Greetings from beyond Gobbler’s Knob, ‘Redheads… I bring news that you’ve already seen, heard, and don’t care about from the land of not much else besides Punxutawney Phil, the world’s foremost immortal prognosticating rodent (suck it, Chuck E. Cheese). I braved the bitter cold, a sleepless night, and some shitty pancakes to bear witness to the furry oracle declare that six more weeks of winter are nigh (he also said to take the Giants and the under). Contained within this groundblog are the details of my journey. This is the story of how my plucky band of pals and I made the trek to stand in the cold and dark for 5 hours with 30,000 other goofy white people to watch some shmuck in a top hat yank a groundhog out of a stump at daybreak and tell us that Spring is going to start in March. I hope I’m not overselling this…
So, you may be asking yourself, “Why bother?” A couple reasons. Primarily, to indulge the whimsy of a friend, whose birthday is on Groundhog Day. The other reason was why the hell not? It’s a fun thing to do once, cross it off your bucket list, and take a fun road trip. So, the group of us piled into a couple cars and left DC on Friday afternoon in the only kind of weather that would make northern Pennsylvania seem cheerier by comparison, torrential rain. Since Punxutawney proper was occupado, we stayed at a campground in DuBois (which is pronounced doo-boys, because PA is classy), about 30 minutes away. None of us had much of a clue as to the timetable of the blessed event, but we planned on getting up around 5am, since Phil was due to appear around 7:30. It wasn’t until we dined at the local Ruby Tuesday that we found out that we overshot our estimate just a smidge. Our waiter let us know that in order to beat the inevitable crush of people and get a decent view, we’d have to get to Gobbler’s Knob around the time it opened at 3am. So, we went back to the cabin, set our alarms for 1:45, and tried to grab some shut-eye. Waking up early wasn’t going to be much of a problem for me, since the couch I was sleeping on conveniently folded out into a medieval torture device. Nothing like a spring in your spleen to give you a spring in your step when you wake up. We got up at the crack of night and bundled up for the kind of cold that makes you want to crawl inside a dead animal for warmth.
We got to a bustling Punxutawney at 2:30 and found a parking spot in the frozen lot of a Long John Silvers. There were two ways to get to Gobbler’s Knob. The first was a bus shuttle that ran on the half-hour. The other was to hike the 2 miles and change on foot. We opted for the latter, only because it would mean we could keep moving and slightly warmer. It also lowered our DDQ (Drunken Douchebag Quotient).
As we got closer to the site, music and random revelry echoing in the distance, our buddy Guillaume made one of the greatest statements I’d heard in awhile. He said, “Chances this is a vampire herding, 1 in 10.” We’ll revisit that in a bit, but let’s just say that context made the next 5 hours a bit more tolerable. We reached the Knob and what lay before us was…not a hell of alot. You can’t tell from the picture, but the sign for Gobbler’s Knob proclaimed Punxutawney to be the “Weather Capital of the World”. Really? That’s like saying that my refigerator is the chocolate milk capital of the world. How shitty does your town have to be when the selling point is having weather? Off to the right was a raging bonfire, where I could only assume the virgin sacrifice to Phil was to be made. To our left was the main staging area for Phil, which was occupied by a bevy of bundled beauties, led by a guy in a long coat and a top hat, who were dancing to the Led Zepplin that was piped through the speakers. The organizers did their damndest to keep the huddled masses distracted. They played music, they brought some lucky people out of the crowd to play low-rent gameshows, and the crowd favorite, launching t-shirts and stuffed groundhogs via air cannon. Nothing like getting a beanie baby at terminal velocity. A few people took advantage of the spectacle and popped the question on stage. There were three proposals…in a row. Each one stealing some thunder from the one that followed. The third one was a half-assed job…more of a converted shout out. I’m pretty sure that marriage is only going to last six weeks. They also had another top-hatted guy on stage with a giant clock around his neck (if he had a viking helmet on, he would’ve been the photo negative of Flavor Flav), who kept a check of the time. And the time passed slowly. To help pass the time, we played a game called Spot the Black Person. That ended in a scoreless tie. The event should’ve been sponsored by Wonder Bread and Hellmann’s. Speaking of which, the experience as a whole could be best described as a misery sandwich on fun bread. What I mean is, the first couple hours were fun, the middle couple hours were painfully awful, then the last couple hours rallied back to fun.
Getting back to the vampire theory, we came up with three possible storylines for a new Groundhog Day movie. The first was the vampire story, with Phil being a vampire of some sort, which explains his purported 122 year lifespan. The next was a Phil assassination which plunges the world into an eternal winter. The last one would revolve around one of the afore mentioned cheesy marriage proposals. Hey, if Meet The Spartans can top the box office, I think we can get one of those greenlit. As a side note, if you spent money to see Meet The Spartans, we can’t be friends anymore.
As the appointed time drew closer, the crowd ballooned from roughly 5,000 to about 30,000. At 6:00am, they shot off a fairly impressive fireworks display. That was just enough to distract me from my frozen toes. Then they amped up the pageantry to get everyone ready for their audience with the rodent Pope.
The groundhog illuminati lined the stage and sounded off their important sounding weather-related titles, Stormchaser, Cloudformer, Sunbeamer, Gay Namegiver, etc. Then they had a local gal sing the national anthem. Then it was time for them to pull Phil out of his stump for the prognostication moneyshot. One of the top hats was designated to talk to Phil, because he could “speak groundhogese”. According to the legend, Phil is 122 years old and is fed some sort of life giving elixir every year to extend his life by another 7. I’m pretty sure if he could talk, he’d say, “Please kill me.” Anyway, after a brief pow-wow, it is declared that Phil saw his shadow and six more weeks of winter is on the way. This is met with a chorus of boos from the fickle masses. After that, they pretty much told us to get the fuck out. Thanks for hanging out…there will be no encores…you don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here. And so the mass exodus of 30,000 people ensued.
It would’ve been cooler with vampires.
To be continued…