Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Sitting in a coffee shop...

I love being an anonymous observer.

I'm used to doing a lot of things by myself, which can become boring after awhile, so I've grown accustomed to a great deal of people-watching. And it takes no genius to figure out that in general, people are weird. But then again, so am I. There is no normal. And if there was, it would certainly be boring...wouldn't it?

I remember every winter when I was little we would drive around town and look at Christmas lights, and I loved being able to see inside the windows of people's homes. It wasn't like I was a peeping Tom or a stalker, but I loved seeing just a glimpse into the lives of people I didn't know. Sitting in the backseat, usually next to my sister, we'd ride around "ooh-ing" and "ahh-ing" at all of the great lights and decorations (sometimes singing Christmas carols, if I had my way...), and I'd daydream and wonder about the stories of the people inside those homes. I guess I've always been a little bit curious.

Now as I sit in a coffee shop, I wonder what the people around me are here for. These days it seems that no one is without a laptop in front of them, and it makes me wonder what kind of work they all do. I assume there are businessmen here trying to enter sales calls or complete spreadsheets and pie charts and strategic plans. I can see high school or college students working on assignments together, studying for tests, and writing research papers. I see other people like me who may be simply writing, for work or for no reason at all, about something meaningful or ridiculously pointless like many things I write. I see others engaged in friendly conversation, catching up on their days, talking about relationships, life, and work.

I wonder sometimes if I am the only one so observant of the world around me. Are people watching me like I'm watching them? Is there some innate quality in me that makes me so curious? Of course, I'm not staring them down or listening to their conversations or reading over their shoulders. (However, I can't help but overhear the man next to me as he repeats three times to the person on the other end of his cell phone that he's at "the cof-fee-house...the coffee-house...the c-off-ee-house.") But do people wonder about me as I sit and type on this silly blog about the very things I see around me?

While I like to imagine the stories behind these people's lives, I never go beyond the imagining. There's something about the anonymity of it all that I enjoy. I like to be curious and to pretend I know what these people are about, even though I really have no idea. I'd like to make up stories about who they are and what they do and what they dream about for the world. I'd like to think that the group of people in the corner is strategizing for a business plan they're putting together to do something grandeur to help the community, and the girl by the window talking to her friend about making a college decision will maybe end up on the mission field someday, and the guy next to me reading is just taking some much-needed time away from his family to read his magazine and enjoy a good cup of coffee.

My favorite place to people-watch is the airport. There's something about a person traveling that brings out the curiosity in me. Where are they going? Where are they coming from? Why are they going there? Maybe it's for business (usually the business suit is a dead giveaway...) or maybe it's a vacation (usually the touristy souvenirs, Mickey Mouse ears, or sweatsuits and fanny packs give this away), or maybe it's for a honeymoon (the constant PDA is the giveaway here...). Maybe they have to fly somewhere for a funeral or a wedding or the birth of a baby. Maybe they're going to visit a friend they haven't seen in years or they're going on a mission trip (usually a group in matching t-shirts gives that one away...sidenote: I will NEVER make my groups going on mission trips wear matching t-shirts for this reason...).

No matter where I am, I always wonder about people. There is so much more to a person than what they look like, how they're dressed, or what they're currently doing. Everyone has a story. And it makes me recognize the reality of humanity.

We all have a story. But do we really have the capacity to find out all of the life stories around us? While I enjoy finding out people's backgrounds, sometimes I like leaving it up to my imagination as I sit back and conjure up some unlikely account of their lives.

So here I sit, in the coffee shop.

Just observing


katemcdonald said...

I relate to this post... I am a people watcher too. Mostly now I watch Cohen, but I used to watch all kinds of people...:) I still wonder about people who are driving next to me in cars. I have this weird thought (maybe everyone does this and its not weird) where I try to wrap my mind around how their life is totally unconnected to mine and somehow we are driving on the same road, completely aware of each other, but with no idea of any of the particulars (big or small) about one anoher... it starts to blow my mind and then I stop.

I am crazy, aren't I? Just tell me the truth, Mandy:)

Jenelle said...

I think we people-watchers are a minority, but we're not all that rare. My mom and sisters and I used to go to the mall for the singular purpose of people-watching. We'd buy smoothies at Surf City Squeeze, sit by the fountain, and quietly snicker, smile, or drop our jaws in horror at the things we would see.
I agree with Kate about the car thing. I always marvel at how all of these people ended up going the same direction on the same highway at the same time- starting from completely different places and ending up miles and miles apart. But for a moment, we all had something in common.