Monday, March 31, 2008

Exposing Central PA's Liberal Underbelly

James Carville once said about Pennsylvania: it has Philadelphia in the east, Pittsburgh in the west, and Alabama in the middle. (Interestingly enough, on my first day of work here, the head of my department said that to me as if it were his own clever quip, and I only learned the other day that it was Carville's). I can see the Ragin' Cajun's point...central PA is very rural geographically, and its social and political characteristics more often align with red states than blue ones. The State College area, while still more conservative than any other area in which I have ever lived, is an exception to this rule. Its sizeable educated, university-affiliated, internationally-minded, corduroy- and elbow patch-wearing, folk singer-listening, war-protesting, long-haired former-hippie population is sizeable, and only occasionally does it get drowned out by hellfire-and-brimstone-preaching, Bush-loving conservatives.

This past weekend was a great one for us liberals! It started when the mayor conducted a commitment ceremony for four gay and lesbian couples--the first ceremony of its kind in State College and one of very few to have been held in Pennsylvania. The event was open to the public and I attended with a friend of mine. We didn't know any of the couples but we wanted to support our gay and lesbian friends in town and the cause of gay marriage in general. Now, I cry at weddings. It's just what I do. If you had seen me on the couch in Amsterdam, sniffling away at the televised wedding of two former contestants on Belgium's Temptation Island - two people I knew nothing about, from a show I had never a language I barely understood! - you wouldn't be surprised to see me with my Kleenex at this ceremony. But it was more than the music, the expression of love and good feeling throughout the room...Rachel and I agreed that we both got choked up at the idea of the whole occasion, and the overwhelming show of support in this little town for this liberal cause. (Well, that and the emotional grooms and brides sharing their vows with trembling voices).
State College Same-Sex Commitment Ceremony

Sunday was a big day in town. As Pennsylvania gears up for its historic role in this year's Democratic candidate race, we were lucky enough to host two important speakers within three days of each other: Bill Clinton on Thursday and Barack Obama on Sunday. I missed the Clinton speech...I hosted a work event that evening and by the time it was over the line was over a half-mile long in a miserable drizzle, so I skipped it. But Sunday was a beautiful day, perfect for a political rally. I went with Rachel and her partner Matt -- we are working on popularizing the term "partner" for committed heterosexual couples, let's make it a movement! -- but weren't keen on waiting for four hours in the chilly March morning. We arrived fairly late, but somehow managed to get in ahead of our friends who had been waiting for several hours! The audience was estimated at 22,000 people, and it was an energetic and enthusiastic crowd.

I've been really pleased with the Democratic race this year because I feel confident in both of the leading candidates. While I am more of a Hillary supporter, I'm not a diehard fan. I may not be on the fence, but I would say I am standing very near it. After Sunday's rally, though, I'm practically leaning on it. Obama was a powerful, entertaining, intelligent and inspiring speaker, and the idealist in me agrees with just about every single thing he says. What's more, I enjoy listening to him speak, and the thought that we could elect a president whose voice wouldn't inspire a gag reflex the way GWB's does is very appealing.

I'm not looking to turn this into a political commentary, and I really don't want to start any arguments. I just want to take this weekend as a reminder that there are lots of people in this town who think the way I do and have the same values and goals for our country. It was a good feeling.

Unfortunately, Obama was standing right between my section of the crowd and the only set of spotlights, so I couldn't watch him very closely without being blinded. See if you can play Where's Waldo with this photo...

Obama at Old Main

Friday, March 28, 2008

A heartwarming start to the weekend

Don't try this at home, folks, I hope you find this story as touching as I did.

(via kottke)

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Fundraising Recap

The fundraiser last weekend was pretty successful. Everything went smoothly, and all of our fabulous auction prizes sold! In total we raised a bit more than $6,000...and with the rest of the team planning a benefit concert and party next weekend, we're hoping to raise enough money to cover our airfare to Peru. All the medical supplies will be donated and other costs will be minimal, so this will be a great accomplishment!

I was disappointed in the attendance at the event--we had less than half the number of attendees that we had hoped for, and with a ticket cost of $50 per person, that meant a lot less funds raised than we had hoped. But at the end of the night, I had to give myself a big pat on the back. Attendance wasn't my responsibility (I'm not a doctor, I don't have wealthy New Yorker friends), and I took the things I was responsible for and did them very well, including acting as impromptu emcee and hostess--an unexpected role. So after all was said and done, I was pleased at my work. I was also completely exhausted, and judging by the nasty cold that struck this weekend, all the stress of preparation may have compromised my immune system.

