Pittsburgh Airbnb Experiences: Twerking lessons, Flat-earth arguments, and basketball with a TV star

There are many so-called Airbnb Experiences available in Pittsburgh, each offering a chance to do something strange, or relatively strange, with a stranger. 

You can learn to twerk in Riverview Park. “Save a flat-earther” in the East End. Walk Frick Park with “a famous hairless dog.” Listen to one of the world’s great stereos in Fox Chapel. 

But only one Pittsburgh Airbnb Experience involves beer and pickup basketball with an instantly recognizable former local TV news reporter. 

That would be Beau Berman

A few months ago, the Pittsburgh native left WTAE, pausing an Emmy Award-winning reporting career that spanned multiple states and more than a decade. 

Beau remains in Pittsburgh and has taken a job with a school district in Lawrence County where he commutes each day and is helping to develop a journalism and digital video production program he hopes to see emulated in other rural districts. 

Beau is also filling the time with basketball — and Airbnb. 

For $65 per person (*beer and local travel included), Beau will take you and your friends on a tour of Pittsburgh’s great public courts.  

“Would you like to know the Pittsburgh court with the best competition? Would you like to be introduced to the authentic local basketball culture of Pittsburgh?” the listing reads. “If you said ‘yes,’ then this is the tour for you.” (Apparently Beau also knows.)

The listing went live last week has yet to draw any takers. 

But Beau hopes that will eventually change, more than likely with the return of warmer weather. 

In the meantime, he’s taking a bit of a breather.  

Beau, whose 11-year TV news career included stints in Texas and Connecticut, where he was one of the first reporters on the ground after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, cites the kind of burnout that anyone who’s spent enough time in this industry can vouch for. 

He describes this as a period of decompression. 

When we caught up with Beau to talk about the Airbnb listing and about his future in journalism. We also talked about his skepticism of journalism-themed vacations, his love of basketball, Pittsburgh’s apparent indifference to the sport, whether he sees an NBA team in this city’s future — spoiler: the answer is no — and how a quest for normalcy led him back to the backcourt. 

Excerpts of our conversation follow here and have been edited for clarity and length. 

Berman for three… Screengrab via YouTube

Q: I stumbled upon this listing on Airbnb and wanted to know: Is this you and, if so, what am I looking at?

A: Yeah, it’s me. Basically, I’ve been Airbnb-ing a property I own in Pittsburgh that I inherited from my late mother, and I’ve been doing that for a couple months now. And when I was on Airbnb recently, it prompted me to see if I wanted to host an Airbnb Experience and if I had something to offer. 

So I started thinking if I had any skills. And, um, I mean, I was a journalist, but I don’t think anyone really wants journalism training while they’re on vacation. So I started thinking of other things that would be fun but also easy to do because I’m pretty busy. 

I signed up for this over a month ago and then kind of forgot about it. 

Q: But Pittsburgh doesn’t have a great basketball culture or am I wrong? 

A: No, I think you’re right. When I worked at WTAE I once asked my boss, because the NBA finals were on ABC and in Cleveland, I said, ‘Hey, can I do a cover of those for us?’ And he was like, ‘No, because Pittsburgh doesn’t care about basketball.’ And I’m thinking, well, I like basketball … but I guess I’m the anomaly. 

Q: So who do you have in mind for this Pittsburgh beer and basketball tour then? 

A: There’s a lot of students coming from Asia to Pittsburgh and from Africa and Europe, and basketball is huge in those places. And if they come here and say ‘Hey, I wanna play but I don’t just wanna go to an empty court,’ they might need some help or want a friendly face to play with or someone to drive them around if they don’t have a car.  

I can also combine it with not just getting sweaty outside but also finishing up with a social hour at the breweries. And Pittsburgh does have some great breweries now, so … 

Q: Have you done anything like this before? 

A: I really never fashioned myself as somebody who would host an Airbnb Experience until a few weeks ago when I saw a woman in Riverview Park and she was offering twerking lessons. And this is not a knock on her, but it kind of opened up my eyes to the fact that you don’t have to have something like hang gliding or some really expensive skill. Really anything you know how to do that’s social, and if you have a good place to do it, you can host. I figure I have nothing to lose, so why not try to put something up there.   

Q: The listing says you played “basketball in high school and throughout college and still play weekly,” so you know your way around a court, right? 

A: If you read that closely, I played during high school. I was not on the high school basketball team, so I embellished my record a little bit. And I don’t care if you publish that, it’s true. I embellished it a little, mostly through omission. I played during college and during high school. I wasn’t on the high school team or on the college team. 

Q: So are you any good? 

A: I mean, I went to a high school where multiple people made the NBA and I was asked to try out for the team and kind of lightly recruited to maybe even play in college. I mean, I’m OK. I’m pretty good. (Watch this and decide for yourself.)

Honestly there’s probably better people in Pittsburgh in terms of skills who could be hosting this. I know people personally who would crush me. But I was also a TV reporter and I can relate to people and I know the city well because I grew up here. And I think all of those factors combine. I didn’t think I should go on there and act like I never played basketball because that’s false. I tried to strategically write it to present my best face forward.

Q: Do you think an NBA team is in Pittsburgh’s future?  

A: Sadly, no. I think there’s a bigger appetite for a Major League Soccer team. I think that would work. I think the NBA might fail here. I hate to say it. I just don’t know if we have the size for that because four pro teams is a lot for a market this size. But I would love it. 

Q:  Where would you take somebody on this tour? 

A: Probably the most famous court in the city proper is over at Mellon Park, near Bakery Square and Fifth Avenue. It’s not what it used to be. It used to have guys there in the summer who played overseas and were back home and you had basically pros over there and that was the place to get the best competition back in the day. 

Like I said, it’s not quite what it used to be, mostly, I think, because of video games — I sound like an old man, but I think kids are playing more video games and don’t play ball outside like they used to. 

But back in the old days you’d have to wait an hour-and-a-half just to get a run on that court and when you did you probably got embarrassed unless you were really good. People were just ruthless. They’d play all day and all night. 

I remember I was at Carnegie Library in Oakland when I was like 15 and I found this book with a ranking of the best courts in every city and I was ‘Oh, this is sick, and also there’s no way Pittsburgh is going to be mentioned.’ And it was mentioned! They had a very, very, very small paragraph about the Mellon Park court.

I thought that was really cool as a kid from Pittsburgh. I was like ‘Oh my God, we’re on the map.’ 

Q: Do beer and basketball go hand in hand?  

Yes and no. If you think of March Madness, then yeah. But if you’re talking about playing, you don’t want a beer beforehand. Afterward? Why not. This Airbnb Experience is really designed more for the summer anyway, so I may have to put this on ice whenever it gets to the end of October here and then reboot it for springtime. 

Q: How are you finding life after the news? 

A: It had been like 11 years of on-air reporting and working the night shift. I’d get home at midnight and usually stay up until 2 a.m. I wanted to be able to go to happy hour, it’s almost like I didn’t know what that was anymore. 

But this is not the end of me in the news business. I think I’ll be back sooner rather than later. 

I view this year as kind of a sabbatical or hiatus, and it’s cool to be in a school environment and give back, and the energy there and the young people… And the teachers are great people who dedicate their lives to education and helping kids, and so I’m just kind of living the life. 

Q: How does the Airbnb thing fit into this? 

A: I’m not really relying on Airbnb to make a living by any extent. It’s just kind of a nifty idea and if no one does it that’s OK, but hopefully they do. I figure if nothing else it’ll be a good story.