Tag Archive: Pennsylvania


I want to write about my college education at Penn State and some of the great relationships and experiences I had during my four years there. If you plan to hear some sordid tale about an unprofessional professor or touchy-feely athletic coach…you will not find that here. In light of all the terrible scandals and law breaking that has been occurring at the university level, I think a dose of positive journalism (might be giving myself too much credit there, but oh well) is well in line.

I spent four years at the Penn State Behrend campus in Erie, PA with a multitude of wonderful people. I would like to highlight some of the events that took place during those four years and how they have impacted my life in such a tremendous way. Because I intend to tell true stories about such great people…I am using their real identities and I hope that if any of them read this they will be proud to have been named accordingly.

If you’ve read my blog before, you may have caught onto my natural ability to freak out and be stressed.  I already told you that I went to a very small high school and knew everyone in all of my classes; however, this never seemed to help the nerves from getting the best of me on the first day of school. It’s arguably accurate to say that I was more worked up over the first day of school than I was Christmas Eve in anticipation of Santa coming. My first day of college was no different.

As I recall, I had an 8 a.m. class in the Kochel building with Dr. Christine Mangone- it was a theater class. I got up on time, found my room and sat smack dab in the front—ready to take college by the tail (the Nittany lion tail to be exact)! I tried to harness in my nervousness as Dr. Mangone reviewed the syllabus and discussed the upcoming semester. The class was only a 55 minute or so class and I was hanging in there pretty well despite the fact my stomach was doing jumping jacks and I was shaking like I was hypothermic (fyi…all of those symptoms have just come back to me right now as I relive this…).

 At about 8:50 I felt IT coming…

Like an idiot I raised my hand to ask to be excused to the restroom only to discover you don’t raise your hand in college, you just leave…which only made me feel even more like an idiot. After Dr. Mangone so delicately explained the restroom policy to me (taking pity on my embarrassing freshman-ness), I dashed out the door looking for the women’s restroom…I had no idea where it was seeing as it was my first day, first class and basically first time in the Kochel building. I turned to a girl sitting on a bench in the hallway and asked her where the restroom was (trying to appear calm and collected but feeling IT surge inside me) and she had no idea because she was a freshman too…go figure. So I ran up and down the hall finally locating the restroom. I burst in the door and ran for a bathroom stall and just as the stall door swung open, IT happened. I puked on the floor right in front of the toilet.

Seriously… I missed by a foot.

Horrified, I looked around for something to clean it up with… I saw the paper towels and grabbed handful. I started wiping up the vomit from the floor and throwing the paper towels into the toilet, fully hoping to get rid of any evidence that I just yakked from nervousness on my first day in college. I got it cleaned up as best I could and then I realized I wasn’t going to be able to flush that toilet, otherwise it would flood. That’s when the world stopped and there I was, standing there in all my ridiculousness, taking in the whole scene: the vomit streaked floor, the paper towel stuffed toilet, the hum of the fluorescent light illuminating the scene, my raging anxiety, and the realization that no matter how much I tried I would have to live with my loser of a self for the rest of my life.  It was a devastating self-revelation for me.

At that point, I realized my only option was to get away from the scene of the crime and look natural… As I exited the bathroom, the 8 a.m. classes were letting out so I walked back into my classroom and grabbed my things to leave. As I was walking out of Kochel, I stopped the one adult person I saw who looked like a professor. Looking very concerned and distressed I said “Some girl just got really sick in the downstairs bathroom, you might want to let someone know.”

This story is not explicitly about blowing chunks…it was on that first day of college I met Dr. Mangone and came to greatly respect her creative and fun-loving approach to both education and life. I later performed in the Penn State Behrend production of Little Shop of Horrors, which Christine directed. You might not think this exceptional but she pulled off a great show in one of the tiniest spaces I’ve ever performed in. If you’ve visited Behernd and had the luxury of touring the Studio Theatre, you know it’s like performing in a closet.   Directing a performance in that space requires innovation and making the most out of what you’ve got; and Dr. Mangone did. Being a part of her cast and having her show such great confidence in me was a wonderful time in my college career and I will always look back on it with tremendous gratitude.

