A few years ago, I was walking down Sixth Street in Austin at about 1 am on a Saturday night. Sixth Street is the main thoroughfare of bars in Austin. Sort of like Bourbon Street in New Orleans or Beale Street in Memphis. It is the place where people go to have a good time. At least that is the intention. What happens though (or what I observed) was at about 1 am, people start to get desperate. Their expectation of the good time is slipping away. They aren’t having fun. It’s loud. Their date seems to be looking elsewhere. They had such hopes for this evening. And now….
So they order another drink. They flirt more aggressively. They shove some guy who is standing a little too close. The night starts to spiral out of control. But wait, maybe this is fun. Maybe this is the good time we were promised. Maybe, yeah, maybe I’ll punch that guy, grab that girl…
What I observed was what Robert Schenkkan calls the greatest instigator of human misery: hope. Only in that alcohol sodden environment, it was expectation, not hope, that instigated a kind of misguided desire for excitement at any cost. As each person’s expectation began to deflate, they turned themselves inside out looking for fun. The alcohol made it easy.
I stood and watched it happen again and again, careful not to catch anyone’s eyes and be drawn into their desperation.
I am thinking about this night as today is New Year’s Eve–fun night central. It seems odd to say, set your expectations low on a night when we are supposed to go out and have a blast. But try it. Enjoy the small moments. A smile. Candle light. The sound of laughter. A guitar medley. Feast on them.
Happy New Year.