Paper Towns

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Ben Starling Character Analysis

Quentin’s best friend. Ben is goofy, frank, and often insensitive, but he is sincerely loyal to his friends and supports Quentin in his search for Margo despite having little personal interest in the mission. Like his friends, Ben begins the novel as an outcast. He wants badly to fit in and be liked, but ends up being the butt of many of his classmates’ jokes. When he begins dating Lacey, however, Ben finds himself included among many of the popular kids who tormented him in school.

Ben Starling Quotes in Paper Towns

The Paper Towns quotes below are all either spoken by Ben Starling or refer to Ben Starling. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Perception vs. Reality Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Speak edition of Paper Towns published in 2009.
Part 1, Chapter 1 Quotes

It was so pathetically easy to forget about Chuck, to talk about prom even though I didn’t give a shit about prom. Such was life that morning: nothing really mattered much, not the good things and not the bad ones. We were in the business of mutual amusement, and we were reasonably prosperous.

Related Characters: Quentin Jacobsen (speaker), Ben Starling, Radar, Chuck Parson
Page Number: 18
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, Quentin describes the ordinary day leading up to his adventure with Margo. Before Quentin becomes entangled with Margo, he lives a life almost entirely without extremes. He has few troubles and no great sorrows — but at the same time he has no real sources of joy. Quentin captures the mild emotional power and low stakes of his life when he describes his activities, including his relationships with his best friends, as "amusement." Though he seems successful on paper — he has friends and a social life, good grades, and has been admitted to an elite university — his life is emotionally shallow.

This moment, like a calm before a storm, will provide a contrast with the strong emotions and powerful ideas Quentin will encounter as he delves more deeply into Margo's world. His deepening love for and understanding of Margo will help Quentin better appreciate the relationships and experiences he has always taken for granted, and challenge him to evaluate his life with a more critical eye than ever before, disrupting his contentment and shocking him into a deeper and more intense experience of life.

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Part 2, Chapter 9 Quotes

YOU WILL GO TO THE PAPER TOWNS
AND YOU WILL NEVER COME BACK

Related Characters: Margo Roth Spiegelman (speaker), Quentin Jacobsen, Ben Starling
Page Number: 149
Explanation and Analysis:

Quentin, Radar, and Ben find this proclamation spray-painted on the wall of the abandoned strip mall where they expect to meet Margo. Since they discover the message shortly after their encounter with the dead raccoon, it forces them to once again consider the possibility that Margo may have taken her own life (or be planning to do so). The assertion that she will "never come back" is frightening for Quentin and his friends. 

Later, in Agloe, Margo explains to Quentin that her escape to the "paper town" — the imaginary place that became real — was intended as the symbolic first step in transforming herself from a "paper girl," who lacks substance and self-definition, to a real person who can live with purpose and conviction. Though Margo never intends to commit suicide, as Quentin fears she might, she believes that the part of herself that hungers after praise and popularity and the good opinion of other people must die before she can live an authentic life. With her spray-painted proclamation, Margo commits to the destruction of that part of herself. 

Part 2, Chapter 14 Quotes

“You know your problem, Quentin? You keep expecting people not to be themselves. I mean, I could hate you for being massively unpunctual and for never being interested in anything other than Margo Roth Spiegelman, and for, like, never asking me about how it’s going with my girlfriend — but I don’t give a shit, man, because you’re you.”

Related Characters: Radar (speaker), Quentin Jacobsen, Ben Starling
Page Number: 194
Explanation and Analysis:

When Quentin, frustrated when Ben refuses to discuss new information about Margo's disappearance, declares Ben an "asshole" during a conversation with Radar, Radar chastises him for refusing to accept that Ben is a person with his own values and priorities, which may not always align with Quentin's. He encourages Quentin to focus on the things that make Ben a worthwhile person and a good friend, rather than on his shortcomings, and suggests implicitly that this is the only way relationships can be successful: that everyone has flaws which might make them unbearable to be around if those were their only characteristics, but that no person is defined entirely by their flaws. 