This whole project just keeps hitting one snag and road block after another, and somehow it almost felt like luck that the fundraiser went as smoothly as it did. For instance, in the first two weeks of March, several of the doctors who had planned to go on the trip with us (a trip, I might remind you, that is scheduled for the first week of May!) suddenly decided that they don't want to go. This concept is totally inconceivable for me, but for at least four doctors this was true. However, we were able to recruit new doctors very quickly and I think the roster is now complete. I still feel a lingering sense of wariness and apprehension about the whole project...however, we're in the final stretch now and we're going to fight to make it happen. I'm sure I'll keep you posted on our progress over the next six weeks.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Overheard on Campus: Spring Break Edition

What have I been hearing on campus lately? Silence...blissful silence. Spring break is one of the times when we get a brief respite from the normal flurry of 40,000 students rushing back and forth between classes and coming to our offices asking us questions. Sure, helping students is part of my job, and it's one of my favorite parts of my job, but having a week of peace and quiet is wonderful. I managed to straighten up my office, knock a few items off my to-do list, and answer some old e-mails...all the while spending WAY too much work time finalizing details of the fundraiser this weekend.

Yesterday I got to take off part of the afternoon to accompany a group of international students to our local molehill ski slope for some snow tubing. When we arrived the tubing area looked pitifully small and pathetically eroded by recent rainstorms. But it turned out to be lots of fun, especially when groups of us hooked together and tubed extra fast all the way to the end of the hay-strewn bottom of the slope. I felt a twinge of yearning for the Alps and the exhilarating terror of sledding recklessly down Mt. Pilatus. But I've made my Central Pennsylvania bed, and now I have to lie in it. For the next few months, anyway.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Charity trip to Peru

Some of you might remember my trip in May 2006 to Honduras as a part of a medical mission team. It was a wonderful experience and I've been trying to be a part of another trip since then. Last year, I got that opportunity: Healing the Children asked me if I could go to Peru in October. I jumped at the chance, especially when I was told the trip would be entirely funded by a medical supply company.

Unfortunately, about a month before the trip, this medical company withdrew their funding. You see, there's an irritating man named Andrew Cuomo who is the Attorney General of New York, and as the target for his AG energies, he has chosen to investigate "perks." Oddly enough, this affects me in two ways. First, he is investigating study-abroad program providers and their relationship with study-abroad offices, to determine if the relationship is appropriate. That's a long story for another day. Secondly, and most pertinent to this particular post, Mr. C is investigating medical companies' perks for doctors. I'm sure most of you agree that golf weekends and ski conferences and lavish dinners etc are an excessively wasteful use of patients' overinflated prescription fees. Unfortunately, the broad umbrella of the word "perk" also extends to include charitable donations, like the one intended to pay for our trip. For fear of attracting the unwanted attention of the government goons, our sponsor backed out.

I haven't really thought too much about the specifics of that situation for several months, and now that I write it out...DAMN! that sucks. Especially given the crazy amount of time and energy I am now putting into raising funds for our rescheduled trip, to happen in May.

Our biggest event is this coming Saturday. It's a hors d'oeuvres and wine, fancy-type event with a silent auction. I've never even been to a silent auction before, but now I'm one of two people organizing this. We've gotten donations of some fabulous prizes, if I do say so myself, and we hope to earn a ton of money at the event.

Curious? Check out the auction blog I created: I'm pretty proud of my work, I must say. We'll see if we actually get any initial bids this way, but at least it's a good way to pique everyone's interest.

Details are included on the site for anyone who is interested in attending the event. If you'd like to help out otherwise; stay tuned, and I'll have more details on that later this week.

P.S. Do you remember that SNL sketch where Chris Farley played Giuliani's son Andrew at the inauguration? Well, for a while I was confused and thought maybe that little kid was Andrew Cuomo. I did some elementary math in my head and realized that Andrew G is probably still in college, and therefore unlikely to have been elected to the highest legislative position in the state of New York.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Overheard on Campus: State Patty's Day edition

Welcome to a new feature on Distant Wanderings. In "Overheard on Campus" I will share tidbits of conversation I overhear as a part of my daily life in a town where half the population is between 18 and 22.

This weekend was State Patty's day...essentially, because Saint Patrick's day falls the Monday after Spring Break, the students decided to mark the occasion en masse by getting outrageously drunk this weekend. This plan started last year, when March 17 fell during Spring Break itself. Today's paper was filled with stories of arrests for public drunkenness, underage drinking and DUI.

As I was leaving my office I overheard a girl on her cellphone speaking with a tone of shock and despair:

"OH MY GOD! OHHHHHHHH! That just makes my weekend, like, a gazillion times more shameful!"

...not sure what exactly she had just learned, but if her weekend was already shameful, and now it's a gazillion times more so, it can't have been good.

Actually, I shouldn't mock, because I had my own State Patrick celebration, hanging out with my friend and neighbor Rachel, her boyfriend and two of her grad school friends who were visiting. Between the gin and tonics and the wine and the more wine and the alcohol in the fondue we made, I probably could have given any of those undergrads a run for their money.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

200th Post!

Woo! This is my 200th post. I have decided to write more frequently, and possibly tell some more people that this blog exists in the first place. I have some exciting changes coming up in my life, that I'll write more about as they become finalized. As for right now, I'm having a productive day of laundry and cleaning, with the occasional break to look at silly things online. I just spent more time than I should checking out the Flickr Song Pool. I'm tempted to give this a shot, but I really do have more necessary things to do this weekend. Anyone else care to interpret their favorite song lyrics in graph or chart or Venn Diagram format?

No! No! No!

Originally uploaded by jakers19