When you follow Penn State, sometimes the travels themselves can be challenging. One of the strangest experiences we had was when we traveled to the Blockbuster Bowl at the end of the 1992 season.
We were scheduled to play Stanford on January 1 at Joe Robbie Stadium (now Pro Player Stadium), in Florida. Our tour company booked us at a hotel on the beach in Fort Lauderdale, managed by a well-known chain. It wasn't exactly a 5-star hotel, but it was okay.
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The only thing that mattered was a win on New Year's Day. It had been a disappointing 7-4 season. The only reason we were playing on January 1 was a pre-arrangement with the Blockbuster Bowl. We were guaranteed a spot if we had a winning season. It was the transition year between being an Independent and joining the Big Ten conference.
We were with a tour, but rented a car for flexibility. On the morning of New Year's Eve, we used the car to run an errand. We came back to the hotel mid-day, checked our car into valet parking and went to our room.
A few minutes after arriving at our room, the hotel valet called with a question: "Did you give your car keys to someone else?" "No,", we said, "We gave them to you." His response: "Well, someone just drove off with your car. I'll call the police. You'd better come down."
We went down to valet parking, where the police took our statement of how we turned over the rental car keys to the hotel, and did not witness the theft. The valet admitted that he was careless and had left the lock box open while he went to get another car, and the thief stole the keys from the open lock box. He did see the theft, and even gave a description of the thief. Then we called Avis. They said, "No problem, take a cab to the airport, we'll reimburse you for the cab fare, and give you another rental car."
The Penn State Pep Rally was about to start, so I told Terry to go with the tour to the Pep Rally and I would meet him there. I took a cab to the airport, and filed a stolen car report with Avis. The problem was that I had no keys to turn in. They said, "Just give us a written statement from the hotel that the keys were in their possession, not yours, and everything will be fine."
They even gave us an upgraded car. I drove to the Pep Rally to join Terry. The team seemed flat and totally unexcited to be playing in the Blockbuster Bowl. We started to get worried about our chances in the game.
We drove back to the hotel, parked in self-parking. A different valet noticed this. He said, "You shouldn't do that. There's a lot of car thefts out of that lot." We spent the rest of the trip looking over our shoulders.
The hotel turned out to be a major problem. They refused to cooperate in writing the needed letter. In fact, the hotel manager on duty became downright nasty about it. The tour director and I spent three frustrating days chasing the hotel management to no avail.
We also had a miserable loss at the bowl game: Stanford won 24-3. Not fun. Penn State wasn't in the game at all. Losing the game didn't help our mood.
I finally called Avis and told them the hotel wouldn't cooperate. That's when they told us it was okay - they would just need a copy of the police report. Sigh. Why didn't they tell us that earlier? The police report had the truth. It would just take a few more days and a few dollars to get a copy of it. I told them I would acquire it and send it along.
A few days after we returned home Avis called to tell us the car was recovered with no damages in South Miami. They asked us if we had left anything in the car, because there were some things they found. "No," I said. "We left nothing behind." I asked them what they found. There was a trunkful of gay pornographic magazines.
Other than some inconvenience and a couple of days of frustration with the hotel, it turned out okay, even a bit humorous. Except, of course, for the Penn State loss.
Then, about four months later, I received a subpoena from the courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, asking me to appear in court to testify against the thief. They actually caught him. I immediately called the courthouse. I said, "Do I have to? I'm in Pennsylvania". They said, "Yes, you do. We will pay your expenses to come to Florida to testify." I pleaded, "Can't I just give you a statement over the phone? I saw nothing, there's really nothing to say. I'm not the victim here - Avis is. They owned the car." They said, "No, you were the renter of the vehicle when the theft happened. You have to show up in person. You're the victim." They made arrangements for a plane ticket for me to pick up at the airport. I worked full-time as a marketing executive. I had to cancel a couple of customer meetings to appear in court.
A few days before the hearing, the courthouse called. I didn't have to go to Florida. The thief decided to take a plea bargain. He was going to jail. Whew. End of story!
But not quite. I received another subpoena from the courthouse about six months later asking me to testify against the thief. Included in the package was legal documentation about victim's rights. They subpoenaed me to testify - to provide evidence of injury and ask for compensation during his parole hearing. Again I told them, "Call Avis, they're the victim. I have nothing to say, there was no injury to me other than a few hours of inconvenience." This time, thankfully, I didn't have to go. They asked me if I wanted to waive my rights. I said, "Hell, yes! I don't want this thief who just spent six months in jail knowing who I am." They told me to write a letter to waive my rights to the hearing, which I did.
It was the weirdest Penn State bowl trip ever. And not just because we lost the game.