This conversation with Radar is part of Quentin's long journey to become a more compassionate and humane person — not  just with regard to Margo, but with regard to people who seem much more ordinary and less deserving than Margo. Ben is not the exciting, complex, intellectual person Margo is. He cracks immature jokes and craves the acceptance of his peers. These qualities make him easy to dismiss, but Radar urges Quentin to extend his compassion to Ben rather than reserving it for people who seem "special" and therefore worthy. 

Part 2, Chapter 16 Quotes

I couldn’t help but think about school and everything else ending. I liked standing just outside the couches and watching them — it was a kind of sad I didn’t mind, and so I just listened, letting all the happiness and the sadness of this ending swirl around in me, each sharpening the other. For the longest time, it felt kind of like my chest was cracking open, but not precisely in an unpleasant way.

Related Characters: Quentin Jacobsen (speaker), Ben Starling, Radar, Lacey Pemberton
Page Number: 215
Explanation and Analysis:

Since the beginning of the novel, Quentin has maintained a cool, critical distance from the experience of finishing high school: he refuses to go to prom, balks at the sentimentality of his parents and peers, and takes a laissez-faire attitude toward the graduation ceremony itself, ultimately skipping it to drive to Agloe in search of Margo. In this scene, attending a laid-back party with his friends and acquaintances from the school band, he allows himself to feel emotional about the coming transition for the first time. The fact that Quentin allows himself this moment of authentic feeling—after months, or possibly years, of acting aloof and disinterested in order to maintain some semblance of being "cool"—is a sign that he is developing a more mature understanding of himself and the people around him. After working so hard to understand Margo and break down the barrier of her larger-than-life persona, Quentin is coming to a greater appreciation of the power of sincere emotion in an anxious, inauthentic world. 

Part 2, Chapter 17 Quotes

“I know you want to find her. I know she is t he most important thing to you. And that’s cool. But we graduate in, like, a week. I’m not asking you to abandon the search. I’m asking you to come to a party with your two best friends who you have known for half your life.”

Related Characters: Ben Starling (speaker), Quentin Jacobsen, Margo Roth Spiegelman
Page Number: 211
Explanation and Analysis:

When Quentin declines Ben's invitation to a casual party at Radar's house, Ben offers this firm but uncharacteristically gentle argument to convince him to attend. Ben never really becomes emotionally involved with the search for Margo, and on more than one occasion refuses outright to help Quentin chase down new clues. In light of this, his sympathetic recognition of the fact that Margo is "the most important thing" to Quentin becomes a gesture of solidarity and understanding.

Though Ben is not always the kind of friend Quentin wants him to be, this conversation shows that Ben is trying to be the kind of friend Quentin needs: understanding and compassionate, not jealous or resentful of the fact that Quentin spends more time searching for a girl he barely knows than relishing his last weeks with his best friends, but also protective of Quentin's happiness and psychological wellbeing. Ben wants Quentin to have a normal end-of-high-school experience, and to take the time to reminisce and appreciate what he has gone through.

In some ways, this is also an effort to ensure that Quentin keeps moving forward: that he goes through the normal process of transitioning from childhood to adulthood, because otherwise he risks becoming trapped in this moment, too obsessed with Margo's disappearance to go on with his own life. Despite all the ways in which he fails to meet Quentin's expectations, Ben shows himself here to be a genuine friend. 

