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Groundhog Day

February 1, 2011

“Okay, campers, rise and shine, and don’t forget your booties ’cause it’s cooooold out there today.”

As we brace for a mid-winter blizzard here in Chicagoland, we’re also anticipating tomorrow’s arrival of Groundhog Day.

Will the groundhog come out and see his shadow? Will we have 6 more weeks of winter? Might we have an early spring? Will the groundhog look outside, see 20 inches of snow on the ground, and refuse to come out and participate in the festivities? Will we live the same wintry day over and over? and over? and over?…

I am a big fan of the movie Groundhog Day, and have been since it came out in 1993. The story is funny and brilliant – a Pittsburgh weatherman reluctantly reporting on the annual Groundhog Day event in Punxsutawney, PA, finds himself misadventurously reliving the same Groundhog Day over and over and over again in a nightmarish loop of time. At first he is confused by the experience of reliving the same day, but he soon begins to take advantage of knowing what will happen that day and use it to his advantage. When he realizes he can’t escape the loop, he becomes depressed and suicidal until he learns that even death can’t break the doom he finds himself in – he still wakes up the next day to the same Groundhog Day. Only after he learns to overcome his many character flaws of ego-centricity, rudeness, selfishness, greed and cowardice with virtues of humility, kindness, selflessness, generosity and heroism, in one perfectly lived day, is the spell broken, waking him to a new and different day with a future of love and hope.

And who doesn’t love Bill Murray? (Well, except for maybe his ex-wives.)

I can relate to this movie, the main character and moments in the film’s story on many levels. But the reasons for that are a story for another day.

But this past Saturday I went on an adventure to connect with the movie in a very intimate way – I drove to Woodstock, IL, the location where most of the movie was filmed, for the annual Groundhog Days events (for more info: http://www.woodstockgroundhog.org).

When I arrived about 10am to see the movie at the theatre shown in the film, I was greeted by Woodstock Willie, the town’s groundhog mascot outside the theatre. I then went in to to see the movie, open for free public viewing, and enjoyed the movie once again. After the movie, I walked about the beautiful town square, noting marked and unmarked locations I had just seen in the film.

Ed and Woodstock Willie

After enjoying some chili for lunch at the chili cookoff contest, I gathered with a crowd of roughly 100 people for the walking tour of the town’s filming sites led by Bob Hudgins, the location manager for the Groundhog Day movie. Bob pointed out where scenes were filmed, talked of the unique filming challenges, and told stories of the cast, crew and management of the film as we walked.

Plaque Memorializing Where Bill Murray Stepped In Puddle

After the walking tour, I attended a symposium on the film. I was honored to be asked by the professor who had prepared the presentation if I would open the event by pairing with another person in attendance to read the notorious morning wakeup dialogue of the radio dj’s in the film. I got to read the famous “Okay, campers, rise and shine, and don’t forget your booties ’cause it’s cooooold out there today” in front of the 50 or so people in attendance. The presentation included clips from the film, a thorough handout of the presentation agenda, a list of the movie credits, and outside resources, and other interesting movie clips and analysis.

I ended my walk down Groundhog Day memory lane by having dinner in the building where the Tip Top diner featured in the movie was filmed, and sat at a table where I estimate Bill Murray sat in the movie stuffing his face hedonistically in front of the lovely Andie McDowell.

Unlike the Phil Connors character in the film, I did get out of town and back home that evening, and woke up the next day to a new and different day.

But that doesn’t mean I won’t eventually find myself in Woodstock, IL on Groundhog Day, possibly in 2013 when Groundhog Day falls on a Saturday, or 2014 when it falls on a Sunday, living the same day over and over again. After all, it wasn’t until his 4th year of coverage of the Groundhog Day festivities that Phil Connors found himself in the time loop.

And, who knows, maybe I’ll find you there with me. It could be fun.

In the meantime, I will continue to work to overcome my many character flaws and replace them with virtues, so that I may make a voluntary exit from Woodstock and Groundhog Day when I’ve had my fill.

And I encourage you to also. We don’t need to learn a lesson the hard way like Phil did. We can choose to live life well and virtuously every day, and try to make every day, a perfectly lived day, with a future of love and hope.

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