Pleasant Surprises

October 18, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

Technology gives us greater control over our lives. You can decide who you want to be with, ignoring the people in the same room with you and instead texting or IMing your friends. You can get the movies, shows, or music you want, untethered from the arbitrary schedules and playlists of media outlets. In Tyler Cowen’s title phrase, you can Create Your Own Economy.

The price we pay for control is surprise. You can’t tickle yourself. You can’t surprise yourself.*

Last Saturday in Central Park, I was watching the singer who sets up with his guitar at the western edge of the boating pond. His name is Dave Ippolito, and his repertoire is what you’d expect from a guy with only an acoustic guitar – James Taylor-Dylan-Elton Johnish stuff, plus his own songs – and people sit on the bench and the grassy slope to listen.

Nearby, on a spit of land that juts out into the pond, there’s a open area with a gazebo, and in the warm weather, wedding couples often take photos there. If the wedding party is small enough, they can have the ceremony there.

Last Saturday, a couple had just done their wedding at the gazebo, and to leave the park they came walking up the paved path, crossing in front of Dave. He stopped singing. “Wait a minute,” he said, “did you guys just get married?” They nodded. “Here. I’m going to play something just for you, and you can have your first dance right here. OK?” They looked at each other, then at the wedding party trailing behind them on the path, and they agreed. He segued into “Can’t Help Falling in Love With You,” and the couple danced.

Then Dave invited the others in the wedding party to dance, and soon the path on that side was filled with well-dressed couples.

At the end of the song, Dave said, “C’mon, anyone who wants to, you guys on the grass, everyone dance. He started another tune. And there we were, the wedding guests in their nice clothes, the rest of us in our jeans and sneakers.

Weddings are usually carefully planned – the guest list, the clothes, the flowers, the music, the food – and scheduled fairly tightly so that everything goes well. But I wonder what that couple and their guests will remember about their wedding day. Will it be all those elements they planned? Or will it be the ten minutes of surprise, when, on their way out of the park, they were dancing to music they’d never expected and with other couples they’d never met?**

*You can’t give yourself a surprise party. Usually, when people say that they surprised themselves, it means they tried something new and unpredictable – that is, they gave up control and predictability. And giving up that control allowed them to discover something new and positive about themselves.

** I also wonder whether this is an “only in New York” kind of surprise. Is there something about the city, where diverse sets of people intermingle in the same space, that makes for more of these spontaneous moments?


PCM said...

I don't think it's unique to New York, but it is unique to pedestrian or bike friendly cities. It can't happen if everybody in a group is driving their own car and isolated and not able to stop suddenly and change plans.

And you also need public spaces.

Being in the open opens the possibility to such happenings. Necessary but not sufficient, I believe is how we like to put it.


This is so beautiful.. brought smiles..and it's marvelous how you captured it!! Merci for shaing such a wonderful event!