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Ben Starling Character Timeline in Paper Towns

The timeline below shows where the character Ben Starling appears in Paper Towns. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1, Chapter 1
Leaving Home and Growing Up Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon
...in Orlando, arrives at school on a Wednesday morning. He learns from his best friend Ben Starling that another of their friends, Radar, has made plans to go to prom with... (full context)
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Ben and Quentin meet Radar in the hall. Radar deflects conversation about his relationship with Angela... (full context)
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During lunch, Ben admits he wants to go to prom even though Quentin thinks the idea is stupid.... (full context)
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Talking with Radar after lunch, Quentin and Ben tell him about their conversation with Angela. They tease Radar about the real reason his... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 7
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...log-in information for the school directory. Radar doesn’t pick up his phone, so Quentin calls Ben — who knows all of Radar’s passwords and is groggy, but cooperative — and gets Chuck’s... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 1
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Leaving Home and Growing Up Theme Icon
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...from the parking lot, but is not troubled. He and Radar talk about prom, until Ben arrives and asks Quentin’s reason for calling him the night before. Quentin points out Chuck’s... (full context)
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Quentin is exhausted, and falls asleep in his first period class. During lunch, he and Ben sit together in Ben’s car, RHAPAW, a clunky hand-me-down whose name is short for “Rode... (full context)
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After school, Ben drops Quentin off at home. Quentin notices that Margo’s car is not in her driveway,... (full context)
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That night, Ben calls Quentin to report the rumors that have begun circulating about Margo’s absence: that she... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 2
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Later that night, while Quentin and Ben are playing a video game called “Resurrection” in Quentin’s room, Jase and Chuck arrive at... (full context)
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After Jase and Chuck leave, Ben and Quentin go back to playing “Resurrection.” Ben soon falls asleep, and Quentin is left... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 3
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Ben, who has been sleeping upstairs since the night before, emerges from Quentin’s room. Quentin tells... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 4
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...Warren to leave the house. When all the adults are finally gone, the boys collect Ben — who has been upstairs playing “Resurrection” while Quentin and Radar keep watch — and... (full context)
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Quentin shows the album to Radar and Ben. They take the album from its sleeve and are disappointed to find that there is... (full context)
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...searching for a book of Whitman’s poetry among Margo’s things. He finds nothing useful, but Ben notices a copy of Whitman’s book Leaves of Grass on the bookshelf. Radar is sure... (full context)
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...to Quentin’s house, and after paging through Leaves of Grass without finding any obvious clues, Ben and Radar go home. Quentin spends the rest of the afternoon reading the longest poem... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 5
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...for not telling her about Jase and Becca. Lacey insists she knew nothing, and tells Ben and Quentin that she has just broken up with her boyfriend because he was hiding... (full context)
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...to New York, but finds nothing of interest. A few minutes into class, he sees Ben doing a victory dance outside the classroom door — Lacey has agreed to go to... (full context)
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At lunch, Quentin finds Ben and Lacey waiting at his locker. Lacey tells Quentin that Margo never allowed people into... (full context)
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...lectures the class on Moby Dick. After class ends, he sits in RHAPAW waiting for Ben and Radar to finish band practice and wondering what Margo might be doing in New... (full context)
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...Margo’s next clue. He wonders whether Margo was trying to make a comment about close-mindedness. Ben says Radar is overestimating the complexity of Margo’s clue, and that the highlighted lines are... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 6
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Quentin, Radar, and Ben return to Jefferson Park. Ruthie lets them into Margo’s room, and they remove the lock... (full context)
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Quentin and Radar follow Ben back to his house. They play video games and discuss Margo. Ben insists that Margo... (full context)
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Quentin knows Ben’s idea is ludicrous, but he finds it oddly compelling. Still, he cannot stomach the idea... (full context)
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...he has always found routine and boredom comforting. As he goes about his routine after leaving Ben’s house, however, he cannot help thinking about his refusal to go to New York in... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 7
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Later that evening, Ben calls Quentin. He is preparing to go shopping with Lacey, to help her pick shoes... (full context)
