'The Office': Scranton welcomes you
A chilly rain fell on Scranton nearly all day today, which would enhance the sometimes-desolate and drab Pennsylvania town we see as the setting for NBC's "The Office." But this is not TV! This is real life! And in real life, for this weekend at least, Scranton is anything but desolate as it hosts the first of possibly many "Office" conventions to come.
The festivities kicked off on the "Today" show with cuts to Al Roker broadcasting from the University of Scranton. Those gathered around him cheered more loudly than a high school volleyball team that had come all the way from Alabama, or than 10 lifelong friends who had traveled to the big city to celebrate their 50th birthdays.
The throngs seemed delirious, not just about the national attention but also the absurd fun of the situation. Cast member Craig Robinson, who plays Darryl from the Dunder Mifflin warehouse, seemed completely tuned in to the brouhaha, whooping it up and egging on those in attendance. Sadly, I have yet to meet any of the cast members on my particular jaunt, but thus far the locals like to boast about which actors they've met, and a Scranton convention volunteer showed me some photos of Robinson cheerfully holding up her infant nephew, so obviously he seems like a good time.
It's a little strange to go to a fan convention that is not sci-fi or comic-book oriented. At the registration at the Scranton Radisson, those in line to receive their various passes ($25 for the "Intern" pass all the way up to the $100 "Regional Manager" and the $250 "Corporate") seemed to fall into one of two categories: excited early-20s hipsterish kids and older, somewhat more jaded fans of the show, maybe what you could describe as Comic Book Guy from "The Simpsons" but with a social life.
All the festivities really kick off Saturday with a staff Q-and-A, "Office" Olympics, street festival, concerts, character look-alike contests and more. Today the attendees and townspeople walked around in a giddy haze, comparing how far they'd traveled (one volunteer said there were attendees from Ireland and Australia) and buying lots and lots and lots of merchandise. The registration hall mostly seemed like an opportunity for NBC to sign people up for online newsletters (a.k.a. "Dunder Mifflin Infinity") and more "Office"-related souvenirs than you could ever imagine: umbrellas, mousepads, coffee tumblers, "What Happens in Scranton Stays in Scranton" T-shirts, not to mention Dundie award statues, warehouse uniform shirts and Dwight Schrute bobble-heads.
Speaking of which, at the student block party college night held at the university, which hosted various qualifying events for the Olympics, I'm proud to say that I won a prize of a free bottle of Scranton's own Crystal Club soda for being a big winner at "Pin the Tattoo on Dwight Schrute." But I failed when it came to "Office" trivia, which would have entered me into a drawing to win a bobble-head of my own. (I guessed that Toby, instead of Kevin, received himself as his own Secret Santa in the Christmas party episode.)
As for Scranton itself, from what I've seen thus far, it's certainly more charming and more attractive than the city that's painted on the show. Like nearby Bethlehem and Allentown, it has felt the effects of a mining economy that has left the city, but with schools like the University of Scranton, it certainly doesn't feel like a city that has surrendered its relevance.
Meanwhile, the townspeople couldn't be friendlier: At the hotels and "Office" events and at Rocky's bar (where I hear you can buy two Yuenglings and get free pizza all for $3 total), its citizens are happy to talk to you about the town's history and the little thrill they get from seeing actual local references, like radio station Froggy 101 bumper stickers, on the show. (The weekend also includes trolley tours of "Office" landmarks — the show mentions real Scranton businesses such as Alfredo's Pizza and Poor Richard's Pub.)
The weather put a damper on some of the events today (no college block party), so we'll still see how the weekend turns out in terms of being a real celebration of "The Office." But maybe more important, right now it's a Scranton party, and as we all know, there ain't no party like a Scranton party, 'cause a Scranton party don't stop. Until Sunday evening, anyway.
-- Claire Zulkey