It was an easy decision at the time. After all, out of five or six applications, I received one acceptance letter, accompanied by a tee shirt. I was going to be a student at Coastal Carolina College, soon to be called Coastal Carolina University. I was on my way. I was leaving Pennsylvania.
Now, I had made it perfectly clear from the moment I got accepted to Coastal Carolina that I was ready to leave the area. I was going to go live it up on the beach and in the sun. I also regarded my hometown as a burned out burgh suitable only for high school football fanatics, gas stations and red lights. The sentiment continued as I constantly was referred to by the nickname “Pittsburgh” by a few folks on campus. I didn’t want to be defined by my hometown which I worked hard to get away from and here I was being constantly reminded of it. But I was wrong and it only took a few months to realize it.
At first, I enjoyed having great weather into the Fall months. I was swimming in the ocean in late September. It felt like a warm bath. Being able to wear shorts into October was another bonus for someone who was used to wet and rainy Octobers back in PA. By the time I reached our Fall Break, I was more concerned about seeing my girlfriend and family than I was about what the weather would be like at home.
One of my friends was nice enough to drive me to Florence, SC to catch a train. I could have rode the Amtrak all the way to my hometown. It would have taken a full 24 hours of travel having to go through Philadelphia, first. I opted for the nine hour trip to DC and four hour drive, by car thereafter. I wanted to maximize my mini vacation.
When I got home, the sky was a bit overcast but there it was, that feeling. I was home. The air was crisp like biting into a fresh, cold apple. The colors were tremendous. I hadn’t seen the leaves turn colors, down south, because I was primarily surrounded by pines and other conifers. I spent time just walking around my yard to hear the sound of leaves rustling under my feet. For once, I was content with putting on a warmer jacket like it was security blanket. I missed this.
That first night I went to visit my girlfriend, who I hadn’t seen in two months. It was nice to get behind the wheel of my car and drive out to her dorm in the wooded areas of suburban Westmoreland County. After some “catching up” we went out to dinner and I stopped in my tracks at the top of the steps that led down to the parking lot. She wondered what was wrong but I just stood there breathing in the cold air, relishing the sight of my own breath in the night. I smiled and cried out, “I’M HOME.” I made a tough decision at that point, though it was easy in my mind. I wanted to come home. After break I started the process to transfer from Coastal Carolina to the University of Pittsburgh.
Now, the reasons behind this decision ranged from the weak, “I wanted to be closer to my girlfriend,” to the immature, “I think there’s too much partying going on and I need to get myself away from these types of risk behavior.” Quite frankly, it was a combination of a lot of things. I gave up grants, being in an Honors Program, a 3.6 GPA, the beach, and friends. I also gave up a big benefit to my collegiate experience. I went from being among 3000 to 4000 students to over 30,000 students. There was a more intimate environment in having a small student body that allowed you to really craft a better career and path towards a degree that I knew I would never see in a university setting such as Pitt. I pretty much sunk my education.
But for what it is worth, I gained a lot of experience in life from that move. I learned to become more dependent on myself to get things done, though that took a few years and a couple of other trial and error trips away from home. I also gained a better appreciation for family and my upbringing in the area. I wore that “Pittsburgh” moniker with pride and as much as I joke about and poke fun at my growing up in an area that we sometimes call Fayette Nam , I appreciate what it has given me in terms of character. I also appreciate being able wear put on some flannel and watch the leaves turn colors. However, I hate raking them. I mean I really hate dealing with them once they are on the ground.
Beyond the changing leaves, there are other things I really enjoy about Fall. The cold air of Friday nights was made for high school football. I used to love getting a cup of hot chocolate and watch our high school play. I also live for Steelers Sundays in the Fall. Just firing up the crock pot with some hot dogs and sauerkraut makes my mouth water. My wife makes an excellent taco dip with cream cheese, salsa, ground meat, Taco Bell seasoning, and grated cheese. Actually, I don’t really need a reason for this meal. It’s good any time of year. Although, working in the yard all day and coming in the house to smell is just heaven in the Fall. It’s a sickness, I know.
It does suck that the days are shortened. Those leaves take a lot of time and if you don’t get to work early in the day, you run the risk of having to work outside in the dark. But to its benefit, waking up at 6:30 AM on a Saturday or Sunday morning to feed the cats, knowing that I get to go back and crawl under the covers for a few more hours, is worth the feeling of cold hardwood floors underneath my feet and the darkness of the house.
There is also something rewarding from getting some fall colors into the house. Next to Christmas, my favorite decorations are Halloween and Harvest themes. I do hate having to lug the six or seven tubs out of the attic for my wife to pick through them. She ends up leaving a few things in the tubs to be taken back up to the attic when they should just keep heading in the direction of the curb for pickup on Wednesdays. As much as she considers me a pack rat, she’s worse when it comes to stuff like that. But, it’s nice to see a change to the usual knick-knacks that sit on the shelves and end tables for eight months out of the year.
And while I sit on the couch and stare at the decorations, I watch the bombardment of Holiday themed television shows and movies. I can usually catch up on some annual viewings of Night of the Living Dead or any one of the original Halloween movies on AMC. I don’t care how many times I’ve seen them, the remote gets put down if I happen to channel surf into their path. Another one is Planes Trains and Automobiles. One of John Hughes finest movies, not dealing with teenage angst. It’s a road trip movie to which others aspire to be as good, yet never are. It’s sad to think we’ve lost two great artists in John Candy and John Hughes. For the kid in me, comes the end all be all Fall holiday special, It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown. I have to watch this every year. It is a moral imperative. I actually own it on DVD so if I wanted to watch it in May, I could. However, there is something about watching it on television, Halloween night, that adds to the magic.
Even though I am not a kid anymore, I still get a nostalgic sense of awe over trick or treating. It’s one of those events that is sadly not as revered by kids these days. In fact, I see a lot of laziness on the part of people taking part in this time honored tradition. Piss poor costumes, lack of manners, and kids that have no respect for adults are the majority of what I see. Maybe nothing has changed except my perspective. Transitioning from being a participant to a spectator may have taken some of the luster off the event. There was a time when choosing the right costume was a big deal and I just don’t see it these days.
I guess the only real thing I hate about Fall is that it lasts three months. Winter tends to last too long in my book. Unfortunately for us, in our region, Winter tends to tighten its grip into the last few days before Spring. Spring is fine but it takes too long to get cooking before it’s over and Summer can be feast or famine in its offering around here. This past Summer was a mixture of extreme hot or soaking wet days. Nope, Fall is the one season that holds the most excitement and I look forward to it. If only those damn leaves would all come down at once, I’d be happier.