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Thinking about Ben, Quentin’s mind wanders to their earlier attempt to remove the doors in Margo’s room. Suddenly,... (full context)
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...and discovers that the place to which it refers is 34.6 miles away. He calls Ben and announces a plan to drive to Bartlesville Avenue that night. Ben tells Quentin that... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 8
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...a stomach bug. She leaves for work, telling him to call if he needs anything. Ben and Radar arrive shortly after she leaves. They are blasting music, and the three of... (full context)
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Ben tells Quentin they should leave and bring the police. Radar insists they cannot leave until... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 9
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Quentin, Radar, and Ben walk around the back of the building and discover the bloated corpse of a raccoon.... (full context)
Authenticity and Artificiality Theme Icon
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Radar attempts to open a door, but has no success. Ben decides he is going to break through the particleboard covering the windows, and though Quentin... (full context)
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...Hole” painted in orange beside it. In the room beyond, there is another hole. Quentin, Ben, and Radar climb through both holes and emerge into what Ben recognizes as an abandoned... (full context)
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Poking around the room, it becomes clear that Margo is not there. Ben notices a patch of wall that seems to have been recently painted. Under the paint,... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 10
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...Radar tells Quentin to calm down, though he admits that the evidence doesn’t look good. Ben, whom Quentin calls after finishing his conversation with Radar, is dismissive. He believes Margo is... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 11
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...suicide, but Quentin keeps pushing her to think of places Margo might have gone until Ben tells him to leave Lacey alone. (full context)
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Quentin hangs out with Ben and Radar after school, but he declines their invitation to come along to a pre-prom... (full context)
Human Connection Theme Icon
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...her that he has decided to go to prom after all, and that he and Ben will be going stag together. Instead of going to pick out a tuxedo, as he... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 12
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...checks in with his father, telling him that he will be spending the night at Ben’s house after prom. He lays on the floor, looking at the sky through cracks in... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 13
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...wakes up around 3 o’clock in the morning to the sound of his phone ringing. Ben is calling from an after-prom party at Becca’s house. He is extremely drunk, and tells... (full context)
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Quentin arrives at Becca’s house and finds Ben doing a keg stand while Jase holds him up. The scene seems trivial and embarrassing.... (full context)
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Around 5 o’clock, Quentin wakes Lacey. They go upstairs and find Ben carrying a sword made of empty beer cans that have been glued together. Ben tells... (full context)
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Driving home with Ben sleeping in the backseat, Lacey admits to Quentin that Ben “tries too hard” — that... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 14
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The next day, Quentin calls Ben. He wants to tell Ben about his discoveries in the strip mall the night before,... (full context)
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After leaving his message to Ben, Quentin calls Radar. Radar arrives at Quentin’s house a few minutes later, and Quentin describes... (full context)
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Radar suggests inviting Ben to brainstorm and play video games. When Quentin refuses, Radar suggests he should be more... (full context)
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Waiting for Ben to arrive, Quentin asks Radar about Angela. Radar says things are good between them, that... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 16
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After school on Tuesday, Quentin and Lacey wait together for Ben and Radar to finish band practice. The four of them have made plans to visit... (full context)
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...tour of America’s strangest roadside attractions, like the world’s largest ball of twine in Minnesota. Ben repeats his conviction that Margo is in Orlando, watching them look for her. Lacey defends... (full context)
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...never asking Margo why she seemed so depressed. In response, the Carpenter insults Lacey, and Ben gets involved, tackling and punching the Carpenter. Gus and his friends leave quickly. (full context)
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...terrible for never asking Margo about it, or about anything else that now seems important. Ben speculates that the holes in the wall must be places where Margo hung up postcards... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 17
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Driving to the last pseudovision on his list, Logan Pines, Quentin gets a call from Ben. Radar’s parents have left town — a black Santa collector in Pittsburgh has died suddenly,... (full context)
Leaving Home and Growing Up Theme Icon
