Friday, August 28, 2009

Following Penn State: Our Last Free Weekend

This weekend will be our last free weekend.  As of next Saturday, football will be our major focus on weekends.  What to do?  Get that guest room in shape?  Get my office organized for a new fall semester?  Or just let it all go for another season and relax?  Sigh...right now I'm writing a blog post.  It's more fun.

There are a lot of Penn State fans who are complaining about 5 out of 6 home games in the first six weeks of the season.  They go to every home game, but like a few weekends off interspersed throughout the season.  Perhaps they entertain guests and plan elaborate tailgates that are a burden.  Perhaps they live 150+ miles away and traveling to home games is a major feat, as it used to be for us.

Personally, I'm very happy with this.  For me, a home game is a breeze now.  It's a Saturday.  Our tailgates are uncomplicated, our guests are mostly local, we don't live far away.  We have Fridays and Sundays free.  It's the away game schedule that always concerns me, because that means travel to some place in the Big Ten, and a 3-day commitment of time.  And from the University Park airport, that's not easy.

Here's the drill for an away game:  almost always, on a Friday morning, we will catch a 6 a.m.-ish flight.  That means we have to get organized on Thursday night and get up at "O-Dark-Thirty" on Friday, as Terry would say, about 3:30 or 4 a.m., to feed our cats, pack our bags, and get to the airport by 5 a.m.   The reason?  Because at our tiny University Park airport there are too many planes leaving at 6 a.m.  Security gets backed up.  You have to be in line by 5:30.  And sometimes, check-in 24 hours in advance doesn't work.  You have to go to the gate to get your seat.  You pray the plane isn't overbooked, so you want to be the first in line.

There are other flights, later in the day, but frankly, there are enough problems with weather or mechanicals that we always hedge our bets:  getting to the game is our mission.  If a flight is cancelled at our connection point, we don't want it to be the last flight of the day.  Returning on a Sunday is also a concern - Terry is retired, but I can't risk taking the last flight home.  I have to teach on Monday mornings. 

We will be flying to every game but Michigan.  For Michigan, it's close enough to drive, about 6.5 hours.  We had been planning to take a bus with a tour group, but it turns out that not enough people signed up.  The tour group offered a same-day charter by flight.  We said no thanks.  Too many things can go wrong.  Our mission is to be at the game on time. 

This year, the away games are Illinois, Michigan, Northwestern, and Michigan State.  There are two away games in a row:  Michigan and Northwestern, at the end of October.  They come at a bad time:  mid-semester, when there's lots to do.  But this year my teaching schedule is very busy during the first eight weeks, less busy after mid-October - so the work schedule is more compatible with the away game schedule than it usually is.  For those two games, I will probably need to bring work with me - papers to grade, classes to prepare.  Somehow I'll manage. 

As I write this, I think of the student-athletes who are also facing this schedule.  They need to organize their lives around Penn State football, with school commitments no less daunting than mine.

They probably wish for an open date as much as I do, to catch up with life outside of football and take a breather for at least one weekend.

Our last free weekend:  what should I do? Perhaps I should just relax.  The rest can wait until the end of November.

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