I thought about naming this post “Great Expectations,” but I didn’t want to deal with angry, disappointed Dickens groupies, asking about ruin in the Victorian novel.
But this post IS about expectations. Here’s a tale as old as two years ago, during my “wild” college days in Buenos Aires. The story has all the makings of a mediocre film: late night adventures in a foreign city, a charismatic group of friends, and a chance at love.*
I don’t remember all the details from that night, but I know it was a strange one.
A friend had invited us to watch his host brother’s band play at a bar across the city. Young, excited, and gullible, we accepted the invitation.
We got on the subte, all dressed up in our Friday best. As we emerged somewhere else in Buenos Aires, the city buzzed with excitement. The night promised adventure. Our hopes were set on good music and the best Buenos Aires could offer.
So I guess, I’m not sure at what point we found ourselves on a dark street, walking down a dark alley. No good thing awaits at the end of a dark alley. That should have been a clue. We then missed the entrance to the bar and had to retrace our steps through the dimly lit streets. The next thing I remember is a woman leading us down a sketchy hallway…
I knew something was off the moment we walked in.
The crowded room was a pitiful excuse for a bar. Behind a dingy counter, a bartender was giving out cheap beer in large plastic cups. On the other side of the room, a small stage was set up with a few band instruments. And between the stage and bar, gracing the room with their welcoming scent, were hordes of teenagers. Okay, maybe not hordes, but like A LOT of teenagers. A few older people, presumably parents, stood awkwardly by with cameras. Surely, they too were questioning the life choices that had led them to this moment.
Perhaps unbeknownst even to himself, my friend had neglected to mention that his host brother was in high school. Which meant that we were not going to watch a slick, hipster, unknown band perform. Instead, we braced ourselves for something out of a Disney Channel movie, except with people who were actually 15.
We instantly felt old and overdressed (or at least, I did). My age felt like an itchy wool sweater, and I could feel each one of my twenty years weighing on me. Hot and uncomfortable, I felt incredibly out of place wearing my metaphorical woolly-age-sweater, and I wished I had worn something a few years lighter. I recognize that I wasn’t that much older, but a lot stands between high school and college. Like in my case, ten fly-over states.
We pushed our way through the crowd and found an empty row of seats towards the back. Someone in the group decided to brave whatever was in those plastic cups, while the rest of us wondered how many bands we would have to endure before we could leave. The first performance was just a boy and his guitar. Dressed in all black, he sat alone on the stage, with a sole stage light on him. He closed his eyes and started singing. Every muscle in his face strained with emotion, and each emotion was captured on tape by his mother, sitting in the front row.
He looked the part. He sounded, well, not the part. The guy was terrible. So much so, I hoped he couldn’t hear the snickering and muffled laughter in the audience. However, my sympathy waned with each terrible note, as his voice traveled to places not advisable by the State Department. He was oblivious to this of course. Lost in his music, he seemed legitimately surprised when his set was done.
Our band was up next. They were called Cosmo Safari. I thought of poor giraffes, lions, and wildebeests floating aimlessly through space in ill fitting space suits. When their name was announced, the atmosphere in the room changed. The excitement was palpable; or maybe the heat was really getting to my head. And then…we heard them. No, not the band. The mob of crazy adolescent groupies that suddenly apparated** at the back of the bar. They chanted loudly, in a unified sing-song voice:
Then, they sang some more…
The tune was so catchy, I can sill hear them chanting. Years later, I remember them–the thirty kids crowded together, laughing, and yelling. They chanted with such passion and enthusiasm, you would have thought Cosmo Safari was the best band ever.
And we laughed too. I think we even joined the chanting.
Cosmo Safari didn’t let down their fans. For a high school band, they were pretty good. They sang with all the rawness and boldness of youth. No, they weren’t the best, but they were memorable. That whole night was memorable, which is honestly surprising considering we left the bar feeling rather disappointed. The night was neither the adventure we wanted nor expected. Perhaps that’s why I love this somewhat uneventful story about a few clueless American college students wandering into a high school band concert. The story captures the gap between expectations and reality, between the narratives society sells us and the story we actually live out. Sometimes we forget our lives are not movies.
*Sorry, I lied about the whole love story line. Then again, this post is about failed expectations, so it works out.
**I heard a loud crack (maybe). Apparition was the only logical explanation.