As longtime readers of this column know, I slip off to my old haunts in Western Pennsylvania for a trout-fishing trip each year around this time. I just got back. It's always the same two friends (once three, tempus fugit), and the same cabin on the same little creek in the Laurel Highlands, near Frank Lloyd Wright's architectural masterwork, Fallingwater.
We call the trip "Groundhog Day," after the Bill Murray movie of the same name, in which events repeat themselves day after day. Each year, we cook the same meals, drink the same brand of beer, stop at the same country store to buy licenses, etc. Even the jokes are old:
Priest says to Mary, "How are you, my dear."
"Not so good, Father. My husband just died."
"Oh, sorry to hear it, lass," says the priest. "Did he have any last words?"
"Yes, Father, he said, 'For God's sake, Mary, put the damn gun down.'"
But every year, I learn a few things. For instance, I learned this year that one of my friends, a lawyer who took early retirement, got BlueCross BlueShield medical insurance through Obamacare that saved him $200 a month. He's a nominal Republican. Or was.
I also learned, as I do every year, to be thankful that Tennessee isn't as backward as Pennsylvania when it comes to its liquor and beer laws. All alcohol in the Keystone State is sold through state stores. The hours are very limited and you can't buy less than a case of beer at a time. You have to go to a different state store for liquor and wine. The closest liquor store to our cabin was 24 miles away. Talk about roughing it.
And I learned it costs big money to drive across Pennsylvania. Because of the vagaries of Delta Airlines pricing, I flew into Cleveland instead of Pittsburgh, this year. One of my friends, who drives in from Detroit, picked me up at the airport. Entering the state of Pennsylvania on the turnpike costs $7. Just to enter. When we got off the turnpike, 90 miles later, we paid another $6. This might be something Tennessee should consider. Imagine what we could charge to drive from Memphis to Johnson City.
But I digress. It was a great trip. My friends are well and happy. The weather cooperated. And I caught the largest trout I've ever caught — a 24-inch rainbow — and let him go.
I'm hoping he'll still be there next year and want to take part in Groundhog Day.