My birthday is on Groundhog Day, a fact that has always amused me. It's one of the littlest secular holidays we note.
Even before the Groundhog Day movie, I'd planned to, someday, go to Punxsutawney and stand in the cold to watch the little rodent get pulled from its treestump. So given that the weather looked good for Wednesday, I live only about two hours away, and that I'm currently unemployed, this year was the year.
To drive to Punxsutawney from Pittsburgh on Groundhog Day, you have to leave here about two hours before you need to get there. It's really not so far away - about 90 miles or so - but about half the trip is across narrow country roads. And it was very dark. And I'd never driven on 119 during the day before, much less before dawn.
So I got up a little after 4 and was on the road by 4:45. That's AM. It's a time of day I had been overly familiar with over the last few years, but now that my insomnia is more under control, it was hard to get out of bed.
By the time I'd gotten to the Punxsutawney area, it was starting to get light. I knew I was getting
close when I saw fireworks going off in the distance.
Contrary to what you might have thought from the movie Groundhog's Day, Gobbler's Knob was over a mile and a half outside of town on what looked to be someone's farm.
You needed to park your car at a nearby WalMart and take a shuttle bus over to the festivities.
By 6:45, it was up to 13 degrees Farenheit, but because there was no wind and about 18,000 people on Gobbler's Knob this morning, it wasn't really all that cold. The crowd was pretty rowdy, reported to be the largest non-weekend crowd ever. There was a raucous rendition of the Village People's "YMCA" and similar music all morning long. Unfortunately, I stood in the midst of some drunk teenagers, one of which kept accusing me of pinching him. Believe me, I've never found drunk boys a turn on!
Eventually, the Inner Circle (the guys in black coats and top hats) dragged Phil out of his tree stump, and, to the surprise of virtually no one, except for the drunk boys in my area, proclaimed he had indeed seen his shadow.
Nope, that was not a fur muff on the right of the picture, that was Phil himself. Yes, it was blurry as I was probably about 150 feet up the hill from the stage.
Once the weather prognostication was pronounced, the crowd dispersed with amazing rapidity. However, for those of us who hadn't been to Punxsutawney and who might not be there again, it was a time for some close-ups. That's me with Phil, and me again with a member of the "Inner Circle."
Since there was not much to do on the Knob once the pictures were done, I got in line for a shuttle bus back to downtown. That was when I started to get cold! Luckily, I didn't have to wait for long. I bought some groundhog trinkets in downtown, and found a restaurant that cooked a dish I don't think I've had since I was a kid: Chipped beef! It's a fairly disgusting-looking dish, and about as heart-non-healthy as you could imagine, but it was good and I felt much warmer when I was done eating.
Most of the in-town activities centered around the community center, where craft-sellers had set up tables to sell everything from groundhog woodcarvings to groundhog stonecarvings. I bought some groundhog earrings and a groundhog Christmas tree ornament. One of the town organizations thoughtfully had a big birthday cake and gifts (notepads and pencils) for those of us who celebrated our birthdays today.
Afterwards, I went to the one winery on the Groundhog Trail that was on the way back to Pittsburgh, bought some wine (which appeared to be groundhog free), got a little lost, and got home about 1:30.