Over October break, I had the opportunity to go to State College, PA. I’m from Maine and attend NEC. State College is the home of Pennsylvania State University, which has a student population bigger than my hometown! Seriously, their total enrollment for 2017 was just shy of 99,000 and my hometown’s population from the same year is just over 23,000.
I’ve never been to Pennsylvania, except barely driving across the border, traveling to Cleveland, Ohio to visit family. Did I know that Penn State and Ohio State are sworn enemies? Sure, but only a day before the trip.
Two days in, what have I learned? IHOP is out and The Waffle Shop is in. This breakfast place is apparently a staple to a lot of residents around here; I’d give their blueberry syrup an 8/10.
Another thing, if a person isn’t wearing some sort of Penn State merchandise, oh boy do they stick out like a sore thumb. However, it’s hard not to be decked out in blue and white when there’s a store dedicated to Nittany Lion pride on every corner downtown.
My first impression of Beaver Stadium: “That’s not like a regular building? It doesn’t look much like a beaver to me.”
Trip continues, everything’s great, I’m having a good time. Lost my Barnes and Noble virginity and ended up spending more than I care to share but it’s a vacation, right?
Up in New England we have Cumberland Farms or Rusty Lantern Markets, which are gas stations with mostly clean convenience stores. Here they have Sheetz. I had no idea what a Sheetz was, I thought, “Like a store for linens?”
The Sheetz location in downtown State College, 9/10. Shout out to whoever watches the security tape of me spilling hot chocolate everywhere, because I didn’t know what I was doing and spent more time cleaning it up than picking out which snack I wanted.
Also to the guy who rang me up, that was taken aback by my friendliness and questions about Sheetz, you confused me, even more so when you asked me if I knew what a WaWa’s was…I still don’t, but maybe next time.
Believe me when I say a Penn State sweatshirt was already waiting for me upon my arrival. While I’m so grateful for the gesture, I couldn’t help but notice that it was passively expected of me to wear this sweatshirt everywhere, to show loyalty or maybe support? Blue and white is a way of living, I’d go as far as saying it’s a culture.
I took the opportunity to go to The Creamery, a local State College ice cream place, widely popular with students. My pick was the ‘Lion Tracks,’ and when I asked for rainbow jimmies, the person behind the counter responded with, “we only have blue and white.” I was slightly shocked, this town has it down to the color of the sprinkles!
Nonetheless, it was delicious.
There are some things that aren’t saturated in blue and white pride. I visited the State College Arboretum. The flowers were beautiful and the landscaping is stunning. There was a jack o’ lantern contest happening and walking through each age group display, some of these entries were awesome! Of course, some of them were blue and some had a lion on it or the Nittany logo, but the Joker pumpkin stood out.
“What’s Happy Valley?”
“Oh everyone and everyone’s dad has a Happy Valley shirt”
“Oh right yeah sure ok.”
That answer left me right where I started.
I get confused talking about State College because the line of where the Penn State campus ends and the town begins is pretty blurry. Another nickname for this part of Pennsylvania is Happy Valley, so that’s a pretty normal thing to hear when tuning into radio stations.
Also, people who are in Pennsylvania don’t say “Pennsylvania,” it’s just “PA.” One more piece of lingo that makes me stand out less.
Alright, circle back to me: I’m from Maine, and I’d say I’m pretty aware of the stereotypes that come with it. Lobster, the ocean, moose crossing signs, but one thing I didn’t know I had was an accent. It’s not heavy but apparently it’s there, and it came out.
We were at Sheetz when my partner introduced me to one of their friends and they asked me about Maine. I made a joke about lobster ice cream and instead of saying “lobster,” like a normal person, I said, “lobstah,” no R at all. This friend even called me out on it and I decided I would never speak again. Up until this point, I thought I was doing a pretty good job of blending in.
Something else slipped out in one of the many souvenir shops in downtown State College. I saw a stand of mugs with the sign saying “Worst State Ever,” and there it was, an outline of the state I called a second home, home to half my family and where my dad spent the first 18 years of his life: Ohio. I couldn’t bring myself to purchase it. I felt like a traitor, wanting to sympathize with the enemy.
I took a photo of the mug and sent it to my father. Being the kind-hearted man he is, he thought it was hilarious. He even asked me to bring it home, but by then I had already left the store. I promised him next time.
At first, coming into a culture that’s surrounded by one thing, college football, I quickly wanted to reject it because I didn’t consider it to be as important as many of the other people around me. After being submerged in the lifestyle I easily came around, at the very least, to understanding that every place has its own thing and this was State College’s. It was never an attitude of being with or against, it was just that the support level varied from person to person.