It started with a pushy rental car lady and a plate full of tilapia bones.
It ended with a rainy-night stadium rescue.
Such is another chapter in Life on the Road, Penn State football style.
It was Big Ten season again for the Nittany Lions, starting with an excursion to Indianapolis and Bloomington.
Admittedly, I was out of practice with this all. It had been nearly a year since I slalomed through morning rush-hour traffic on the Baltimore Beltway to get to the airport.
Some things are engrained, however: I always use off-site parking (cheaper, quicker), always grab an aisle seat on the plane and I never listen to the rental car lady.
Like when I went to the Dollar kiosk last weekend in the Indianapolis Airport and the representative tried to lure me into spending nearly as much on extra insurance per day ($10) as my rental per day ($13).
Then she tried to sell me on an upgrade from my mini-van to a Toyota Camry. Then she tried to threaten me with a forecast of hail.
Buy our extra insurance!
I didn’t bite and she was visibly disappointed as she handed me the keys to what turned out to be a shiny new black Ford Flex with tinted windows and jet-powered air conditioning. Not my parents’ mini-vans.
First things first, then. A reporter buddy and myself headed to a strip mall for a Nigerian lunch. (Most all good ethnic restaurants are located in sketchy strip malls).
A good sign, to me, was how half of the menu featured strange dishes which I could not pronounce. Things like Fufu, Eba, Iyan, Amala and Semovita.
I asked for help translating. I debated with myself. I ruled out cow leg and “goat with skin” and, supposedly, the bone-in fish.
I went with a mound of traditional jollof rice, its heavy spice nicely accompanying the char of the roasted chicken and sweetness of the cooked plantains. Unfortunately, I wasn’t expecting a mouth full of bones in the tilapia.
I adjusted well enough and the routine continued on: travel, work, a scenic run around the hotel and an industrial park before dinner. The appetizers of chickpea fritters and queso fundido were the highlights at Zest!, located in the Indy outskirts of Broad Ripple.
But covering Penn State vs. the Indiana Hoosiers also means an hour drive to Bloomington on game day. That’s when the predicted 30 percent chance of rain morphed into a downpour that evolved into steady showers (but at least no hail).
Then the Nittany Lions were blown off the field in the fourth quarter. That simply preceded a cataclysmic thunderstorm that ripped through the area, quietly scaring the you-know-what out of the reporters writing in a metal press box towering over a dark and emptied stadium.
But we weren’t done.
As we prepared to leave, we met up with Harrisburg photographer Joe Hermit, who was accidentally, helplessly, locked inside Memorial Stadium behind a black iron fence adorned with impaling spikes.
He faced a long night next to abandoned concession stands that once cooked kettle corn, cotton candy and crab cakes.
But we used our heads.
He stood on top of one over-turned trash barrel to elevate near the top of the fence. We put two more barrels together to give him something to step down onto when he reached freedom.
So we felt good about the rescue.
Only then it began to pour again, as we walked back to our shiny black Ford Flex. We still had the drive back to Indy. I still had to drop off the rental car the next morning.
And so one more dinner would get me through — especially since I ran out of time for breakfast and Indiana’s press box lunch consisted of tortilla chips, shaved lettuce and awful-looking taco meat.
I hunger striked.
Until after the rescue was complete, of course. Then, we stopped downtown and ordered fancy French fries before our entrées.
It had been draining work and fun, as usual. I figured I deserved the special with the “massaged kale,” whatever exactly that was.