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...that the Santas are more beautiful and interesting than Radar gives them credit for, when Ben appears in the bedroom. He tells them that Lacey has just kissed him, and that... (full context)
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The party is relaxed, with little drinking and lots of storytelling. Ben, Radar, and Quentin reaffirm their commitment to being naked under their robes at graduation, and... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 18
Human Connection Theme Icon
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...go over. Quentin picks Radar up a few hours later, but they fail to convince Ben to get out of bed and join them. Driving to the strip mall, Radar talks... (full context)
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...that Margo must have used it to plan her schemes and dramatic gestures. Radar and Ben sign on, and Radar announces his new theory: that Margo will return in time for... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 19
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...view the first sentences of up to one hundred Omnictionary articles related to the category. Ben arrives, saying that he and Lacey spent the night plotting different possible routes Margo could... (full context)
Leaving Home and Growing Up Theme Icon
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After school, Quentin decides to clean out his locker while Radar and Ben attend band practice to rehearse the graduation concert. He soon grows overwhelmed by the thought... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 20
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...until, according to the comment, Margo is scheduled to leave Agloe. He calls Radar and Ben, who are at school waiting for graduation to begin. Radar is amazed by what Quentin... (full context)
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Radar and Ben convince Quentin to stop by the school on his way out of town, to explain... (full context)
Part 3, The First Hour
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...the speed they’ll need to travel to reach Agloe before noon the next day, and Ben makes frequent remarks about needing to pee, which are ridiculed and dismissed by his traveling... (full context)
Part 3, Hour 3
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...their first gas station stop, which according to Radar’s itinerary is still two hours away. Ben is now desperate to pee, and since they cannot stop, Radar empties two of the... (full context)
Part 3, Hour 4
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...they will be able to get everything they need — food, gas, and clothes for Ben and Radar, among other things —  in the six minutes Radar has allotted for the... (full context)
Part 3, Hour 5
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...She remarks that she cannot eat the junk food he bought for himself, Radar, and Ben, because it will make her fat. Quentin finally coaxes her into trying a chocolate- flavored... (full context)
Part 3, Hour 9
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...discover, as the hour approaches when they are supposed to trade places with the still-sleeping Ben and Lacey, that they have consumed too much Bluefin to imagine falling asleep. They agree... (full context)
Part 3, Hour 10
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As they prepare for their next gas station stop, Radar and Quentin wake Lacey and Ben. Quentin buys pants and a new t-shirt for Radar, which has the slogan “World’s Best... (full context)
Part 3, Hour 12
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It is 2:40 a.m. and Quentin is driving while Radar and Lacey sleep. Ben sits in the passenger seat. He admits that he is worried about how Quentin might... (full context)
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Quentin is annoyed at Ben for lecturing him. He is about to respond when two massive cows suddenly appear in... (full context)
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As Quentin releases the steering wheel, Ben reaches over and swerves onto the shoulder of the road. The car is spinning as... (full context)
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...determine that, except for a gash in the sliding door, everything is fine. Quentin commends Ben on his heroism, and Ben assures Quentin that he was only trying to save himself.... (full context)
Part 3, Hour 13
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...continue driving, Radar, Lacey, and Quentin marvel aloud at what has just happened. They praise Ben lavishly for his heroism. Ben, embarrassed, again insists he was only thinking of himself. Seeing... (full context)
Part 3, Hour 19
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Quentin wakes up to find Radar and Ben evaluating possible names for the minivan. Ben wants to name it Muhammad Ali, and Radar... (full context)
Part 3, Hour 20
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As they drive through upstate New York, Quentin starts a game of Metaphysical I Spy. Ben’s first clue is: “I spy with my little eye something I really like.” The answer... (full context)
Part 3, Hour 21
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...know about Margo, from the make of her car to the color of her hair. Ben points out that they already know this information, but Quentin does not care. He wants... (full context)
Part 3, Agloe
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...parked outside the barn, and Quentin leaps out of the car and runs to investigate. Ben, Radar, and Lacey follow him into the barn. Inside, they find Margo writing in her... (full context)
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...cavalier attitude infuriates Lacey, who calls Margo a bitch and storms out of the barn. Ben and Radar follow her, but Quentin stays behind. (full context)
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Margo takes Quentin to the motel where Lacey, Radar, and Ben are staying. They promise to call and write, and Quentin says he will try to... (full context)