Colleen Kelley. This woman RUINED my life for several semesters at Behrend. She taught, and still teaches, several courses that are required for Communications majors, so there was NO avoiding her. I could very easily sit here and write some elaborate imagery that would depict how awful she was, and I intend to use some personal background, but let’s start with quotes from other students provided by ratemyprofessor.com comments, her overall rating is a 1.7 out of 5:

“Horrible. Learned next to nothing, her classes are torture to sit through”

“Seems to make everything up as she goes along, thinks she is something special”

“Very unfair grading. Very boring. The worst Behrend has to offer.”

“Colleen Kelley is evil. She should not be a professor at Behrend. She is not understanding or helpful. She judges people in a bad way! Her tests are horrible! Mean, nasty lady!”

“Tests were near impossible. Even if you did study, chances are you would only barely pass…unless she liked you. She doesn’t like men, she’s a psycho-feminist and the last day of class I found out she doesn’t care much for Catholics either.”

“Horrible class, but mandatory for comm majors, Wanted to kill myself while in class and after receiving my test grades.. DO NOT take unless you have to. Extremely hard on grading stuff. BAD BAD BAD”

Hahaha, I suppose these comments are more of an inside joke than anything because unless you’ve sat through a Colleen Kelley course, you can’t imagine how accurate these depictions are. I will also add, in Dr. Kelley’s defense, that I had to make several spelling corrections in these college students’ comments…which might add to their troubles in getting good grades………

To recap: Dr. Kelley is the professor that knows you have to take her course in order to graduate (especially if you’re a Communications major) and she refuses to let you leave college behind without getting the shit kicked out of you a little bit.

While under Dr. Kelley’s tutelage I was also taking one of my various news writing classes with Professor Kim Young (I will get to her later…). Kim let her students make up “breaking” news stories on the fly in order to help instruct the pyramid style of news writing and information prioritization. During one particular class she asked me to tell the class about a news story that I imagined was happening on Behrend’s campus…I chose to have Colleen Kelley hung from the upstairs railing in the Reed Student Union Building. Shock! Gasp! Eek! It was a joke of course because the woman tortured us!! Everyone in class shared the sentiment! As I recall, Kim frowned on my choice of story and gallantly defended her colleague and friend but let me write the story anyway. My point is, I detested this woman so much, I openly and freely expressed my hatred not only to all of my classmates, but another professor…and let’s face it… there is a good chance that if that happened today on a college campus, I would probably get hauled into the police for questioning for threatening someone’s life.

All that being said, since having left Behrend Dr. Kelley’s lectures and messages about rhetoric and communication have impacted me tremendously! Rhetoric is a POWERFUL tool. It has allowed me to enter the world of adulthood with a questioning and penetrating perspective on everything. Being able to identify the underlying messages of news broadcasts, advertising campaigns, your co-workers and etc. is a pretty handy discipline to have. It can also be disappointing because you discover quickly how full of shit everyone is, but helpful nonetheless. Let me be clear here… the term rhetoric can be perceived as two things: 1. The art of writing and speaking effectively and 2. The bull crap that politicians (or anyone who tends to think of themselves as extremely important) say at you; I find it useful in both cases. SO, what I’m really trying to say is that despite Colleen Kelley’s persistent torture, I actually learned something and have become ever more grateful of her contributions to my education. Dr. Kelley, if you’re reading this… thank you for kicking the shit out of me.

And for my coup de grace, Professor Kim Young.

Kim was another of my communications professors that had to deal with me in several classes; she mostly taught the news writing and journalism classes I took. She’s a pretty big deal, in case you didn’t know. She was a news anchor for Erie, PA’s WSEE TV, a news director of WQLN and currently hosts WQLN’s Weekend All Things Erie broadcasts. Additionally, to stress the importance of the Colleen Kelley story, Kim is working on her Ph.D. in, you guessed it, RHETORIC!

Kim was one of my FAVORITE professors. If you search her on ratemyprofessor.com her overall rating is a 4.5 out of 5, quite a bit better than Dr. Kelley’s. Because Kim has been a reporter and actively writes news, she’s a great person to teach, develop and mentor you in journalism.

With that being said, she was a pain in my ass.

