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State Patty’s Day Came Upon A Midday Dreary

I had realized the idea, in a way just like so many seemingly good ideas begin, while I was absentmindedly chewing on the end of a pen, procrastinating on homework: What if I and an Onward State photographer, each of us sober and bushy-tailed, were to walk the streets of State College on State Patty’s Day, in search of merriment and chaos?

It was armed with this delusion of gonzo-journalistic grandeur that I awoke Saturday morning and began the walk down College Avenue to my rendezvous with my colleague Allison Rambler. What might we discover, I thought, strolling with the idiotic grin of a naif who doesn’t know what he is yet. The Bacchanalia, the wantonness, scenes ripped from 80s college comedy movies…I’ll see all this and more!

Perhaps, then, my expectations were to blame. Or maybe we can pin it on Saturday’s truly awful weather. But “the weekend between THON and spring break” of 2019, as the local police call it, really did only deserve that lackluster moniker. For the glory of Old State and her traditions, our classmates did rally and put on brave faces — but for reasons of either climate or stricter policy enforcement or even just the inevitable anticlimax of any holiday, State Patty’s Day 2019, is a day that shall not live in infamy, no matter how hard it tried.

At 8 a.m., the sky was gray and bright. Birds twittered. A car or two rolled past me. It might have been a Tuesday, for all appearances. I walked into Irving’s to meet Allison for coffee. We chit-chatted strategy, and I casually asked the Irving’s employees whether the day would be a crazy one.

“It might be crazier than football weekends because then, we get more families…today will be more drunk college students,” one employee said, but added that it probably wouldn’t be too bad.

It was still early, and Irving’s hardly seemed more crowded than usual. A family here. Two adults there. A gaggle of college students over there. Smells of hot coffee, fresh bread, and the special, seductive breakfast aroma of cooked eggs and melted cheese. The normalcy of the scene again struck me.

We finished our coffee and hit the streets, full of student-journalistic verve. We interviewed the manager at The Corner Room, John Briggs, who painted a similar picture of a fairly normal day.

“We’re more family-oriented here, so there won’t be too much of an uptick. Maybe the dinner rush…students do some drinkin’, then they’re hungry,” Briggs said. But the gist was that regularity was to be expected, albeit with a few minor and green-wearing deviations.

Thanking Mr. Briggs, we continued on. We had an embarrassing and brief interview with a patrol car officer, who told us, lips pursed, that “cops work 24/7” after I asked whether the weekend would require extra work. We accidentally walked into Cafe before it was open, not seeing any hours signs, and we slunk away in polite nervousness.

And we walked on despite our silly appearance: two clearly sober kids, one with camera equipment and one with a notebook and horn-rimmed glasses, looking for trouble.

My notes say, “9:15 a.m.: first screams at Town Square apartments,” which isn’t quite true — it was a singular scream. And more of a whoop, at that.

At Beer Belly’s, we watched two cases of Miller Light and one case of Bud Light get sold to students in green before we snagged an interview with one of the workers, who laughed when I asked whether they’d be doing signficantly more business that day. “Oh yeah,” he said with a sardonic nod. “Our sales are around eight to ten thousand…this weekend they’ll be 20, maybe even 22.”

According to the clerk, Natty Light (unsurprisingly) was the number one product, but I was mildly surprised to learn that Guinness was number two.

“People will be buying all day,” he said, ringing up another case of Miller Light. “There were people lined up [outside] this morning.”

We got a “no comment” from the Fine Wine & Good Spirits a few stores down in the Hamilton Center shopping area. There were conspicuously fewer customers there than there were at Beer Belly’s. (To be exact, one person was buying wine. Otherwise, the store was empty, from the French aisles to the Napa Valley shelves).

Further up Hamilton, at around 10 a.m., we ran into my friend Dan, who looked every bit the State Patty’s part with his green jersey and sunglasses. He carried a McLanahan’s bag with three packages of bacon for pre-daylong sustenance at his fraternity.

“How long do you think you can make it today?” I asked, scribbling notes. “Hmm…probably until about four or five,” he replied thoughtfully, bidding us a happy holiday.

Allison and I saw our first house party at about 10:15 a.m., the first indication that I would not, in fact, be writing a State College version of Fear and Loathing. The State Patty’s house party looks like a confused cookout. People stand on the porch holding cans, elbows at the classic ninety-degree angle. But there’s no game, no grill, no big fight to watch; people just get together to have a good time, like they always do. The only differences between State Patty’s and a warm fall night party are an abundance of green and the fact that the former starts at ten in the morning rather than ten at night.

