SCRANTON - The motley, mismatched motorcade of pickups and convertibles crawled down Linden Street on Saturday, each vehicle holding a cast member from The Office.
The crowd along the half-mile parade route from the University of Scranton campus to Courthouse Square - shoulder-to-shoulder and three deep - hooted and hollered for its favorite characters. Phyllis! Oscar! Dwight! PamandJim!
So ends one of the sweetest abusive relationships in Pennsylvania history: the affair between Scranton and the NBC sitcom that used it as a punchline for nine years. (The show's two-hour series finale airs May 16.)
Greg Daniels, who closely patterned the show after a popular British series, chose Scranton as a sort of shorthand for hell on earth (just as Ricky Gervais set the original in Slough).
Yet almost from the beginning, Scranton wholeheartedly endorsed the TV satire, despite its implicit mockery.
Hey, rusty industrial towns in Lackawanna County can't be choosers.
The last entertainment property set in the Electric City was That Championship Season. And that was no bundle of laughs.
Instead of being offended, the local chamber of commerce turned the association into a healthy economic boost.
"It's cool to see all the Dunder Mifflin signs," said Courtney Barrow, 19, a freshman from Pennsylvania State University who set up early on the parade route, along with her mother and ardent co-fan, Audrey, from Bethlehem.
(Dunder Mifflin is the name of the show's paper company and the workplace of Dwight, Oscar, and the others.)
"It's obvious the city has really embraced the show," said the younger Barrow.
Actually, from his perch on a monument facing the festivities, Gen. Casimir Pulaski, a hero of the Revolutionary War Battle of the Brandywine, still looked a little skeptical.
There's no question the city has benefited.
There was a three-day Office convention in 2007. And tourists flock here for The Office Fan Tour ($55 for adults), which takes you to such show-specific spots as Cooper's (try the beet salad), the Mall at Steamtown, and Poor Richard's Pub.
The show itself was taped entirely in California. Only the opening credits, shot by star John Krasinski (Jim) before the pilot was even shot, are locally generated.
During a morning event Saturday, producer Steve Burgess showed attendees blown-up photos from a scene this season that was shot outside.
"See those palm trees," he said, gesturing at the background. "Those are all taken out electronically in post [production] to keep things looking like Scranton."
The all-day wrap-party celebration, scheduled to end after dark with a fireworks display at the Scranton RailRiders baseball stadium, was a loose, convivial affair. Star Steve Carell, who left after the seventh season, made a surprise late appearance.
The cast was only too happy to be here, as the show turned this eccentric troupe of character actors and Daily Show correspondents (Carell and Ed Helms) into household names. It was a last chance to bask in the adulation of their cultish following.
There was a Q&A session at which Daniels and fellow executive producer Paul Lieberstein (who also plays Toby on the show) were greeted like rock stars. The fans were so attuned to every facet of the show that even the mention of an episode title elicited wild cheers.
At 9:15, the line for the 11 a.m. event at the university's Byron Recreation Center snaked halfway across campus.
At the very front were Brea Tackett, 20, and Hunter Boggs, 21, college students from Ironton, Ohio.
Tackett bought the tickets as a surprise for her Office-obsessed boyfriend, and used a vague pretext to get him in the car Friday.
When he insisted on knowing why they were headed east, she said: "What would you say if I told you we were going on a double date with Jim and Pam?" "Shut up!" he responded.
Micah Nantz and Claire Askins, 19-year-old college students, drove 21 hours from Clearwater, Fla., arriving Saturday morning.
"We're a little slaphappy," Nantz acknowledged. "But we wanted to be here to meet the cast and reminisce about the show."
Julie Grossman, who was there with her Massachusetts mother, Beth, had a more selfish motive.
The 20-year-old should have been studying for this week's finals at the University of Connecticut.
But first things first.
"I want to ask John Krasinski to marry me," she said, well aware that the proposal might not sit well with Krasinski's wife, actress Emily Blunt.
"I don't think the marriage is very stable," she said with all the conviction she could muster. "I think he's looking for a new wife."
J.W. Cowell of Scranton paid $250 for the VIP package, primarily for the opportunity to rub elbows with the cast at an exclusive Friday-night session.
He considered it money well spent. "I'm a townie," he said. "It's great to mingle with the stars."
"We don't get very much in Scranton," said his friend Lisa Simon of nearby Jessup. Meaning? "We get nothing," she said emphatically.
In the end, that may be why this dysfunctional relationship has lasted so long. Scranton knows it's not in on the joke; it is the joke.
But it's still happy to be here, sharing the last laughs.
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