(FORTUNE Magazine) – What are the common experiences that unify each form of human enterprise? If I am a farmer, be it in the outskirts of Istanbul or the inner heart of Iowa, I must glance upward on a parched August evening and look, with hopeful heart, for rain. If I am a lion tamer, no matter in which circus I make my home, I am destined to feel the hot breath of my partners on my neck, and fear the blood lust that pounds beneath their tame, obedient hides. And if I am a business person, old or young, fat or low-fat, smart or well informed, from the rough, sophisticated New York City canyons to the pulsing industrial Micronesia that stretches from Atlanta to Los Angeles, there is one experience I cannot shun. Before the final Wittnauer is placed like a hospital tag on my ancient, weathered wrist and my old eyes can no longer read the fine print on a joint venture agreement, I must, I say I must, eventually be...stuck in Pittsburgh.

I'm not talking metaphorically. In saying "Pittsburgh" I'm not talking about some symbolic Pittsburgh of the soul. I'm talking about Pittsburgh, broad-shouldered titan of the Allegheny. USAir's got a hub there, you see. All domestic roads go through it. Only a few are paved with good intentions. And once you're in, good luck getting out.

Last week I was stuck in Pittsburgh. It wasn't the first time. Several years ago, to cite just one occasion, on a summer day so hot the airplane virtually sank into the tarmac, I boarded a USAir jet at 5 P.M., and after a series of unexplained equipment breakdowns, found myself hours later flying on a TWA prop-jet that had trouble attaining a cruising speed over 200 miles per hour. We didn't arrive until midnight, and I've never been so happy to set foot on the soil of Long Island. Not being stuck in Pittsburgh can do that to you--make you appreciate all other places no matter how flat or ludicrous.

It's not that Pittsburgh is so bad. It's not. It's America's most livable city. If you stay there, they'll tell you that a lot. And they're right, I'm sure. On the main street, there are signs that say PARK ALL DAY--$1. Can you imagine? There are other great things in Pittsburgh, too numerous to mention really.

You just don't want to be stuck there.

Last Tuesday, then. It was supposed to be a quick hop in, quick hop out. I got to the airport early. The Pittsburgh airport is very large. Only O'Hare is more humbling. Beyond the mean heart of the hub that is the central terminal, spokes emanate outward: A, B, C...perhaps there is a D; I can't remember. Lots of stores and restaurants. Not long ago I was stuck here with DiBlasi, a vivacious reengineering maven. Just as they were finally calling our plane, DiBlasi got a burbly, intoxicated look in his eye and, grabbing me by the elbow, hauled me the length of two spokes, at least a mile. Finally we got what he was looking for: delicious, hot soft pretzels coated with butter and cinnamon. They were good. Had to run like a gemsbok to make that plane, though.

Pittsburgh does that to you. Makes you want to grab every pleasure, no matter how tiny. Who knows how soon all joy may be wrenched away, leaving you deposited where you began? Seize the pretzel while you may!

It is a little-known fact that one end of the Pittsburgh airport is in Pennsylvania and the other is in Indiana. All planes to New York are at the rag end of the longest spoke, somewhere near Muncie. I walked. Fifteen minutes later, I was there. Winded but alive. I sat down and thought of my little children, of my wife waiting at home, my doggie sitting by the door and wagging his dopey tail. Hadn't seen them in two days. Couldn't wait to get out. But still. I could feel the magnetic pull of destiny drawing me back, dragging me inexorably groundward, and that destiny had a name and that name was Pittsburgh.

I saw fog outside. My stomach tightened. A certain terrible knowledge began to creep up my spine. I got onto the cellular phone and dialed home. The connection was poor. My son was jabbering about a double date he was scheduled to have with his new girlfriend on Friday night. It was kind of tough to get off the phone, but I had to. I could hardly hear anything because there was an announcement blaring out of the PA system. I pressed END and went to the counter to see what was going on.

"What's going on?" I said.

"There was an announcement," said the USAir representative with a disapproving glare.

"I know," I said, and waited.

"You should have been listening," said the USAir representative, quite incredibly.

"Well, I wasn't!" I almost shouted. "I was on the phone, okay?"

"Your flight is canceled," she said, turning away to examine some sort of form.

"Can I get on the next flight?"

"It's full," said the USAir representative. And so it was. And so was the flight after that. And all flights to Newark too. And half the flights for the following morning. There was fog all up and down the Eastern Seaboard. It was an act of God. It was God who had decided that I was once again to be stuck in Pittsburgh.

Ten years ago. A much smaller me. My best friend, Dworkin, is getting married in Boston while I stand in snowy Pittsburgh waiting for spring to free me. I stood on the phone, not yet a cellular one back then, and yelled into the receiver, trying to grasp a tiny shard of real life and suck it into my heart. It was useless. Pittsburgh is what happens to you while you are making other plans.

I can't say I remember much of what happened afterward. I thought for a while about staying at the airport like a leprous mendicant, leaning against the wall with my coat about my legs and my head tipped back against the cinder block, drooling. But I was with two associates, Kim and Elaine, who had never been stuck in Pittsburgh before. I thought it important that they see how a real executive handles being stuck in Pittsburgh.

So we checked into a hotel, put on the TV, watched the fog roll in on the weather channel, and started drinking tiny ponies of gin. Not long after, we all went out to the Ruth's Chris Steak House--a fine place, except if you don't stop them, they will put butter on your steak. Why not simply deliver a portable Medivac unit to your table? But that's the way they do things in Pittsburgh. Pedal to the metal. Flat out. No prisoners taken. Except you.

Don't remember much after that. Remember trying to get a cab sometime after dinner. No cabs. Had to walk. After a night spent dreaming lonely wistful dreams, sometime the next morning, almost too easily, Pittsburgh loosed its hold on me and let me go to Newark. From there I went to the office. My desk felt so good. Later that night, I breathed the free air of home again.

Today I received an E-mail. In three weeks there's a facilities team meeting in Pittsburgh. If I'm not too busy, says my correspondent, it might be advisable for me to come. I stared at that damned E-mail for a long time. Then I blew it off the system.

I'm at a loss. What should I do? I could try to avoid Pittsburgh, but what kind of way is that to live? Jumping at my own shadow? Trembling every time I open my electronic mailbox? I don't think so. No. I'm going to suck it up and go. Then I'll suck it up and stay as long as I have to. Fate is fate. I embrace mine.

Pass the butter, O Pittsburgh! I am yours!

By day, Stanley Bing is a real executive at a real FORTUNE 500 company he'd rather not name.