Party Car February 5th, 2008

Imagine this situation:

You are sitting on your front porch listening to the gentle sounds of the night, or having a pleasant conversation with your friend, or figuring something out on the guitar.   This is your situation.  If you don’t play the guitar, well, that explains why you’re trying so hard to figure something out.

Enter the party car.  You can hear the bass thumping from two blocks away.  As the car passes, slowly, you have to stop whatever you’re doing because the music is an assault that has driven away all of your other senses. Right now the only thing going on in the universe is the party car.  You see teenagers inside.  The windows are down, indicating not only their disinterest in your quiet little life, but an aggressive self-centeredness that may even be a sly invitation to join the party.

I don’t know about you, but more often than not my reaction in this situation is not particularly generous.  These people are acting like jerks (see “Chumps and Jerks“).  They’re driving recklessly, they have no sense of community, and their taste in music is – not mine.  They are selfish, loutish, ignorant social misfits, and the most bothersome thing of all, they really are having a better time right now than I am. 

The truth is, I’ve been in the party car.  That could be me driving by.  Not recently, but there was a time. 

Phil Connors rode around in the party car for a long time.  We got to see him knock over mailboxes and drive on the railroad tracks.  Because of Phil’s particular situation, he was able to reason that the rights and interests of people other than he were of less importance than his desire to party.  Private property, public safety, even self-preservation were all relegated to a level of unimportance bordering on non-existence. 

But then think about the later Phil, the Phil who fixed flat tires and caught kids falling out of trees.  What would that Phil think of the party car?  What if, right in the middle of his sincerely, warm Groundhog report (the one where he alludes to Chekov) – he’s in a zone, the audience is eating it up, it’s a beautiful moment – some drunk teenager in a party car comes tearing across gobbler’s knob, blasting music from huge speakers that cost more than the rest of the car put together.   Phil’s moment is ruined.  (Okay, I know that, after a gazillion days in Punxsutawney, Phil would have known to expect the car and make appropriate adjustments.  For the sake of argument, let’s say something different Phil did first thing this morning allowed for this particular unfortunate side effect.   Let it go.  Flow with me, here).

Phil knows that there was a time he would have been the guy in the party car.  There was a time that he would have considered anybody critical of the party car to be a prudish observer of life rather than a happy participant. 

There was a time.

But Phil moved on, and so do we.  Growing up, facing repeated encounters with all kinds of people and situations, our perspective changes, our priorities adjust.  Phil can’t – CAN’T – ignore the consequences of his actions anymore.  He can’t un-learn the compassion for others he’s now acquired.  It would be like forgetting how to ride a bicycle.  Can’t.

My opinion?  There is a time for stupidity.  There is a time for self-centered fun.  As a policy you may never actually advocate such behavior, and you might not choose to ever be around it; but would you want to live an entire life without ever having ridden in the party car?    Can you skip that step?  Does the wise, mature young adult who pooh-poohs those idiots actually feel a little resentment: “If I’m right, why are they having all the fun?”

I’m thinking that all of the stages of life could potentially grate against any person currently going through a different stage.  It’s not just finding a way to feel compassion for people you generally can’t stand, but also finding compassion for people who are simply going through a different stage of life than you are. 

Sometimes I’m annoyed by the party car, and sometimes I smile and remember, and sometimes – not often, but on occasion – I jump in my car, crank up the tunes, open the window, and act like a selfish idiot.   Hey, I’m not being obnoxious; I’m spreading the good mood I’m in so that others may share the joy.  Right?  Okay, so maybe I haven’t finished growing up yet.  Sue me.  Or better yet, every now and then, just jump in, crank up the tunes, and go for a ride.


Comment by A Long
2008-02-06 07:31:59

Is it a “party car” or is it a cry for attention? Reminds me of needy youngsters tugging at someone’s sleeve while saying, “Look at me! Look at me!” Or maybe the kids in the car are just coming of age and are posturing for the benefit of the rest of the pack as if to say, “make room for me.”

I have a young relative who is a great kid, but has some adolescent moments. He proudly showed me how he upgraded his mom’s car. He stuffed those big speakers in the trunk. Riding with him was an experience. I think he could have kept the car going on gas money vibrated out of passenger’s pockets.

You are right about the need to appreciate one’s stage in life and cut people a little slack. Maybe we fail to do so because others may not have been similarly generous to us when we were in awkward stages. A shabby excuse.

I believe someone can change and not slip back. While skeptics and cynics may need to monitor such people for slip-ups and backsliding, some of us feel uplifted by such transformations. A fellow I admire is now in his nineties. He has outlived many of those waiting for him to slip up. He has lead a life with at least his share of difficulties. And he is still a generous and caring person. Positive change can happen and it can stick.

Comment by Maho
2015-08-01 07:18:43

Great theme! They played a litlte clip from Punxsutawney Phil’s big day on the radio yesterday, I wonder, why was everyone cheering and applauding for 6 more weeks of winter? I would’ve thought I’d hear sobs and maybe some boos! .

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