Collier’s Weekly: Slow Down for Bigfoot and Groundhogs

A rambling drive through Punxsutawney serves as a reminder: We all need to take our time.


Around the time I noticed Bigfoot emerging from the woods, I thought to myself: “You know, I need to take my time more often.”

I was en route to DuBois for a stand-up gig, and I had taken the scenic route. Google Maps had offered me three options: An eternity on Route 28, a speedy-yet-boring schlep up 79 and across 80, or an Interstate-free straight-shot northeast by way of Punxsutawney.

I chose to avoid the superhighways. Somewhere in the vicinity of Marion Center, Bigfoot — a life-size wooden silhouette, not the genuine article — peeked out from between two trees on the roadside. The decorative beast was carrying the (incongrously three-dimensional) head of a target-practice deer statue.

You don’t get that on 80.

I’ve taken drives like this hundreds of times. Once or twice a month, I head for a one-off comedy show in a small town an hour or two away; they’re usually good shows, and I’m happy to do them. If I rush, though, it stops being any fun; it doesn’t even really feel like going anywhere. It feels like sacrificing a night to drive a couple of hours, bark into a microphone for half an hour, pick up a check and come back home.

It’s easy to fall into that trap. I want to make the most of my weekend, of course, so I calculate the minimum amount of time I can dedicate to the job. “The show’s at 8, so I should be there by 7:30. It’ll take 90 minutes to drive there, so that puts me back to 6. It’ll take about half an hour to get ready, that’s 5:30. Okay, 5:30 on the dot.”

Do I make the most of my weekend? No. I spend the saved hour sitting in the couch, playing games on my cell phone.

Never mind that such a schedule allows for no wiggle room — not only no time to take the scenic route and spot Bigfoot, but also no time to stop and look at an interesting sight along the way. No time to stop for coffee, let alone dinner. No time even for error, which is all too common when trying to figure out where the hell you’re going in Fayette County. (It seems that their budget for clear road signage is low.)

This is no way to do it, I try to remind myself. If I give another two hours to the whole process, I can take my time and actually enjoy myself. And that goes for … well, everyone and everything. We get frantic about how long things will take. When, precisely, does the show begin? Do we have to get there early? How close can we park? How soon can we leave? When can we be back home?

The entire process of doing something becomes a sprint to get it over with.

En route to DuBois, I gave myself those extra couple of hours. Instead of wolfing down a GetGo hoagie in the car, I stopped at Punxy Phil’s ’Cakes & Steaks, a family restaurant in the middle of downtown Punxsutawney. Like the rest of the city, it’s charming — and absolutely soaked in groundhog memorabilia. (I bought a cute, hand-painted magnet.)

The service at Punxy Phil’s is unhurried, and — in the spirit of the evening — I was glad for it. I remembered another recent meal where I felt like the server was desperate to get me to leave; he asked what I’d like before I picked up my menu and took away my companion’s plate before I was halfway through my sandwich. That’s no way to dine. Sitting in a comfortable booth at Punxy Phil’s with Don Henley and Kenny Loggins ambling through old speakers in the ceiling, in no particular hurry — that’s more like it.

We need to be more willing to take our time and less eager to wrap up whatever it is we’re doing. No one ever spotted Bigfoot — wooden or otherwise — while dashing from one place to another, and no one decided to enjoy a meal at Punxy Phil’s if they only had 10 minutes to spare.

By the way, Punxsutawney is covered in human-sized groundhog statues. They’re everywhere. Even the Wendy’s has one, and it’s dressed like Wendy. Because I didn’t take 80 to get to DuBois, I know what that Wendy’s groundhog looks like. Imagine missing that.

Categories: Collier’s Weekly