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A Social Experiment

February 11, 2008

I ran out of gas yesterday.

In my van.

With an entire vanload of kids… including one that wasn’t mine.

I was fairly mortified. I have NEVER run a car out of gas and it’s been a long time since I’ve been stranded for any reason. But I decided to make the best of it. I was initially on a very busy roadway, but managed to put the van in neutral and coast backwards down the hill, flashers flashing, and back into the left-most turn lane on a less-used road that met up with the busy one.

As I was backing onto that road, flashers flashing, I got several angry honks from other drivers, even some screaming and cursing. It was a great testament to the stress levels that people experience while driving. The kids were wide-eyed and wanted to know what we would do.

I assured them that I would call a neighbor who would come with a gas can and we would be out of there in no time. We ended up having to wait for almost an hour before that wonderful neighbor came to our rescue and I thought the kids would get bored. So we conducted a social experiment.

I told them to pay attention to the cars that came up behind us and note the behavior of the drivers while we waited. It was eye-opening.

We had approximately 150 cars come up behind us during the time we waited, flashers going strong, for my neighbor to arrive. Out of that 150, half did not see the flashers at all and sat behind my van, patiently or impatiently waiting for me to move… which was NOT going to happen since I had no gas.

One such driver that particularly amused my crew was a youngster, maybe 16 or 17, that used his waiting time very wisely. He pulled up, right on the bumper of my van, flipped down the visor mirror and proceeded to pop pimple after pimple. The kids had a great time shouting, “Ooooooooooooooooooooohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, that’s gross,” and “Eeeeeewwwwwwww,” at the top of their lungs, betting on how many more there would be.

The back window of our van is tinted fairly darkly, so I’m guessing that he never saw them. After about five minutes of activity, he put his pimple-popping aside and noticed that we weren’t making any progress. I guess he noticed the flashers flashing away, because he went around at breakneck speed and turned the corner on two wheels.

Daphne decided it would be a good idea to note all of these lovely folks on a piece of paper and she started tallying the kinds of drivers we saw. She had a section for “Smart people”, a section for “Rude people”, and a section for “Stupid people.”

While I know that “stupid” is a mean word (thank you “The Game Plan”), it really did fit in this situation. Alas, since I am the mother figure in this little story, and we were also discussing “Rude People” and I did NOT want to fit myself right into that category, I suggested that perhaps “Absent-minded people” or something a little gentler might be better.

She scratched through “Stupid people” and wrote “Not paying attention people”. That worked.

At the end of the wait, the kids had tallied 150 cars, roughly half of which were “Stupid People” “Not Paying Attention People”. Of those “Not Paying Attention People”, roughly half were also “Rude People”, honking, giving us the “You’re Number One” sign with their middle finger, mashing the gas pedal to the floor and glaring out the side window, or whatever.

One actually stopped, rolled down his window, and said, “Are you going to move sometime today?”

I responded, “Flashers are ON,” and smiled a smile I reserve just for people like him.

“Yeah, I just figured that out,” he responded and drove off in a hurry. NOT the sharpest crayon in the box…

The kids did a LOT of eye rolling, waving, and eventually grumbling about the numbers of unhappy people out there. In case you didn’t do the math while I was explaining the numbers above, that’s like 40 people. 40! Unbelievable.

Of the “Smart People”, roughly the other half of the 150, there were only five (count ’em, five) people that actually stopped long enough to roll their window down and ask if we were alright. Now remember, I’m a woman, in a van with five children, stopped in the middle of the lane, flashers going strong. FIVE PEOPLE. Seriously. Is this what the world is coming to?

I guess it is. The kids made another interesting observation about the demographics of people that did stop to check on us. I did NOT add any kind of input whatsoever to this conversation.

From the youngest two, Freddy and Shaggy, came the statement, “They’re all OLD. All those people who stopped were OLD, Mom!”

“Well,” I responded, “They were old-er. They weren’t OLD. They weren’t older than your grandparents are.”

