“Oh, you’re drinking the OG soju.”
Was this a statement or question? I slowly turned toward the sound of the voice; it was a handsome twenty-something man who was sitting next to me at a bar in Manhattan.
“Well I am an OG,” was my quick but utterly embarrassing response. I was an OG of what exactly? Original, OK. A Gangsta? Please, SMDH.
“You? An OG?” he laughed, increasing my humiliation. "You must be younger than me." At this point, some of the "OG soju" escaped through my lips, falling in a cascade all over the scallion pancakes the bartender had just placed in front of me.
“Wha — wait, you think I am younger than you?” I reached for my wallet.
“Ah wait,” his hands and head shook back and forth. “You don’t have to—”
“Oh yes, I do, I want to see your face when you see how old I am.” We both laughed. It turns out he was with a group of former college classmates. A weekly gathering of Asian and Asian-American alums from a prestigious university. “We are here every week; you should come and hang with us again.”
I still remember how happy I was for the invitation from this group of young Asian-Americans to this middle-aged African American, my eyes widened, and my grin spread ear to ear. But I did not have the heart to tell him (or myself) that I was just in New York City for Fashion Week, and I would leave in a couple days. So I just said, “Sure, that sounds great.” Because it did.
One of the benefits of living in Pittsburgh is the so-called “low cost” of being out. You’ll see tweets of traveling Pittsburghers complaining about a $30 Manhattan in Manhattan or a $20 Chicago Fizz in Chicago, bragging about how they “can get the same thing for $10 in Pittsburgh.”
But the price of the cocktail is not just the liquid in the glass.
The price of my “OG” soju included being walking distance from the very cool, Korean-owned and -operated, multiculturally staffed restaurant. I received an expectant and welcoming greeting instead one of surprise or distain. I got a menu within a few moments of sitting down; there was no “I did not see you” no “Black-blindness.” The price also included me not being the only Black or Brown person in the restaurant. My cocktail also came with an amazing mix of hip hop and R&B music playing. The price also included not having to wait for two buses to get home, four buses round-trip.
My soju also included a wonderful interaction with someone who initiated a conversation with me, not about the weather, sports, or something about which I had no interest. And while the man I met was too young for me, I cannot help but imagine that there could have been a chance for future romance by spending time in such a welcoming, friendly, and multicultural space — one where I wasn’t out of place or even worse, “exotic;" where it felt like I belonged, even though it was the first time I had ever been there.
There are not enough places and spaces that feel this good in Pittsburgh. Black and Brown people, LGBTQIA+, women of all colors, and other under- or unaccommodated neighbors may avoid popular places, even whole entire streets because they are so unwelcoming. Sadly Pittsburgh reflects the whitewashing tendency of the United States: our “all-American,” our yinzer, our apple pie and pierogis — forgetting the sweet potato pie, samosas, and other equally relevant iconography, symbols, and cultural elements miss so much of the rich multiculturalism of this city. This whitewashing renders me invisible to the broader community and to the waitress, bartender or hostess who just “didn’t see me standing there.” It is a high price to pay for a “cheap” cocktail.