerous Amish merchants, all dressed in their homespun, are using much of this technology to conduct their business.
  • Screw the Rules, I Make Them!/Have Connections: Generally how Philadelphia regards Harrisburg (the capital of the state). Philadelphia is so large and so populace that the city alone can overturn an election for Governor (let alone FIT all of Harrisburg & its population within a section of Philly with room to spare); as a result, the city generally does whatever the hell it feels like (such as tweaking marijuana laws within the city limits to be nearly-nonexistent, while they're still very strict outside of Philly, and Harrisburg can't really do anything about it). Pittsburgh, being the second biggest city in the state and is the only real force that can oppose Philly on anything state-wide, also generally takes this stance—and is most usually aligned with Philly on any serious issue. Harrisburg's only real power over these large cities is that it controls the flow of tax-money into them—however, anyone who sufficiently ticks off both cities will have a very, very short term indeed, so Harrisburg usually caves into their demands. This dynamic has existed for basically ever, and will probably continue as long as Pennsylvania is a thing. The "specialness" of Philadelphia in particular has actually been enshrined in law, particularly the structure of Pennsylvania's (already notoriously complex) court system—unlike the rest of the state, the local low-level court is the "Philadelphia Municipal Court," with special powers (the rest of the state gets "District Courts"), and there are a number of unique rules that apply to court cases only within Philadelphia (mostly at the insistence of Philly's giant legal community).note 
    • A rare defiance occurred in 2010 when the federal Department of Transportation rejected a plan by then-governor Ed Rendell (and backed by most Pittsburgh and Philadelphia state legislators) to set up a toll on Interstate 80. Pittsburgh and Philly are far enough south of I-80 to not be affected by the toll but still in a position to partake in the estimated $900+ million annually the toll would provide them while badly crippling commuters and businesses in the northern part of the state. The rejection was seen as a rare victory for the smaller towns and rural areas in northern PA over the political juggernaut cities down south.