As you've all heard by now - Penn State's 2009 Homecoming festivities and game were memorable, to say the least.
The weekend started with very discouraging weather forecasts coming from all of the major weather outlets - from Accuweather to the National Weather Service, it appeared that State College (and the surrounding areas) were going to be hit with a noreaster storm - just in time for Homecoming and the Lions' game against minnesota.
We had planned for the weather - we prepared "bad weather friendly" food and packed up our gear. The snow started Thursday evening and by Friday morning we found out that many areas of State College were without power and that roads, schools and hotels were closed due to the snow, down trees and power lines.
Around 12pm Friday we heard the news that Penn State was going to close the parking lots - the grass parking lots. I was actually scared - I didn't know what to think or do - this was uncharted territory. Calls to the ticket office and internet searches provided little comfort or information - at that point no one knew what was going on.
But we decided to head out - and made the trek to State College - we had rain most of the trip - but once past 7 mountains the weather, and the color of the landscape changed dramatically - it was snowing. As we drove into, and around, State College, I thought - this isn't too bad - the roads are fine and there's not even that much snow - I thought that until we got to Park Forest - trees were down everywhere - it looked like a tornado had hit - there were snapped power lines, strewn across the streets - blocking traffic.
Park Forest is so named for a reason, and the early snow fall was blanketing the still plumed oak trees - and the snow (gravity) was winning. The decision was quickly (albeit somewhat tearily) made to find alternative lodging -
Stop laughing - we knew very well that it was homecoming weekend - but with no power and the ubiquitous cracking of 50' oak trees, we had to try. I grabbed the local phone book and we headed over to Wegmans - where we sat in the cafe for 2 hours calling every hotel in the book (and on the internet) - and we finally got a room in Lamar - 35 minutes north east of State College.
Believe it or not - once we left the State College area, there was no snow. We were safe, and warm, and in a very nice Hampton Inn suite - but our odyssey had just begun.
Saturday morning we woke around the time we would have if on a "normal" Saturday - but, the normalcy ended there. We had no idea what awaited us in State College, if we would go to the game that night or even where we were going to stay that night. We considered just staying in Lamar - but we decided that we would make the trip back to State College and see what happened.
Around 8am I called the Penn Stater - the nice guy at reservations had suggested that I "call back tomorrow morning" to see if they had any rooms for Saturday. The nice lady at reservations said, "um, no, but I can take your name and number and get back to you if something opens up."
So we hit the road - and headed south - toward the snow(ing). It was a particularly odd storm - it seemed to lull over Happy Valley and, in particular, Park Forest.
During the course of the weekend, "Park Forest" became the epicenter of the weather world - or at least The Weather Channel. They set up a "location" (with their tent, trucks and GIGANTIC dish) on Douglas Drive in front of an oak tree, that had snapped in half- each hour (as we found out in Lamar) they would "check in" for an update on the situation.
As you now know, Penn State set up a "snow emergency" parking and shuttle plan - game goers were encouraged to park their cars at one of the (many) local businesses that offered up their parking lots, and then ride Penn State provided shuttle buses into the stadium. Otherwise, the paved parking lots and portions of the purple lot would be open for reserved parking patrons - until 11am - when the lots would then be open to the public.
It was 11am, on a football Saturday - and we were not at the stadium, we were not warming up our lovingly made rib roast for hot roast beef sandwiches - we were walking through the aisles of the grocery store - trying to convince ourselves that it would be "okay" if we missed this one game, and watched it on TV. This was uncharted territory - strange enough to consider watching a home game on TV, but while in State College?
And then the phone rang.
It was the Penn Stater - a room had become available - did we want it? After the initial shock - we booked the room and took a few minutes to re-orient ourselves.
We were going to the game!
We made it over to the hotel and ended up having a small "in house" tailgate - wonderfully delicious food and drink. It was fun - not something I'd want to do every week, but this week, I was quite happy to be warm, dry and watching college football before the game.
The hotel had a shuttle to the stadium - we, eventually, made our way to the game to watch Penn State duke it out with Minnesota.
It was an amazing weekend - unique beyond compare - as it should be.