Six More Weeks of…?
I had never conceived of coming to this place. I was aware of the event but not of its spectators. Maybe because my mother’s adamant position against cable television never fostered a zombie-like affinity for the weather channel (although, incidentally, she probably would have really enjoyed the weather channel had she ever wavered on her cable creed) with its full coverage of weather history in the making.
Groundhog shadow. Six weeks of winter or six weeks of spring? Punxsutawney. These were words in my lexicon and wintry ideas in my head, but the visual that came to mind was zoomed in and focused on the groundhog and his entourage. I even fabricated a snowy igloo inspired covering over a little black hole, solidly black like in rodent-centric cartoons. That’s what I had in mind.
Thus, when my friends invited me along for the February 2nd tradition, my first reaction was, “People go there?” quickly followed by, “I definitely want to go there!” So we went there, and we went on very little sleep- no big deal!
I had been accustomed to waking at 3:50am which gave me just less than enough time to stumble around a bit, occasionally hit my head on something or walk into something, layer myself in enough warm clothing to resemble a tire mascot and pedal to a happy corner bakery where my friends (Mike included) and I sliced and slung bread into semblances of whole sale invoices. The job entailed no uniform, lots of people watching (once the rest of the world caught up to us) and a free daily loaf of the best bread in Pittsburgh!
So it was that on my day off, when I would have slept to a decent hour, I continued to greet the day at an ungodly hour. Mike and Laura’s Honda Civic arrived at my street, and we went on a quest to find out how much more winter would we have to endure?
I came to as we faced flashing lights, police barricades and directing batons contrasting against the pitch-black sky. Would we miss the groundhog’s big moment because of an accident or roadwork? No, this was Punxsutawney! I began to lament sleeping through the “Welcome to Punxsutawney, Home of Phil” sign we surely had passed. My friends assured me they hadn’t seen one. When Mike rolled down his car window to receive instructions from the traffic cop, it became clear that a missed or nonexistent “Welcome to…” sign would be inconsequential in comparison to what we were about to see.
“Just follow this road until Groundhog Plaza and then you’ll take the [Punxsutawney Area School District] bus to Gobbler’s Knob.”
Parking entailed inventing a space. At close to 6:30am, we were the latecomers. The grocery store, with the brightly lit, smiling groundhog was the first necessity. When nature calls, you enter the fluorescent glow of aisle upon aisle of food excess, sprinkled with groundhog paraphernalia: t-shirts, groundhog cakes and a live radio broadcast of unfolding events on the “Knob.” Even the Russians were covering the event according to the live grocery store coverage. Our 77+ mile journey was clearly insignificant in the grand groundhog scheme of things.
Loudspeakers rushed the “stragglers” to the queue of school busses. A $10 family rate and three paw print stamps put us on the big, yellow Punxsutawney path to the looming six-week question. From the back seats, a woman deemed her conversation humorous enough to broadcast to the entire bus. “So and so, this was such a bad idea because it was your idea [lack of laughter]. If it [were] (grammatical intervention) my idea, it [would have been] a good idea. I’m going to do this, and tonight I’m going to buy me some chicken wings.” At that point, I diverted my attention from the fireworks display to the complimentary bus comedian. It didn’t take a groundhog to see that she didn’t need six more chicken wings this winter. Meanwhile on the broadcast, another bus driver put out his plea, “can someone tell me where there’s a McDonald’s, please?” It hurt me inside a little.
Inclined roads and wintry curves led us to the fireworks finale, a crackling campfire and a growing crowd. “Shake, shake, shake señora” booming from the loud speakers inspired us to start a conga line. What began as three latecomers, transpired to an impressive line with an early morning beer (or a Steelers celebration continuation?) and a groundhog suit in the dancing procession. The conga line did wonders to warm us and distinguish our dancing abilities in comparison to the daughters/granddaughters of important Punxsutawney people serving as the dancing “entertainment” on stage. The girls may have been useless but one of the younger top hat men (one of Phil’s entourage) owned the stage with big arm and coordinated hip movements and the ol’ downward stepping deception.