“Yeah, but they were older than you,” came the reply.

“Yes, they were definitely older than me.” It’s true. What does this say about my generation and younger generations? Do we just not care anymore? Do we just not stop to help those in need? Have so many bad things happened that we’re afraid to stop? Are we in too much of a hurry? Do we not notice? What is it?

I felt a twinge of sadness that my kids were learning this very important lesson about the world at such a young age.

Suddenly, Daphne interrupted my thoughts and exclaimed “SMICE. That’s it! SMICE!”

At once, all occupants of the van said, “What?!?”

“Smice,” she repeated. “That’s what those people are who went around us AND stopped to ask if we needed help. Smart AND nice… Smice. ”

“Ahh,” I nodded.

“I think I’ll just hang out with smice people from now on,” she continued.  “It might be hard because there were only five. But those are who I’m looking for.”

I nodded again. “Good call, Daphne… Good call.”

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16 Comments leave one →
  1. February 11, 2008 7:52 am

    That is interesting observation. I loved Daphne’s idea. I hope she is able to find SMICE people her age, maybe she will lead the way back to being SMICE.

  2. February 11, 2008 8:40 am

    SMICE! I love it! Kids make the best observations. It is embarrassing so few people stopped to help, especially with kids at the scene. What a great idea to keep them busy and also help them learn.

  3. Lynda permalink
    February 11, 2008 8:43 am

    I loved this story! Kids are far more intuitive than we give them credit for sometimes. I can see the wheels turning as the younger ones realized that the only ones stopping were “old”! I, too, hope that Daphne is able to stick to her guns and only hang out with SMICE people. I’m glad she has a SMICE stepmom and dad teaching her the core values that will lead her to make such important choices. My guess is that your children, when they are finally driving, will be some of the folks stopping to help a lady who has run out of gas in a van with 5 children in tow.

  4. February 11, 2008 9:11 am

    What a fabulous mom you are – finding something educational and entertaining while making an unexpected stop. Much better than my having my kid help me clean out my glove compartment:)

  5. February 11, 2008 10:29 am

    Wow! What a fantatic experience and a wonderful post. Very nice, indeed.

    SMICE…I love it!

  6. February 11, 2008 10:33 am

    How creative! Talk about making lemonade…

  7. February 11, 2008 10:56 am

    Ahhh, I can just see all the little animated faces engaging in this experiment. Admittedly, though, the batting average for the population at large is not going to win a world series, for sure. I think you made a dent on a handful though! Good job, Mama!

  8. tulips4me permalink
    February 11, 2008 11:26 am

    You didn’t call me because…..?

  9. February 11, 2008 12:56 pm

    See? It’s a ‘moment’ post. Good stuff.

  10. lyndaspix permalink
    February 11, 2008 1:49 pm

    I loved the comment “Talk about making lemonade…”! You’re good at that Steph…really good at it.

  11. February 11, 2008 2:54 pm

    You know what I love about blogging? Something this ghastly can happen to you… and at least you get a great post out of it! Very funny. And interesting. And sad (the other drivers).

  12. February 11, 2008 3:31 pm

    Even when you are telling a story of being stranded on the side of the road you make it not seem so bad and interesting all at the same time! Love your posts Stephanie!

  13. February 11, 2008 7:15 pm

    SMICE people rule. Thank you, Stephanie, for being one of them.

    And I promise to return the bloggy love very shortly. 🙂

  14. February 12, 2008 8:56 am

    Unbelievable that there were only 5 people who stopped to see if you were okay! Seriosuly! So good that you conducted your experiment while waiting. I hope I am considered a SMICE person! I have stopped a few times but only with the hubby along!

  15. February 14, 2008 8:58 am

    What a wise woman you are. You were born to love/teach these kids!

  16. February 16, 2008 4:18 am

    Great post – and I have to say, if I ever run out of gas I hope you and your kids are with me to entertain and educate me along the way.

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