As my business partner pulled onto I-95 I could not help but laugh as he struggled to maintain control of the RV we rented to serve as our new home during Penn State’s homecoming weekend against Michigan. Chester disappeared quickly on our right and memoires of St. Joe’s improbable run to the Elite 8 washed over me. If only Jameer could come along for the ride. The RV trip to Happy Valley was exactly the type of excursion we had envisioned when we founded Max Joy a little over a year ago. With dreams of barnstorming an unsuspecting town during the biggest college football weekend of the year, we were bursting at the seams with excitement. Co-workers politely deferred sarcasm as we parked the behemoth in the office lot to await the other misfits who would be accompanying us on our journey. With our bags packed and ready to go, we set off into the early night to make an evening of it once we rolled into town. Our group was six strong with characters from all walks of life. We had a celebratory beer, or two, and then pulled away into the rapidly approaching darkness.
Cooler heads prevailed and I choose to ride copilot as another drove. Usually straws are drawn in this scenario, but I wanted to bask in the glory of securing and orchestrating the first annual Max Joy RV trip as the rock that puller our maiden ship into town. As the Johnnie Walker Black and Coors Light began to flow, we told stories, jokes, and the cross pollination of personalities gelled quickly. A half hour became one and then two as we barreled along the interstate towards unchartered waters. Dreams of RV lots, tailgates, and frat parties filled our head. No matter that all aboard were clearly past our prime, save one young lad who we agreed to bring along for added panache to our crew. This is what it is all about! Nothing but the open road, new friends, and endless possibilities.
As I took the wheel for my shift, I steadied the behemoth as we glided down the highway. I saw signs for Linglestown, PA appear on the horizon and demanded the group take a detour. I played my Little League Baseball for my father and Jim Grisinger on the mighty Sox over 20 years ago at Koons Field, I proclaimed! The group wasn’t too thrilled with the 30 minute detour and my offer to run the bases, that and the torrential rains had begun to pour. I soon noticed it became impossible for me to control the RV as we drifted hard left every time I released the wheel. Jeers came hard and fast. From the back, my right, even from the newly christened bathroom. F-Everybody I proclaimed. We will make it there hell or high water. Whatever the heck that means.
The flat tire came on like a summer thunderstorm. We were left stranded on the side of the road within minutes, around halfway to our final destination. One of our passengers awoke from a stupor only to proclaim that he was “Ready to Drive!” We ushered him quickly up to the captain sleeping quarters, where he remained for the duration of our soon to be lengthy sojourn. As we awaited the tow driver, the booze continued to flow. Being the designated driver also left me to mediate the multiple arguments that were breaking out all over the vehicle. Two cigarette breaks turned into four and then a local state trooper arrived. We had a pleasant chat and he was nice enough to set up flares for our benefit. He communicated to us that the flares had a life of about an hour.
I picked my head up off the steering wheel to see the last of the three flare’s life flicker away. Had it really been another hour? This trip was quickly turning into a bigger adventure than we bargained for. Our motto has always been to enjoy the journey and not the destination, but this was taking it to another level. Finally the foul weather geared tow truck driver arrived and had us on our way in no time. Faced with a daunting three hour detour, we were undeterred and pushed onward to Happy Valley.
We pulled into town just after 2AM and dropped a passenger off at an old fraternity and made our way to the College Walmart, which fortunately for us was open 24 hours a day. We scooped up some un-ba-lievable head-to-toe rain gear, which after our run in with the state trooper and tow truck driver was now an absolute must. Tensions continued to rise as we realized how woefully unprepared we were for the trip. Pulling into the RV lot two hours later we were met a bizarre sense of peace and accomplishment as we staked our claim among the sea of grass. We were one of a few RV’s in the lot and we cracked one final beer before jockeying for our sleeping quarters in our cramped arrangement.
