Wednesday, July 30, 2014

State College is Awesome

State College, Pennsylvania, USA.   State College.  I love this town.  Why?  Short answer: because I used to live there.  That might not sound like much.  Given that State College basically owes its existence to Penn State, there are plenty of PSU alumni who can say that they used to live there.  I have a different perspective than most, though.  I lived in State College during the earlier parts of my childhood, due to my parents having been students at Penn State.  (Accidental birth FTW?)  I saw State College through the eyes of a kid growing up as opposed to that of a college student.  This means that while I know State College like the back of my hand (not counting all the stuff that wasn’t there in the early 90s), I don’t know a thing about the bars.  It was weird for me in grad school hearing PSU alumni talking about their favorite bars in State College.  I was briefly in a bar somewhere near North Atherton Street (see, I can drop street names) when I was 7, only long enough for my mom to find and pick up my uncle, who stopped there while visiting.  I remember everyone staring awkwardly at me… even my uncle.  I don’t really blame them; a year or two back someone brought their own 7-year old kid into a bar that I was watching a friend’s band play at, and it was rather awkward, especially since the kid kept staring at me.  But I’m getting off-topic here.

Clearly the moral of this story is that everyone stares at me.

I realized recently that it’s been 20 years since I’ve actually lived in State College.  My parents and I moved away from it on June 18th, 1994.  (I have no idea why I remember the date; I also remember watching the O.J. Simpson police chase on TV the night before.)  It’s July 2014 as I’m writing this, so yeah… it’s been 20 years.  I don’t remember being too unhappy about moving away back then, but I didn’t know what I was leaving.  Nowadays, I’ve come to feel that no place that I’ve lived in since has been as awesome as State College.  It’s been in my mind ever since I realized how long it’s been since I moved away.  I haven’t been back to visit the place in a number of years now, but in two days I’m going to remedy that, so I guess that’s why I’m writing this.

So why do I think State College is so great?  Ultimately, it’s due to very positive childhood nostalgia.  Without a doubt, the happier parts of my childhood were when I lived there.  I can try to list some more specific reasons than that, though.  The following are my choices for why State College is great, based on personal experience and things that I’ve learned about State College over the years.  It’s by no means comprehensive; I could go on forever about things I liked in State College.  I’ll just limit this to the things that most immediately come to my mind when I think of State College.  In no particular order, they are:

The Golden Wok

Okay… if anyone currently living in State College is reading this, I know it’s now called the Sichuan Bistro.  But I’ll never forget the Golden Wok.  It is/was one of my all-time favorite Chinese restaurants.  When I was actually living there, it was only my 2nd favorite Chinese place (any long-time State College residents remember a place called the Happy Buddha?)  The Golden Wok is on this list because it survived long after the Happy Buddha was gone (and was still around right up until the relatively recent ownership/name change), and of course… the greenhouse part!  You see that glassy part on the front of the building in the picture above?  I thought eating in that section was the coolest thing when I was a kid, especially if it rained.  I can only imagine what the place looks like at night.  (Well, their website, which as of now is still up for some reason, shows a picture of that.)  We only ever ate lunch there, possibly due to lunch being cheaper.  The Golden Wok was also one  of the first Chinese restaurants I ever knew as a kid, and given just how much I love Chinese food (well, admittedly the Americanized versions), it’s no surprise that this place will always be in my memory.

(Update - 5/18/2016:  It's called the Golden Wok again.  A little piece of my childhood is back!)

The Faccia Luna

Yep, another restaurant.  I promise I do think with more than my stomach.  So what’s the big deal about this one?  Well, while the Golden Wok is one of the first Chinese restaurants that I knew, Faccia Luna (formerly called something like “The Hoff Brow” in the late 80s) was the first restaurant I knew.  Seriously, it’s the earliest place I can remember associating with the word.  Technically, I do remember getting pizza at Home Delivery Pizza on South Atherton Street even earlier than I remember this place, but that was probably mostly to go, as we lived in a trailer right near it.  Still, there’s a powerful nostalgic attachment to this place for me, much like Golden Wok.  Also much like the Golden Wok, in points in the past where I’ve visited State College, I’ve always felt compelled to get some pizza here.  And that’s saying something, because I barely even like pizza these days!  (I admit it: I no longer like cheese.  I must be a terrorist.)  Looking back, I don’t know how in the hell my parents ever afforded eating here.  It’s not a superbly expensive place, but I remember us being dirt poor back then.  Well, it’s not like we went here all the time, but it was a treat when we did. 

On another food-related note: State College has tons, and I mean TONS of great restaurants.  At least that’s the impression I get.  Problem is: every time I do go to State College, I’m already set on going to the Golden Wok and Faccia Luna.  (It’s a good thing most of the hole-in-the-wall take out places my parents frequented as a kid aren’t still around or I’d probably try to eat at them, too.)

It’s a Great Place to Be a Smart Kid

This entry will probably sound rather snobby and conceited, and I don’t intend it to, but it might anyway, so… sorry:   As I mentioned in my first post, I was a pretty smart kid.  Luckily, State College is a great place to be such a kid.  It seems like State College Area School District just plain had a good educational system.  I learned all the typical early elementary school stuff like spelling and arithmetic, but there was always extra cool stuff like learning about dinosaurs, medieval stuff, Japan, sea creatures, and more.  School was still pretty easy there, but school didn’t become boring-easy for me until moving from State College to a much more rural part of Pennsylvania, where I basically spent 4th and 5th grade relearning the math and spelling from 2nd and 3rd grade in State College, minus the dinosaur and giant squid parts. 

It Really Is the Happy Valley

I read somewhere that the State College area became known as the Happy Valley during the Great Depression since it fared better than most places during that time.  The name has stuck, and for good reason.  I have never seen a happier town.  I say that with no hyperbole or exaggeration.  I’ve known some pretty mean, nasty people in my life, and I can guarantee you not one of them is from State College.  I don’t know what the source is, if something’s in the water or if it’s an offshoot of Penn State being known as a party school, but people there truly do seem to be happier and friendlier.  State College also appears to frequently make various “best places to live” lists.  Wikipedia mentions several such lists.  (Yes, it’s Wikipedia, but I’m not going to go into a long, link-filled list; you can check out their linked sources if you wish.)  This could be a key contributor to how great State College seems in my memories.  No place that I’ve lived in since State College seemed to have nearly as many happy, benevolent people in it.

So there’s my short list for why I like State College so much.  I’ll get to visit it again in two days.  I hope the Sichuan Bistro is as good as the Golden Wok…

No comments:

Post a Comment