One of my favourite pastimes is to sit in a coffee shop and watch people. I know that I’m likely not alone in this endeavour, and lately I’ve found this hobby (or game) very instructive. As an experienced student of ‘the human zoo,’ I love to create slices of life, vignettes, if you will, that explain some of my observations. In fact, this is one game my husband and I have always played together, and was one of the qualities that endeared him to me early in our relationship.
For instance, the fellow that walks in, says nothing to the cashier, who says nothing in return, has his money out at the same time the coffee is being poured, and walks away. Has to be a ‘regular,’ right? That one is easy.
How about the customer who arrives with a briefcase, settles in for a coffee, and pulls out his Blackberry. He appears to be working, so no one speaks to him, and he eventually packs up and goes out – to some important meeting where his valued decision will make the world a better place. Or at least make his company some money. But, what if he’s really playing a game on line with global players, and just couldn’t miss the next move? And maybe he leaves this coffee shop only to go to the next, and the next, and really does nothing else all day?
Or the nervous looking man who’s waiting to be joined by a great looking lady, coming in a few minutes later? Is this a clandestine meeting, and they would prefer not to be noticed? What if he’s the attorney settling her mother’s estate, and has to give her the news that there isn’t much left of it for her, or better, that there’s so much that she’ll never have to work again? What if she’s his long lost sibling whom he hasn’t seen in ten years, and he’s finally found her here in Campbell River? We’ll never really know.
Sometimes appearances are not what they seem. The really large workman, who comes in at 8:00 am – is he on his way to work? Then he orders the smallest coffee, corrals two newspapers, and settles in for the day. Or, the very scowly gentleman who ends up entertaining all within earshot with his repertoire of jokes. Or, the young man with his arm in a sling, which is partially covering a T-shirt that says "Crew.” Is he still on the ‘crew,’ or is that how he met with an accident? Maybe he borrowed the shirt!
In fact, after years of playing this game, I’ve come to realize that I rarely actually know what’s going on, but still enjoy the speculation. It’s taught me that even when I think I know what’s going on with others in my life, I may never really know, and that’s just fine. I believe it has taught me how fragile our stereotypes are, to be destroyed so easily. And I’m really grateful for that.