I was up at dawn and rubbed the sleep from my eyes. What I surveyed next will stick with me for years to come. A long line of RV’s were making their way into the lot for the weekend festivities. People, families, trailers, and trucks were all over the damn place. It felt more like a pending invasion, then a prelude to a weekend of homecoming celebrations. The smell of bacon and breakfast sifted from tailgate to tailgate in spite of dire weather conditions. We finished setting up our “camp” and sat down to take it all in. This was living. This was it. A mish mash of people from all different social and economic classes forced to coexist on a few acres of greener pastures. You couldn’t dream up a better scenario.
We pushed of for campus clad in our Coleman raingear. We made it past the stadium, walked by Paternoville, and hopped on a bus filled with college kids. We stunk like beer and mud, but somehow fit in. We walked campus, toured the common areas, and once again traded war stories. For some of us those stories were over a decade old. We fanned out over Main Street and became comfortable with a few local bars. We laughed and drank our way into the early afternoon, desperately trying to reconnect to the fleeting magic we had created during our own college days.
The atmosphere around big-time college football and the festivities that surround it began to throw its weight around. Families, brothers, friends, and students were all thrust together to revel in the excitement. We continued to drink, laugh, and tell stories as the early afternoon quickly disintegrated before us. The group split as we all meandered our way back to home base. We had lost a member of our group to a hippie bouncer and could only hope that his homing pigeon tendencies led him back to our tailgate. Sure enough he arrived an hour after we did and all was right in the universe. We fired up the grill as darkness set in over the valley. The lot was now bursting at the seams with people ready to take the town by storm and enjoy the festivities the following morning.
Another member of our group arrived that evening straight from the grind of the workweek and lucky for us, was not only a much needed sparkplug, but also an alumni. We grabbed a cab from the RV lot and made our way downtown for an evening filled of good times. Faced with crowds all over the place, we settled into an odd tavern and began slurping beers and shots elbow to elbow with patrons from all over the great state of Pennsylvania. The night began to fade and once again we split up. Heroically we all made it back to our sleeping arrangements and waited with anticipation for what felt like Christmas morning.
Much to my surprise the following morning brought with it even more excitement. A parking lot that I assumed could not get any fuller, swelled to capacity. Smoke and generators filled the lot with a combination of a wood burning and gasoline smell. It was quite pleasing to the senses. We made a reconnaissance mission to pick up beer and much needed supplies then made our way back to the RV lot right before gridlock set in. The scene to say the least was pandemonium. There were families, college buddies, current students, cornhole, baggo, quoites, barbeques, pig roasts, and ice luges, all competing for attention. We felt like kids in a candy store and settled in for a day of imbibing, gorging and high fiving.
Max Joy was founded for moments like this. This also wasn’t a terrible environment to spread our good word. We had designed a t-shirt for the occasion and planned on hitting the lot by storm to raise money for THON, Penn State’s student run charity that supports pediatric cancer. The game was a “white out”. We had the goods and we certainly had the personality to move them. I laughed as another “vendor” with a tattooed face told me he sells around 25 dozen shirts himself. With that I hit the lot hard.
No way was I going to let some profit hungry outfit, get the best of Team Max Joy. With a hoarse voice to begin with, I canvassed the lot. “Get your White Out T-Shirts! All Proceeds to Charity!” This became my rallying cry. Pretty soon, I was making friends all over the place and spreading our work across Happy Valley like wildfire. If you never put yourself out there, you should certainly give it a shot. We ended up selling over 80 shirts on the day and were able to raise over $350 to support THON and its quest to find a cure for pediatric cancer.
As the sun hurried its way toward the horizon we shuffled into the stadium. The triple overtime thriller that we were able to witness was icing on the cake to an already amazing weekend. If you have never experienced a homecoming game in Happy Valley, make sure you put it on your bucket list. The panorama camera was able to snap a picture of one of our founders at the game:
Penn State prevailed and split allegiance in our group could only hold us down so long and we made our way back to Main Street holding on to one last memory. The inaugural trip just may make itself an annual one.
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