This story begins with Connie studying for a geography test. That’s right, she’s still in high school and will be for another eight years. If you forgot about Connie’s life outside of Whit’s End, I don’t blame you. The last time we heard her in school was in the episode Go Ye Therefore in Album 4. Maybe that’s one of the reasons Connie didn’t get a regular friend her age until Penny Wise in Album 53, which should be noted happened outside of Whit’s End and at a school. As Connie’s naming off capital cities, she gets to Turkey and I’m pretty sure she says, “Who cares?” instead of the correct answer: Ankara. Either Connie really doesn’t care about geography, or maybe she’s smarter than all of us because the question was to match the Asian countries with their capitals. And Turkey does seem to be on the border between Europe and Asia, so maybe Connie just considers Turkey to be part of Europe and therefore she doesn’t have to name its capital. This episode came out in 1990, so maybe Connie foresaw that Turkey would enter into negotiations to join the European Union in 2005. We may never know what her thinking process was.
After watching a little TV, Connie decides to try something new: have a positive attitude all the time. This is similar to the episode Promises, Promises in which Connie decides to be a better person and exude patience in every encounter. That only resulted in a little blow-up and no harm was done. This time Connie puts a boy’s life in danger. But before it gets to that, Connie is busy embarrassing everyone she tries to help. I don’t know where she gets the idea to use chanting as a motivator, maybe she read it in the book by that doctor on TV, but it gives this episode a bit of a whimsical feel. And it makes Connie sound even more ridiculous, just in case you thought her new attitude strategy was actually going to work. The chant she tells Cheryl to repeat is this: “I can do it. I can sing. I can sing most anything!” You’d need to have a good attitude to shout that proudly with a smile. Both Connie and Cheryl say it a few times and suddenly everything is better and Cheryl thinks she can sing. But unfortunately for her, singing takes a little bit more practice that chanting.
Next we find Jimmy Barclay playing basketball, which is great for continuity because we know from Album 3 that Jimmy’s hero is the basketball star Lightning Livingston. But the first sign of trouble is the fact that the team is coached by Fred Zachary. Not that Coach Zachary is a bad teacher, I don’t think that’s the case, but he does have a long history of being stuck with kids who don’t know what they’re doing. Remember Connie Goes to Camp? That was one hilarious disaster after another for the boys of cabin seven. Maybe part of the problem for the basketball team is that it appears to be composed of only three players—Jimmy, Ben and Peter. Those are the only names we hear. Perhaps those are the only guys who made it to the practice. Come to think of it, Coach Zachery isn’t even at the practice. And Peter isn’t at the game. Those boys need to learn some teamwork. But the chant Connie gives to them is to say, “We are winners!” It’s the least inspired chant she comes up with. Peter gets a far better one (“I’m not afraid. I won’t stop. I can go right to the top!”) which might be why he is the most motivated to succeed out of everyone.
And now that everything has been put into place, Mr. Whittaker shows up just in time to watch Connie’s world collapse around her. They attend the choir audition where Cheryl gives a performance which rivals Jenny Whittaker-Dowd’s intentionally terrible violin solo in The Reluctant Rival. I bet Dan Bryant still has nightmares about that. Meanwhile, Peter Dillon is headed for the train trestle at Miller’s Ravine in order to conquer his fear of heights. And ironically, unlike singing, basketball skills and geography knowledge, this is perhaps the only situation where changing your attitude might actually work. To conquer your inner fears you need to change your perspective. Think of how Shirley beat her fears in the episode Nothing to Fear. She sings praise songs to God, while in this episode Peter chants to himself. But the obvious problem is that he’s focusing on himself and his own strength instead of relying on God. Shirley’s fear of the dark and loud noises is indeed irrational and should be dealt with, similarly to Peter’s irrational fear of heights. But this story raises the stakes over the previous one. Shirley is in a relatively safe environment and just has to maneuver her way around some boxes. But Peter is literally in a life and death situation. There’s actually something to be legitimately afraid of here, and that’s the speeding train coming towards him. Unlike Nothing to Fear, this episode builds enough tension to be exciting while still remaining realistic.
Although he shows up late in the episode, Mr. Whittaker makes some great points about attitude. He says that it’s important to have a positive attitude and high self-esteem, but that it isn’t everything and certainly can’t be substituted for practice and hard work. Despite Whit’s balanced approach, you could argue that this episode goes a little too far in trying to prove its point, almost implying that simply having a good attitude will put you in danger of being killed. But otherwise it tells a compelling story, building up in intensity at a nice pace. I like how the whole thing is finished off with the results to Connie’s geography test, bringing everything full circle. It was nice to have her results come in at the last minute as a cherry on top to top off Connie’s failed attitude experiment. You’d think expect this to be the kind of story that should end with a laugh, although I’m so sure it’s entirely appropriate considering both Whit and Peter were just nearly hit by a train. Overall this episode is very good and has a positive feel to it even at its characters head for a disaster which the audience can see coming a mile away. It gets 4 out of 5 stars.