French philosopher and Father of Sociology, Auguste Comte, wrote in his 1830 essay entitled Course of Positive Philosophy that “Human progress consists essentially in the evolution of the moral and intellectual qualities proper to man. Various circumstances facilitate and retard this progress.”
As far as I know, Auguste never said anything about Philadelphia during Spring Break. And yet that didn’t stop me from walking out of Market Street Station late last Saturday, glancing over the eclectic assortment of characters that make up city nightlife, and flashing back to his words on the supreme importance of human progress. I let my mind wander to how Auguste would feel, dressed up in his best suit jacket and looking out over the teeming masses.
I imagined he would have rolled his eyes and thrown up his hands in the middle of Market and 16th street, causing a few early drunks to stumble out of the way.
“Moral and intellectual qualities? Where’s the progress? Where is that person’s pants?!” He would say. Except, you know, in French.
Or maybe Comte would have thrown on some tight jeans and an ironic t-shirt, grabbed his flask, and joined in on the merriment. We’ll never know.
As it happened, Comte was not there, so I smothered the 214 year old philosopher’s voice in my head and refocused on the present. Three of my closest friends were visiting, and I’d promised them a night out on the town. Headed towards Old City, we marched by the beautifully lit Independence Mall, admiring the historical significance while simultaneously getting cat calls from across the street. All of the attention was focused on my friend K, we realized early on. K, unlike the rest of us, had bravely and/or foolishly decided to expose herself to the elements in a very short and very tight dress and heels combination. Spring fever outfit. Various circumstances.
Walking down Chestnut Street, we neared Penn’s Landing and the sounds of impending bars. “You wear them legs, girl!” a tall woman shouted at my friend K as we walked by. The women’s comment was undoubtedly the most empowering we heard all night, and it soon became our Spring Break feminist mantra, meant to give us confidence in any situation. Come on, you can go to the bathroom by yourself, you wear them legs. You don’t need anyone to buy you a drink, girl, you just wear your own legs.
Eventually we found ourselves in a town center of sorts, surrounded by the sight of enticing neon signs, the sounds emerging from the pubs of which there were too many to choose, and the scents wafting out of greasy garlicky pizza joints. Old Citywas crawling with 20-somethings engaging in the fine art of bar hopping. Warm weather brings out the restlessness in people, and being in crowds sometimes makes me nervous. Like what if all the too-cool hipsters and party girls became zombies and chased us through the charming Old City cobblestone pathways? Clearly, it’s a fantasy which begs for some psychoanalysis. As a result of my unease, I turned to theory.
Standing on North Second and looking out over the crowded streets, I considered the present scene and allowed myself to muse. “When did this become the norm? Who are these people? Look at those boys over there. They look kind of emotional. Maybe they’re thinking about the impermanence of youth.”
“Or maybe they’re just really drunk,” my friend L replied.
A car passed, narrowly avoiding the flood of human traffic, and a tall dreadlocked man stuck his head out of the window.
“Hey red jacket—sexy legs!”
“You’re probably right” I sighed, glancing back at L. Qualitative research at a brief rest.
We stepped off the curb with an upscale Irish pub called The Plough and the Stars as our destination, but we were intercepted when a scraggly looking man approached us. What was at first some incomprehensible muttering, eventually turned into an offer to “rap for each of you pretty girls.” The cycle of poverty and the prevalence of street performance, I thought forlornly to myself. What we need is education and engagement, structural redevelopment in order to decrease the income gap that’s so prevalent in urban society. After the man threw down some truly impressive rhymes, considering the fact that the whole show was improvisational, he began to lament on the state of the economy. Talk about some backwards moral and intellectual evolution. I hear ya’ man, I wanted to say but didn’t for fear that it would only prolong the interaction. Really, he wasn’t a case study that I was particularly interested in delving into. Eventually he bid us goodnight, no richer but for our praise.
I can only assume that our attempts at altruism (as coined by Comte), were enough. Although if his quick shift in attention to the girls behind us was any indication, he was still in fact looking for more.
Rap adventure behind us, we made it to our Irish pub. Eventually however, the group dynamics shifted, and we left the safety of dark lighting, candles, and an unspoken agreement to act like adults and made our way to a place called Mad River, which is probably as close as I’ll be coming from now on to a frat party. Beer was being served in plastic cups. The floor was kind of sticky. A DJ was playing Rihanna and a few brave and blessedly drunk souls had taken on the awkward task of being the first to turn the area into a dance floor. ‘Cause I may be bad but I’m perfectly good at it.’ Deep.
I noticed a few employees standing on chairs a few feet off the ground, watching the action from above. Clearly not enacting anthropological fieldwork, I assumed they were there to make sure nothing got out of hand, but I felt a stab of jealousy anyway. I bet the bird’s eye view of this scene was way more interesting and humorous then the view I had, which was at that moment a girl’s back as she attempted to shimmy without falling over.
We endured some more catcalls and I wondered about the misogynistic undertones apparent in rap and R&B music. Someone spilled beer on my shoes. We photo bombed some pictures, and I can only hope that all those people who have our faces peeking out from their photographs went through the shots the next day and got a real of sense of enjoyment, while perhaps giving some serious thought to our culture’s dissolving boundaries between public and private.
As is common in such situations, the amount of fun I was having had a direct correlation with how much cheap beer I drank and the growing level of drunken camaraderie that was inspired. Eventually the DJ put on “Don’t Stop Believin’” and sociological concerns forgotten, we all came together, lifted our beers, and screamed Journey as if our very lives depended on it. We were all wearing our legs, girl. In that sweaty moment at Mad River, I was ready to believe that maybe there was some kind of human progress in the pure joy that was radiating from that small room. I’m almost positive that Comte would agree with me.
Still, I couldn’t help but glance up every now and then and think that the bouncer towering over all of us had the best view; presiding over the sweaty drunken interactions, studying the peculiar mating behavior of over-confident 21 year olds, observing love and the strange framework of action that we call life.
Or maybe he was just looking down everyone’s shirt.