Ah – that thing we do when we’re in a too-long line at the grocery store, or when it’s 0-0 at the bottom of the eighth.
People-watching has always been fun for me, but since I’ve started trying to write fiction, it’s taken on a new twist.
I used to people-watch out of habit, I think. Or maybe it was just an insatiable curiosity about people, and life’s fascinating characters. I mostly people-watched to figure out relationships: I’d be sitting in the roaring heat of a UCLA football game, when the score was too depressing to watch, and decide to watch, instead, a row of seven people, all together. Two would appear to be parents, five adult children. I’d then ponder which of the children were siblings and which were couples. Sometimes I’d get fooled: a young man and young woman would get up to go get snacks, come back together, razzing each other, and I’d think “okay, they’re dating.” But then both would lean in toward the parents with such affection that I’d reassess: “Okay, they might be brother and sister.” A set of three would go off to buy souvenirs and return, and I’d try to figure out if the one girl was dating one of the boys, if they were all friends, if the two boys were perhaps brothers, if the girl was a sister and one of the boys a friend, or … Well, you get the idea.
In more recent years (the fiction-practicing years), I started to people-watch more for nuances, expressions, and unique situations. I watched an elderly gentleman memorizing French flashcards at a coffeehouse; a pretty young woman at a park bench who wore a strange fake silk rose in her hair; a young man trying to feed a toddler at a fast-food place, looking so terribly uncomfortable I couldn’t imagine he was the father (Was he an uncle? An older brother? Babysitting for a day?).
My favorite places to people-watch are baseball games and football games – I guess because you have a couple of hours to figure out the relationships. But malls and movie theater lobbies are fun for catching nuances and unique personalities.
What about you? Do you people-watch? Where are your favorite places?