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Zak of All Trades: Punxsutawney — Isn't she lovely?

January 31, 2014

I recently completed a binge watch of every episode of the hit comedy series The Office on Netflix.

(For those unfamiliar with the phrase, binge watching is the new trend of watching all the episodes at once instead of waiting a week between episodes and months between seasons.)

I had watched the show back when I lived in Pittsburgh but had sort-of gotten out of the trend when I moved home, and I'd certainly missed some episodes here and there.

So, it was good to sit down and watch it all from the start, and in doing so, I caught a lot of things that I didn't really notice the first time around. Binge watching lent itself to being more observant for forgetful ol' me.

I noticed that some of the characters I'd always been fond of because I'd liked them in Season 1 had developed character flaws that, while I was willing to overlook them, made them harder to like in later seasons.

I noticed that some of the story lines ran a bit deeper than I'd realized before, while some of them were much more shallow. And some of the things I thought were story lines weren't really stories at all.

But the thing I noticed most has led me to the inspiration for this column.

The Office used music to send off my favorite character — Michael Scott — when the employees who worked under him sang "9,986,000 Minutes," which proved to be a tribute to the time he'd put in at the office.

But it wasn't just the time he'd spent there that made the fictitious office setting Scott had created so special.

The characters spent a lot of time reflecting on what their boss had done for them — from helping them get out of trouble in their personal lives to being there for them in his own special way.

Thinking back on The Office, music played a big role in a lot of the moments that I really connected with. When loveable/hateable Andy says his final goodbyes, he sings "I Will Remember You;" Chris Brown's "Forever" highlights the wedding party of Jim and Pam; and Miley Cyrus' "Party in the U.S.A." even makes a cameo appearance.

This week has been considered "Groundhog Week" here in Punxsutawney — The Weather Capital of the World.

This weekend, our small, quaint town will welcome tens of thousands of people in an attempt to play the best hosts that we possibly can.

From concerts to parties to Phil's official prognostication on Gobbler's Knob in the early daylight hours, it'll be a weekend that makes long-lasting memories for many locals and many visitors.

Music will fill Gobbler's Knob, with sounds pouring out of Phil's speakers and dancers pounding out their choreography as he catches his final few hours of rest before his annual moment in the national spotlight.

Last year, on the day of Phil's call for an early spring — a prognostication I'm hoping repeats itself this year — I wrote about a song that reminds me of Punxsutawney, where I was born and raised, called "My Town" by Montgomery Gentry.

Well, those good ol' boys' song is still playin' in my head a year later, but another song has added itself to the playlist marked "Punxsutawney" on my virtual iPod: "Isn't She Lovely?"

Now, it's more-than-possible that I'm taking Stevie Wonder's classic out of context here, as we only need to get about four lines into the song before he says "less than one minute old."

As it turns out, Stevie's song is written to the mother of his daughter, Aisha, about the newborn.

But anyone who's been around me for a while knows my affinity to pulling one line from a song and sticking with it — singing it over and over again.

Lately, those who work with me have been pained with having to hear me squeak out, "I came in like a wrecking ball," while between proofreading pages.

And in that vein, about as far as I go with Stevie's song when I sing it is "Isn't she lovely? Isn't she wonderful?"

A lot of people talk about their hometowns with a sarcastic, "Isn't she lovely?" I never fully bought in to that, and I certainly don't today.

As an adult who works in the news business, I don't buy the line that there's only bad news out there.

And working in Punxsutawney, I have the joy of telling — or assigning reporters to tell — the stories of all the good news going on around our little town.

And all that good news makes me say, "Punxsutawney — Isn't she lovely?"

As a "hometown kid" who grew up in this area, I see all sorts of familiar faces up at The Knob, from faces in the crowd to those on stage, and I know all the hard work and dedication they put into making this a weekend where visitors can look at our town and say, "Isn't she lovely?"

When I run into folks out of town and they hear that I'm from Punxsutawney, they almost always say, "Oh, I've visited there. It's such a nice little town!" And they're not just talking about the buildings downtown.

Punxsutawney has a rustic feel. Punxsutawney has a tourist's attraction with Phil. But most of all? Punxsutawney has people — a sense of community.

A sense of community is what made me connect with the cast members of The Office from the very first episode.

In the final season, even those who seemed to be pitted against each other constantly in the show made sacrifices to be a part of the overall community.

Sunday morning, I'll be crowded into the group of "Phaithful Phil Phollowers" encircling the Prognosticator of Prognosticator's stump, waiting with the masses to hear just what Phil has to say.

But come Sunday night, I'll be sitting around a big screen television with some of the people I've known my entire life watching the Super Bowl — enjoying another sense of community.

That's my favorite part about Punxsutawney. I've lived other places that had big events and felt like they had to put on a show.

And while Punxsutawney's Feb. 2 party isn't a normal day in the town — as we don't always have vendors downtown and early-morning fireworks — the people you'll run into who call this place home won't be putting on a show.

Some towns go out of their way to play a good host for events. Punxsutawney? Her town folk are just downright good hosts.

When I walk into one of my favorite eateries for lunch and sit
down, the waitress heads my way with a cup of coffee and a cup of water.

When I call in carry-out at another of my favorites, they pick up the phone and say, "Hey Zak. Your regular?"

And when I walk down the streets in this town, people say hello, ask
how I'm doing and mean it.

All of those things seem small, but it shows that in Punxsutawney, people matter.

I don't know that Stevie Wonder will be on Phil's playlist this year up at Gobbler's Knob. But if he is, I'll sure sing along.

"Punxsutawney — Isn't she lovely?"

Zak Lantz is the editor of The Spirit and a born-and-bred Punxsutawnian.

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