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Thanksgiving in the Valley

by on November 22, 2016 5:00 AM

It’s Tuesday in Happy Valley and by late this afternoon the Thanksgiving holiday will be in full swing. The local public schools finish classes and don’t re-open until a week from today.

Penn State students went on break at the close of business last Friday. And anyone who was driving away from State College that afternoon could be forgiven for reciting words from the song Hotel California – “you can check-out any time you like, but you can never leave.” There were a few long lines of traffic streaming outward from our bucolic enclave.

Many other non-retail businesses will operate on reduced crews tomorrow as employees leave early to get the most out of the long holiday weekend.

Yet the desire or need to metaphorically “get out of Dodge” will not be restricted just to the mass of students in our area. The Orlando-based federation of motor clubs  AAA forecasts that starting Wednesday, and going through Sunday, about 43.5 million Americans will take long car trips. That will make this the busiest Thanksgiving period on U.S. roads since 2007, the year before the U.S. economy went into a recession.

It could be even busier though. The research firm AAA hired to get this data did their number crunching in mid-October, three weeks before the presidential election. Due to the result in the national and federal elections, investors sent the Dow Jones Industrial Average to two consecutive record highs immediately after the election, and that may translate into more people willing to spend money on travel.

But no matter how many people travel this holiday, many of us will stay ensconced right here in good ole Happy Valley in the shadow of Nittany Mountain. And as we approach the winter solstice that shadow covers more and more of the valley each morning.

Ensconced, we shall stay, for many different reasons. Those of us who are parents of sport-playing children are simply looking forward to a weekend of not having to drive to a game, match, meet, practice, tournament, or whatever.

Some will stay here because their entire family resides locally and they have no need to venture away. Others because they have limited travel options. Even a few because they don’t celebrate the holiday.

However, we could all be excused for not leaving here simply because it takes too darn long to get anywhere. Happy Valley is after all, a speck of humanity among a sea of forests, mountains and fields.

The closest large city – a Metropolitan Statistical Area of one million people or more – is Pittsburgh metro area.  But it’s 130 miles away and takes well over two hours to drive there. Not to mention all the red lights you have to stop at along the way. And the outskirts of Philadelphia, the next closest large city, are 175 miles away.

In fact, among the largest college campuses in the country, those with undergraduate enrollments of 25,000 students or more (there are about 35 in the U.S. which fit that description), Penn State is the most geographically isolated from a major population center.

Go down the list of these large college campuses: UCF, Ohio State, Texas A&M, Texas, Florida International, Arizona State, Florida, Michigan State, Indiana, Illinois, USF, Rutgers, and on and on.  All are either located in major cities or within one hundred miles of a major city.

The only university close to as isolated as we are is Iowa State in Ames, Iowa. But Ames is only 30 miles from Des Moines, a city larger than Harrisburg. And Harrisburg is a distant 90 miles away from State College.

You know that every-once-in-a-while feeling you get that Happy Valley is out in the middle of nowhere? Well, that feeling is right.

And this isolation could be a contributing factor to the appearance State College makes on the numerous lists for best places to call home in America, safest places to live in America, best college towns in America, etc. The isolation might provide an insulating layer of distance between we Happy Valley-ans and the rest of this great country.

So for those of us who are staying here in Happy Valley for the Thanksgiving holiday, as we sit around our dinner tables full of food and fixings, we can be thankful for our opportunity to live in this wondrous, remote outpost in the center of Pennsylvania.

Have a happy Thanksgiving!


John Hook is the president of The Hook Group, a local management consulting firm, and active in several nonprofit organizations. Previously John spent 25 years in executive, management and marketing positions with regional and national firms. John lives in Ferguson Township with his wife Jackie and their two children.
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