At another house, we watched much hubbub at the door, with more jerseys and beer cans. Someone was pounding the ground with a shovel for reasons I still can’t even begin to figure out. I began scribbling furiously in my notebook, and Allison snapped a photo, before I heard a “HEY!” Only then did I realize how bad we looked. Trying to smile and hide my nervousness, I shouted back, “How are you guys celebrating today?” They looked at each other and laughed harshly. “We’re not celebrating anything!” they called back. I took that as a good enough excuse to leave, turned around, and began walking quickly in the other direction. “Drink a beer! Lighten up!” someone called at me from behind.

That was about as exciting as the day got. Allison and I continued to roam the streets and downtown, looking for excitement. All we saw was more green. Most businesses turned us down for interviews, except for Baby’s, where a waitress let us on in the secret that the day’s special of a “Bacon Jam Burger” was designed to attract alcohol-fueled appetites.

“We’ll probably make around seven thousand this weekend,” she said, as opposed to the normal five thousand. We were again reminded that uncontained hedonism wasn’t a worry for the restaurant due to its more “family-oriented nature.”

Allison pointed out to me that while the men wore a wide variety of green clothes on State Patty’s — jerseys, t-shirts, full-body leprechaun tuxedo pajamas, and the like — most of the women wore the exact same thing, to the point of literal uniformity: green t-shirts, ripped black leggings, and denim jackets. The McLanahan’s racks of State Patty’s t-shirts were all but sold out at this time, even though it was only about 11 a.m.

Allison had to leave for work, and the rest of the day was spent in a strange, unfulfilling search for the unusual among the aggressively mundane. I went to the library to see how empty it would be, but Pattee had just as many people as it would for any given Saturday. In fact, the warmth and coziness of the chairs in the study room seemed so tempting when compared with the cold, story-less outside that it took real concerted effort not to take a nap on the job.

It began to rain, and the misery of the weather outside huddled shoulders and drove revelers inside. I heard whoops and hollers of half-hearted revelry coming from roving bands of green and music-thudding apartments. I watched one sad trickle of beer fall from an apartment balcony into the mouth a student below, who seemed to get bored and quit halfway through the stunt. Amazingly, the most fun anyone seemed to be having was in crossing the street, when packs of students would yell “GO, GO, GO,” in search of something exciting.

The cold and damp had exhausted most of the spirit of fun. People smiled plastered smiles and spoke about the cold and going home. Canyon Pizza, while packed, did not bring the green pizza of yore back, and when I asked some students how they felt about that, they told me that they wished I hadn’t because I had let them know that they were missing out on green pizza.

Remembering the bacon jam burger, I decided to visit the culinary haunts of the inebriated college student. Chipotle was a zoo (some students who went in before me, seeing the line, exclaimed “fuuuuck, no way”), as was Sheetz. The bouncers outside Primanti Bros., I will admit, scared me too much for me to try to enter, but a similar scene awaited me at D.P. Dough: crammed tables of loud talkers, messy eaters, and people who seemed very glad to be somewhere with warmth and food.

At about 4 p.m., I decided to head back to my apartment for a hot cup of coffee and an early dinner. I was cold, tired, and disappointed that my ill-guided journalistic mission had gone the way it had. I wasn’t sure what to tell my editors. My notes from around this time say, “The weather is that special kind of miserable that makes you feel like you’ll do anything for freshly machine-dried pajamas and a bowl of chicken soup.”

Determined to do my darndest to snag at least a shred of craziness so I’d have something worthwhile to write about, I headed back out after dark. And while I heard the occasional thudding of music or a stray shout, what I most sensed in the downtown neighborhoods was a tired and worn-out peace, a feeling not dissimilar to the family home the evening after the celebrations of Christmas or Thanksgiving are over.

Maybe police warnings rang especially true this year. Maybe the god-awful weather put an observable and immediate damper on people’s senses of fun. Or maybe the fact of any holiday’s unavoidable anticlimactic nature simply played itself out.

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About the Author

Steve Schneible

Recovering Bethlehem, PA native. English & Psych student, PSU SHC class of 2021. Paterno Fellow. Narcissism Hour Showrunner. Kalliope Fiction Coordinator. Earnest and usually good-natured milquetoast. Baby Onward State contributor. Email: [email protected] Moderately amusing Twitter account: @steve_schneibs

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