Kim’s approach to teaching was a practical one. News doesn’t happen in a classroom, it happens in the world, so that’s where you need to be! She sent us on all kinds of stupid assignments throughout Erie; we wrote about homeless people, holidays and my personal favorite—public transportation.

(Backstory: please see Hometown Heritage. Also know that I did not have real public transportation in my hometown…sorry to the “GoBus”)

Kim’s assignment required us to ride the Erie bus, meet someone, interview them and then write a story about them. I had never utilized public transportation before and immediately found this assignment to be annoying and inconvenient; regardless, I set out to write the story. The Erie bus makes a stop on Behrend’s campus, right in front of the Reed Union Building; that’s where I caught it. I took my biology text book with me in case I got bored on the ride (I had no idea where I was going, but I figured the bus would loop back to Behrend). I board the bus and within a few minutes I met a very nice woman who was riding the bus with her baby. We chatted and I interviewed her about using public transportation and then she got off 15 minutes later. I was rather pleased with myself that I got the assignment over with quickly and could spend the rest of my ride studying for bio.

Here is where it becomes relevant that I did not understand public transportation. Many buses run on particular loops and because Erie is far from a metropolis of a city, apparently their buses run on very LARGE loops. PSU Behrend is located on the eastern part of the city, remember that, ok?

Now, as we’re leaving the Harborcreek area on the bus, I’m diving into studying when all the sudden we start picking up quite a few public transport riders. A woman sat down next to me and saw that I was reading a biology text book. Unprompted, she engages me in conversation about her family medical history and all of the weird and strange diseases they have. Not kidding. A stranger, sitting next to me, is telling me about her medical problems. My first thought is “I wonder if any of these diseases are contagious and/or fatal, because if that’s the case I’m doomed!” Followed by “Why on Earth is this woman telling me this? Who does this?” Concluded with, “I’m going to kill Kim for making me do this.”

Thankfully, Ms. Medical History got off the bus somewhere on State Street, which means the bus was now travelling in downtown Erie.

Several stops go by, and quite honestly I don’t know if the next character was already on the bus or boarded in downtown Erie, but this elderly gentleman enters stage right…

This man begins cursing at ALL of the passengers on the bus. At first only a few of us seem to hear it and wonder what his issue is. We all look up at the man, then look around to see who else notices and then proceed to pretend neither of those things just happened. His colorful language continued to grow in both imagery and frequency, accompanied by him turning around and directing the comments to someone behind him. The escalating nature of Mr. Grumpy’s behavior forced the bus driver to threaten him with removal from the bus. The bus driver threatened over and over again actually and even said he was going to call the police.

At this point, my annoyance with Kim for making me do this has hit a new high. There I was trapped on this bus, now somewhere on the WEST side of Erie with an old man who is cursing at something that no one can figure out, all the while freaking out because if this is what public transportation is like I will NEVER do it again.

As the show continued, I started to realize the old man thought someone was popping their gum and he was angry about it. I perused the passengers trying to determine who the culprit was…I was unsuccessful. Nonetheless, the bus driver had had enough. He radioed the police and pulled the bus over in the middle of nowhere and forced this elderly man off the bus and onto the road and left him there. Not at a bus stop, not near a gas station… just somewhere. Apparently, you are not to piss off a bus driver! My only other experience was with my elementary school bus driver who was a sweet man who always had gum and candy for us (not as creepy as it sounds)… not one who calls the cops and drops you off in the middle of nowhere!

To tally the piling emotional issues I was experiencing: annoyance, panic and now add fear to the list. I wanted off that damn bus!

While trying to figure out what the best option was for me now, the bus pulls into the Erie Airport, which is on the opposite side of the city from campus. Lord Almighty, the ride was that long and only half way over!

It’s at the airport that another stranger-man speaks to me. The bus was at a complete stop and the driver had gotten off to stretch his legs or something. Anyway, the man asks to borrow my phone. I was hesitant because I watch Law and Order and I know that he could steal it, beat me to death with it, set off a bomb with it or much worse! So I asked “Are you dialing locally?” He was, so I let him use the phone.

