I can’t help myself, I like to watch people. And I have a message for them – I see you and I’m taking note. Does that make me creepy? So be it.
Andrew Carnegie, the multi-gazillionaire steel maker, once said, “As I grow older, I pay less attention to what men say. I just watch what they do.” And what people do can be fascinating.
I sit in a coffee shop most days, for hours sometimes. I work from there, scribbling articles and stories about lord knows what, usually baseball. Frequently I’m helping a client fix their website. But, I am working dammit. People don’t get paid to stalk.
As I sit there, I’m afforded a front row seat for the lives of many people. Many of them are regulars, and they’re fascinating in their habitual existence: same time, same drink, same seat. Occasionally there’s a friend who serves as their prop – someone to talk to, to bounce their words off of.
Those words ricochet through the coffee shop and land on my lap. Or maybe “on my laptop” makes more sense. Often I can’t help but be witness to important moments. Like the time a man proposed to his girlfriend right behind me. He had balloons and flowers, too. She wasn’t as surprised as he thought she would be (women know everything). She still said yes.
Or there was the time a man was sitting on the couch with a woman in a cozy configuration. Leg touching leg, arm over arm, leaning into each other. Enter woman #2, at which point “mocha hit the fan” so to speak. Woman #2 ordered her coffee first (well the lines can get long) and then marched up to the poor sap. She apparently felt “You’re an asshole” was an appropriate greeting even though there was a group of 10-12 year old kids sitting nearby.
The coffee shop is an excellent setting for couples. It’s easy to tell when a break up is underway. One person is doing all the talking and the other person’s jaw slowly tightens. Usually a coffee is wasted too, as the person getting dumped ignores their latte.
Many times there are first encounters. People who previously had only exchanged winks, pokes, or nods on a dating site or Facebook are now sitting in the coffee shop hovering behind their plastic coffee cups. Nervous fidgeting, giggles, hair-tossing, and uncomfortable dialogue follows. I’d say based on my observations that 1 in 3 of these dates goes well. Usually the girl has to go somewhere and cuts it short. A few times, though, I’ve witnessed a couple perform the “getting-to-know-you, getting-to-know-all-about-you” ritual for hours. They might close the place. Both afraid to suggest a next destination, but secretly wanting to go home with each other.
Of course there are the weirdos and less fortunate, too. A burnt out drug addict who comes in and asks for hot water so she can make her own tea from Lipton bags she keeps in her purse. She can’t control THE VOLUME OF HER VOICE, and she’s asked to leave. It happens almost every time. There’s a quiet old homeless man who falls asleep in the leather couch. He and I make eye contact every now and again and I can’t shake the feeling that he’s silently asking me to give him my gloves.
There are young people, so many young people. Always in packs, groups of 5-10. Some of them are polite, some of them are so squirrely that they are incapable of sitting still long enough to drink their hot chocolate. Usually there’s one kid who seems to be the keeper of the money. “Cmon,” one skinny skateboard-toting boy says, “buy me a drink.”
The girls are different, they squeal and gesticulate about their lives, making it seem to an outside that they actually have lives. Of course, they don’t. They’re like walking Facebook statuses – searching for their friends to LIKE them, to validate their every move.
I have a few favorites. There’s a man who conducts his job interviews in the coffee shop. Once a week he has some eager soul sitting across from him, hoping to land a job. The man does all the talking, he’s so fucking narcissistic. Not surprisingly, he’s also full of shit. The job is for phone sales, which is the same as saying, “You’ll still be unemployed but I want you to call people and talk about my shitty product.” I still like this man, though. He repeats the same thing to every one of his potential “employees”. It doesn’t change, he doesn’t change, the outcome is always the same. Just like the backdrop in the coffee shop.
I like the people who work there. I get a kick out of seeing them day after day, seeing them rise and fall as we all do. One day they’re employee of the month, the next they’re bitching about the boss. That’s the way it goes. That’s life. They get to know me, they have no choice, I’m there a lot. They watch me from the other side – from the opposite side of the counter – and they make notes about me. But that’s fair, I don’t mind. I get my material, and the least I can do is be that strange regular who always orders his chai with vanilla and skinny.
They know I’ll be back the next day, and they’re right.