The sky progressively grayed to the wintry version of daylight while a yellow-capped lung capacity blew at incessant “intervals” on his black and gold “trumpet” (the kind that used to drive the entire neighborhood crazy from my friend’s horseshoe-shaped driveway). The crowd grew progressively verbal in its horn intolerance, but it was not until his sounds risked interference with the ceremony that he stopped, well, that he blew one more time and then stopped.
Daylight encroached, and a parade of important people filed down a barricaded path to the stage. The forced high notes of the Star Spangled Banner solidified this as a patriotic point in history (and a good back story for the next American Idol auditions?). One of the top hats held two scrolls- the fate of the season. The top hats hovered over the little wooden house on the stage. From my position, or more correctly, on account of my distraction from a woman’s seizure-inducing camcorder footage of the transpiring events, the nittier-grittier logistics escaped me, but the important announcement did not.
“On this day, Febrary 2nd, 2009, the 123rd commemoration of Groundhog’s Day, Punxsutawney Phil, prognosticator of all prognosticators, has seen his shadow therefore prognosticating six more weeks of winter.”
With that, the crowd quickly began to disperse, ready for return school bus rides to Groundhog Plaza, hot chocolate, funnel cakes and plane trips to warmer places with warmer prognostications.
For those with a shred of patience, the top hats answered some questions and repeated some answers for those who failed to follow proper Q&A listen-before-you-ask conduct. Why February 2nd? Why…and eluded other questions…How many ‘Phils’ have there been?
The patient waited while news crews focused on the varmint meteorologist wiggling in the arms of a top-hatted handler. If I had seen this previously, this is what I had seen- the view of these reporters, on stage, in furry groundhog hats, zooming their cameras on the star of the show, whose flat but “fluffy” [fat] body recalled the 3lb Russian Corn Rye of my day job!
When the cameras had recorded enough coverage, the patient crowd gained access to Phil via a photo next to his cylindrical, plastic capsule of a cage. The top hats flashed cameras from all angles and made announcements to “persuade” more of the crowd to seek encapsulated Phil at his 10am park appearance. Meanwhile, a woman appeared to have escaped a protective, institutional capsule of her own. For a long time she stood on the stage steps persuading what seemed to be a non-existent group of friends or family members to join her for the photo op. Whether they were linked through blood, amity or just pity, a group finally joined her around the little, upright, clawing-for-freedom Phil. This woman’s delay of the well-oiled efficiency and the inherent downer of an encapsulated groundhog exasperated our patience.
Over a snow mound, into a line, onto another yellow Punxsutawney school bus and the return journey began, but this time with visible scenery: stark cornfields, harder core pedestrians, capitalizing neighbors selling hot chocolate, stained glass and weathered wood on an old farmhouse, a for sale sign that began to hold a certain appeal and snow everywhere.
Better get used to it, according to Phil.
Punxsutawney Part Deux: The Revenge
While Mike and I were gallivanting about Punxsutawney, our third musketeer was holding the bakery fort. We held a post-Punxsutawney celebration to include Chris in the adventure.
Faced more with winter there was only one thing to do: Watch Groundhog Day for my first time ever, which Chris just happened to own on LASER DISC! and eat that little groundhog…well a cake version of that little groundhog.
We really meant no harm to the original Phil, but Pittsburgh winters can really mess with your head!
The Snowy Landscape
14 ounces sweetened shredded coconut
14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
2 extra-large egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
Combine the coconut, condensed milk, and vanilla in a large bowl.
Whip the egg whites and salt on high speed in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment until they make medium-firm peaks.
Carefully fold the egg whites into the coconut mixture.
Drop the batter onto sheet pans lined with parchment paper using either a 1 3/4-inch diameter ice cream scoop, or two teaspoons.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden brown.
Cool and serve.
2 cups pure cane sugar
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup milk
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder + carob powder
Pinch of cayenne pepper
2/3 cup organic chunky peanut butter
3 cups organic oats
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Sprinkling of cinnamon and nutmeg
Place a piece of wax paper or foil on cookie sheet. Combine sugar, butter, milk and cocoa in medium saucepan.
Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to rolling boil.
Remove from heat; cool 1 minute.
Add peanut butter; stir to blend. Add oats, peanuts and vanilla; stir to mix well. Quickly drop mixture by heaping teaspoons onto wax paper or foil.
Cool completely. Store in cool, dry place- no big deal because there’s more WINTER for ease of cool storage!