A Map of Erie, PA

Thankfully, the return trip had no stops on it—we returned to Behrend, two and a half hours later. At that point I was frozen in anxiety, anger, fear, and had missed a class, so I returned to my dorm room and wrote my stupid bus story about the woman and her baby.

And to add the final nail to the coffin, so to speak, when I turned in my “mother and baby” story to Kim but told her the whole sordid tale about my bus ride, she insisted that I rewrite the story and talk about all the other “interesting” things that happened. I thought “you’ve got to be kidding me, lady.”

While this was only one experience in the many class hours I spent with Kim, it is by far the most memorable. The ironic thing is that I ride public transportation (metro and bus!!) every day and deal with much stranger people now than I did on that particular bus ride.

The lesson learned was to be open. When writing news, there will be stories that just fall in your lap, but the key to unlocking great journalism is to observe. By being in the world and observing, you can create and tell wonderful stories; the world has lots to share, you just have to look and listen. Ya, it’s true, I got all that from that stupid bus story.

Thank you Kim for being a great educator and mentor and for continually supporting me…and if you ever need someone to support you when you assign something like “go find a chipmunk and ask him what his favorite nut is,” know I’ve got your back….and if I were a chipmunk, YOU would be my favorite NUT!

Sincerely,
 
Jammer 

Hometown Heritage

With the holidays approaching, I have several trips planned to return home to see my family and it usually gets me thinking about the differences between where I live now and where I grew up. The differences are pretty drastic and although I don’t live in rural Northwestern PA any longer and have some different viewpoints than I may have had when I was younger, I would like to share with you a little bit about my home.

I am a Pennsylvanian at heart. The place where I grew up is basically like Cheers- Everybody knows your name. I’m from a small town somewhere in between Erie and Pittsburgh.  According to Wikipedia, in 2000 the population of my hometown was 7,212 and only ONE McDonalds services all 7,212 people. We don’t have Starbucks, Taco Bell, Target or Macy’s. In fact, we once had a Wendy’s but it went out of business… get my drift? If you’re from my town your favorite place to eat is probably Sheetz and it’s a gas station (an amazing gas station that I stop and eat at every trip home!!!). I could write a whole blog on the wonders of Sheetz and its MTO menu (Made To Order) but THAT would make me weird, right?

The people in my town are pretty rural…we’re like a good country song- we love our dogs, our trucks and our country. Life moves pretty slow and no one seems to mind. Because it only takes 20 minutes to get just about anywhere at any time in my hometown, people spend less time traveling and more time doing things they enjoy. People enjoy a laid back recreational schedule that might be something like– Wednesday night they play bingo down at the fire hall, Thursday night during the summer they see a live band perform in the park, Saturday they drive out to Pithole and go camping… and No One misses the annual rock skipping tournament.  Going to see a show at the community theatre is considered a night out on the town that requires one to dress up and eat a fancy dinner at Eat N’ Park or Long John Silvers. One of my favorite things about going home is that if I want to go out on a Friday or Saturday night to ANY of the bars (I say bars because there are NO clubs)…I can wear jeans, tennis shoes and a ball cap and be one of the best dressed in the place.

The high schools are small and so you go to school with the same people for 13 years. My graduating class was around 66 people…we all knew each other and still stalk each other on facebook. It’s a strange situation where you are limited to a small group of people to carve your niche into; post high school graduation I realized that it’s much easier to get along in life if you’re not forcing friendships with people who you really share nothing in common with other than you live in the same school district. And then life comes full circle because once you’ve branched out and moved away, your school classmates are the only ones who can truly appreciate how things were growing up in a small town. Basically, it’s similar to the relationship you have with your parents…you don’t really appreciate them until you’ve left the nest and gained some perspective.

The friendships made in high school are also a key to your recreation activities when returning home for a visit. Generally, you go out to the bar and run into someone you know and then rehash all the stupid stuff you did in high school. The night is full of “remember when” and “we used to” and you getting back to the point in that circle when you realize why you left in the first place. The best is when you drag along some new person in your life and introduce them to your place of origin. They get to sit there and listen to you talk about those nights when “Bubba”, “Spank” and “Chuck” snuck up to “Mr. History’s” house and took a shit in his yard…or whatever. OR  the night when we all drove our beat up trucks, four wheelers or Chevy Cavaliers to a field or a spot in the middle of the woods and underage drank. Usually, you consumed some sort of quality beer like Strohs or Busch… ’cause that’s what your Daddy drinks. Most of your memories will also culminate with “and then we all went to King’s.”  King’s Family Restaurant was the cool place to hang out at after something…basketball games, dances, high school choir concerts… Most of us went without money and ordered water. King’s staff must cherish those times as much as we do.

