Monday, July 11, 2005

The Ryan Atwood Experience

The first half of The OC’s second season sucked because the best part of the season before was eliminated – Ryan was no longer thrown for a loop by the crazy antics of the Orange County residents. Ryan was what made the show work, because without his control in the experiment of Newport living (not the magazine, just the living), we might actually think the goings on normal and accept them. We understood how a bright, funny, rich, looks-loved-by-the-ladies kid like Seth could be such an outcast (although he does lose points for crazily stalking Summer when he didn’t even talk to her), mainly because we were in the same position as Ryan was when we’re introduced to the army of pill-popping, polo and bikini wearing Harbor classmates.

That’s the Ryan Atwood Experience, when you get a better grip on someone because you put yourself into their surroundings. Had we never entered The OC world with a blank slate like Ryan had, things wouldn’t go together quite the same. It’s the same situation as when you know someone, but you don’t really understand where that person is coming from, no matter how well you think you know them.

The most glaring example of this is when we went to Shane’s first race. I’d known Shane since first grade, and I’d known him really well, but after we went to Dog Hollow to see him race, everything sort of just made sense. His manic little redneck quirks weren’t weird at the track, where he spent the majority of his time, they were normal. All of a sudden, Shane’s camouflage hats made sense when everyone else was wearing old Richard Petty racing shirts and sitting in camo lawn chairs. By the time he’d come out to talk to us wearing his jumpsuit and a young kid walked up to get his autograph, absolutely everything made sense.

And that’s what it’s like when you go to visit the homes of people you visited at school. Sometimes you understand them better, sometimes you just get more confused. I’m pretty sure I know exactly what I’ll walk into when I eventually get down to visit Patrick, because his rambling stories most likely seem tame when compared to a dad who sends a postcard to all of his kids everyday, and never runs out of something to say. Andy MacKrell is slightly clearer to me after visiting his pad, Danny Klee not having a cell phone isn’t too off the wall after hanging out with his family and I hope maybe people understand me a little better after dropping by the Ranchero.

Granted, the Ryan Atwood Experience doesn’t always work. I could make a documentary with Brendan and his family and still not understand how he came to be from that, other than the easy-way-out theory of Mrs. D driving him to yell biddies at every run.

Occasionally, you don’t even need the Experience. Just like Patrick, I’m sure one trip to Boise would make all of Paul’s random cowboy yearnings rational to me, just like a weekend in Cincinnati would show me Tommy isn’t metrosexual and unnaturally tan at all times of the year, he’s just one of the guys spitting his game.

Sometimes, though, the Experience is perfect. How did Christina Ginardi end up her classy self? She went to the Teen Movie High School (seriously, Ferris Bueller was filmed there and it inspired John Hughes to his epicness), is next to an airport-style library and the third-largest city in the country to get her culture on and has some awesome friends, and although I’ve never actually seen them to know if they really exist, traveling-travel-agent parents for a strong base. Again, it all makes sense.

I’m hoping this weekend was a Ryan Atwood Experience for my sister concerning myself and school. My plans of being a stay-at-home dad with a Notre Dame English degree don’t seem quite as off-the-wall when Chad explains his plan of using his potential Theology degree to get into some rapper’s entourage. Why do I constantly oh-pine about Euchre and CornHole? She’s experienced them, and whether it makes sense or not, she’s tasted them at a highly-competitive level.

It’s not just people, either. You visit places, and you understand why people are like they are. Why does Notre Dame still think it’s some kind of football power? Travel there on any home game weekend and try not to get caught up in that. You understand a little better why Red Sox fans are nuts after a trip to Yawkey Way. Granted, I may never really truly understand NASCAR or horse shows, but I’ll work on it in a way that doesn’t involve me actually attending or watching events related to it.

So here’s to you, Ryan Atwood, for persevering the popped collars and tan lines of Newport Beach set an example for us all when we do a little social researching. Your standard will not be wasted.

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