Is Fall the New RV Season?

Can you feel it? The slow, creeping feeling of fall. To many, the start of this cozy season means Pumpkin Spice Lattes, dressing in scarves, boots or flannel, apple picking and watching lots of football. That last item — football — has me reminiscing about one of my favorite college memories. 

It was my Junior year at the Pennsylvania State University (PSU) and following the coat tails of Penn State’s #2 top party school ranking from Princeton Review the prior year. Weekends felt like Christmas morning with that same childhood anticipation. This particular weekend in October 2007 would include a football game against Ohio State slated to be the biggest home game of the year.

Tailgating at a PSU game is an art form. Imagine thousands of RVs — or “recreation vehicles” for the more formal folks — squeezed in side by side on miles of grassy, muddy terrain that surrounds the stadium. 

My dad, also a PSU alumnus, had wanted to rent an RV for many years. He had never been camping or much less driven a vehicle larger than a minivan. With my mom, brother and sister, also former Nittany Lions in tow, they made the uphill drive to State College, fondly called “Happy Valley.” 

The Burke Family’s Christmas card circa 2007. Pictured left to right: Kristen Burke, Joe Burke, Carol Burke, Jon Hopp, Lauren Burke Meyer and Kevin Burke.

From the get-go, the weekend get-away resembled George Clooney’s classic film, “The Perfect Storm.” As dad began navigating the RV, a drizzle quickly turned into one of the worst nor’easters. Three hours of pounding rain and gusty winds shook, rattled and almost rolled the RV over. 

White knuckled, dad was directed into a soggy cow pasture to join the other PSU tailgaters. Due to a lack of functioning necessities in the RV, mom begged to stay at my apartment. With siblings and friends already crashing at my place, there simply wasn’t any space for mom. She’d have to endure the cramped bed and cold shower. Oh and sleep in all her clothes because the heat didn’t work. The nor’easter continued to rear itself and shook the RV like a tilt-a-whirl. My parents’ neighbors would keep them up until 6 a.m. chanting, “We are! Penn State!” 

Now on to my favorite part of the weekend – tailgating! Yes, I like this more than the actual game. My sweet mother brought all my favorite foods, most notably crab dip, which as you can imagine is in short supply in central Pennsylvania.

You know it’s one heck of a party when your college buddy shakes your dad’s hand and says appreciatively, “Thanks for a great tailgate. It was wonderful to meet you.” After a pause he adds, “By the way, the toilet’s clogged.” 

Following the tailgate, I headed into the game. Student tickets were in short supply that year due to a high demand, and I was unable to get any. Thankfully, a friend graciously gave my dad two sideline tickets. It was one incredible view of the White Out, a special tradition reserved for the biggest home game of the year, where all spectators come dressed in white.

My sister Kristen and I watching the football game on the sideline.

Ohio State ended up winning that night 37-17 (insert “boooo” here), but it couldn’t dampen the experience or memory. My poor dad spent the second night solo in the RV with my mom staying in the comfort of a family friend’s home down the road. Not quite the family togetherness he envisioned. However, I hope my family can watch some PSU games together from the comfort of their couch instead of a rented RV. Especially, if there’s crab dip.

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