Walmart is where EVERYONE shops. I don’t remember when the one near us was built… I was probably in high school…so maybe 10 years ago? And please keep in mind that this Walmart is NOT in my town. Before that, you had to drive over a half an hour to the nearest Walmart and people did because it was a luxury place to shop!! We have a mall nearby too (again not in my town) and it houses some familiar stores like Bath and Body Works and Sears but it also boasts a department store sized Goodwill, a regional nephrology (it’s your weekly vocabulary word, look it up, I did.) center, Curves and even a business machine rental store….you know, the usual mall stores. I should also add that the parking lot behind the movie theater inside the mall is where the kids from this town hang out. Seriously. They just go park their cars and stand around and talk…I know King’s didn’t sound like much, but I think it’s better than standing around in a parking lot….

….With such amazing places to shop, my hometown is always on the brink of current fashion trends…. For the 1990s. See, what many don’t know is that stores like Sears and JC Penny send clothes from their larger locations (aka Washington, DC) that didn’t sell at retail or sale prices, to small locations (aka my hometown) to attempt to sell at retail again. Basically, our stores are full of reject clothes that other people wouldn’t wear. So, the fashion statements are mind-blowing. Women and men in my town rock the windbreaker pant suit like nobody’s business. There are also some really bitchin hair styles to accommodate the up to date fashion trends… feathered bangs are always in style, right?

We don’t just rely on the mall to tell us what’s in style; people of my hometown have a very strong sense of personal style. Camouflage print is considered a neutral and also acceptable for any occasion. We rock the hunter orange better than any other society; I think it’s due to our coloring and the climate we live in that really makes it pop for us. Additionally, steel toed boots are a fashion must and also prove themselves useful. I think that the trend of jeans with holes in them BEGAN where I’m from, because our clothes get to lookin’ like that naturally…and we also can’t justify buying jeans for $50 with holes in ‘em already! And to round out your NW PA look, pin on your hunting license to your hat or hoodie and your look is complete.

I suppose it’s worth saying that we also speak our own language. It’s quite unique and can only be found in a small region of PA. Allow me to translate some common phrases for you:

I also recently got into an argument about the pronunciation of the word “pajamas.” I’ve always said pa-jam (with a short A)- mas and I was told that it ain’t correct. Northern Virginians say pa-jaw-mas (with a long A)….my argument is that is not how it’s sung in the “Bananas in Pajamas” song. (For your reference, I did look this up and both pronunciations are correct)

While my hometown sounds like a strange and weird place to you, I want to conclude my rant with this: I will always call NW PA home and love that I grew up in a small town. Yes, people in a small town know all your business, have some strange fashion trends and are at times indiscernible…BUT these people will smile at you when they walk past you on the sidewalk, they will open doors for you and hurry after you to make sure you get back that $10 bill you just dropped. No community is perfect, but having roots in a town where people care about others,–or at least pretend to because stuff gets around and no one wants to be known as an asshole– is something I’m very proud of….  After all, our license plates used to say “You’ve got a friend in Pennsylvania.”

And if that doesn’t sound good enough for you, there are a multitude of famous people from my side of PA:

Louisa May Alcott (author), Mary Cassatt (painter), Gene Kelly (dancer,actor), Grace Kelly (actress, Princess of Monaco), Jim Kelly (football player), Andrew Mellon (financier), Arnold Palmer (golfer), Henry John Heinz (industrialist), Lynn Swan (football player), Fred “Mr. Rogers” Rogers (actor), Michael Keaton (actor) and Sharon Stone (actress)…..

and my personal favorite PUNCHLINE!!! Please enjoy their tribute to all that is Pennsylvania– Keystoned:

Sincerely,

Jammer

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