I was thinking about Matthew Broderick today, discussing with a friend whether or not Broderick is a comedian or a good actor capable of memorable comedy when given the right script. We determined he’s a good actor and decided Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was his funniest film, and most memorable. Seriously, start naming Broderick films you can remember without having to Google them, and see how far you get.
I don’t know a single person who doesn’t like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and everyone has favorite scenes—is it the one where Principal Rooney gets nasty on the phone because he thinks he’s speaking to Bueller? Is it the one where his sister flirts with creepy Charlie Sheen at the police station? Or is it the parade scene? Or maybe the scene where Rooney, mauled by the guard dog and worn down by a day of hunting for the truant Bueller, is forced to ride the school bus home? I love them all. I love the scenes in Chicago. I love the notion of taking the day off and doing something unusual with no plans. I generally love Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
In 1980 and '81, I was living with my parents in Northwest Indiana and taking classes at a branch of Purdue University. Every day, I would climb into a car with other girls my age who formed a car-pooling team, and we would take the toll road for our short drive to Michigan City for school.
Every day, we would pay our toll, pull away from the booth and accelerate toward the right. And nearly every day, I would wish we could go left instead toward Chicago, especially on sunny days with blue skies and soft breezes.
I would say things like “Whaddya say we go to Chicago for the day instead,” or I'd chant "left, left left" until it was clear I was being ignored, or I’d suggest we plan on taking a holiday the next day so we could plan ahead a little, but no one in the car would take the bait.
They were a straight-laced bunch, National Honor Society types who did not bend the rules or cut classes or do things like head left toward Chicago on a whim. There were tests to excel at and notes to take and expectations to meet. Every day, those girls would look at me and shake their heads and make me go to school. You take your holidays during scheduled times when everyone else is on break. You do not just take a day on your own, was their rule.
A couple of years later, I had transferred to a school in the city, a small school within walking distance of Lake Shore Drive, Michigan Avenue, Old Town and State Street. I took one look at my surroundings and wondered how I might manage a day off, thinking it would probably be easier than when I was trapped in the Buick with the right-and-wrong crowd.
I made friends with people who knew the value of playtime, and we played. I took the day off to go to a Cubs game with Wendy. I cut class to sing songs in the garden of the Art Institute with David. I spent the day at the beach with Gina, or sometimes we’d sneak a clove cigarette or two at the Lincoln Park Zoo. We saw parades and bought books and had lunch and lay on the roof to look at the clouds.
This all may be why I left school on academic probation, but I learned so much during my time there. I did learn some things in classes, but I think my main lesson was that it’s OK to go left toward Chicago now and then. The sky won’t fall if you do, and you won’t regret the things you’ll see and the experiences you’ll have when you take a day off.
Back to Matthew Broderick—a few years after my days in Chicago, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was released, and I cheered on Ferris at every turn, pulled for Cameron to lighten up and go for a ride and I wished those car pool girls had taken my advice just once back in the day. Imagine the fun they would have had.