Saturday, August 11, 2012

People Watching

Like a painter that goes out into the streets and cafes to capture the pictures of the people around him, so I as a writer find that often I am most inspired when out in the world among people.  Watching their detailed interactions, the nuances of the relationships, trying to capture the moment and the thoughts from their expressions. 

People watching is something I've always loved but I think years as a script supervisor have honed my ability after spending all day watching actors live or on a monitor, seeing one person's ability to state a line clearly and communicate a specific emotion or other actor's inability to emote a most basic line in a way that seemed remotely natural, let alone believable.  

Perhaps that's inspired me or shaped me to write.  Watching for so long people in false situations, I find it now so much more interesting to see the real life dramas that take place on a minute scale in the real world.  

The woman sitting with a laptop at a table outside a cafe, her dog tied at her feet, drinking tea, watching the world and writing at the same time would probably be something I would find fascinating to watch.  If that person wasn't me.    

And so today I'm writing what I'm seeing.  
A cow stands on the corner of the square, greeting pedestrians as they go by, handing out something.  The mascot seems familiar, as if for a local ice cream or dairy company, but the cow seems less than comfortable with her job.  Not ill pleased, exactly, but a little self conscious.  As perhaps one would be as a relatively small person in a cow suit on the sidewalk in a square full of people.  Though I've never seen a self conscious cow before.  

A man sits at the foot of a tree, leaning against his bike which leans against the tree trunk, his dog at his feet, rolling a cigarette and talking to a fellow biker, a female dreadlocked bohemian.  The man cracks his beer as they chat and she opens a letter.  

Early Start by Richard Burel
Tourist and locals alike pick over the fruit and vegetables at the farmer's market. Comparing the nectarines.  This one?  Or that one?  Does it have a bruise?  The girlfriend checks inside the paper bag to see if she approves with the boyfriend's selections.  He puts one back and she selects another one and they move on down the line, reviewing other options.

A few teenagers sit on a bench, chatting and looking at their iPhones.  They smile but not laugh.  The three girls sit together sharing one phone as the boy gets up with his and stands in front to better chat with all of them.  

A man sits on a bench, his backpack next to him, enjoying an alfresco sandwich and soda.  Comfortable in his skin...he people watches even as he is being watched. 

Two young blonde women sit at the cafe drinking coffees, gabbing.  One has sunglasses on her head, artfully placed as to not mess up her hair.  She gesticulates as if telling a story and the friend seems rapt.  It's not funny, but engrossing.  Is it the end of the story or an update to a previous one?  

Two guys join alfresco man on his solitary bench.  He moves his backpack over, but keeping it on the seat to separate him from the other two.  It's a small bench for three good sized men and momentarily awkward, but they settle in.  Alfresco man stops people watching and pulls out his iPhone as if to define that he's definitely on his own and not with them.

A young mother with magenta hair wearing an ill fitting, mismatched track suit pushes a pram through the square, trailing after her even younger looking, head shaven, t-shirt wearing partner.  She seems to be on the verge of yelling at him and he knows it, walking faster ahead, turning back to answer her only when he has to.  She stops halfway through the park to hike up her sweat pants and continues on. 
Tree Shadows by Adebanji Alade
A young couple stops in the middle of the square, carrying overnight baggage and a camera and appear to not exactly know where they are going.   They turn and head to the cafe, seemingly having made their choice for an afternoon snack. 

A young girl in a floaty floral spring dress cools herself with a princess shaped electric fan.  

An elderly couple walk arm in arm slowly through the edge of the park, observing the people at the produce stand.  He in a blue and white striped oxford and she in a red and white striped t-shirt with matching white caps; they seem ready for a visit to the seaside, dressed in summer nautical colors, though the seaside is miles away.  He is mildly stooped, seemingly too much so for what doesn't seem a truly advanced age.  

A double decker local bus carefully threads through the street around the park, momentarily interrupting the flow of pedestrian traffic.

A woman in a medical uniform gets up from a bench, reaching behind for the hand of her companion.  They walk off casually, hand in hand, chatting and smiling, enjoying each other's company. 

A man glides his bicycle deftly into the rack amongst the others chained up and parked.  He locks it efficiently and walks off down the road. To the pub?  To the store?  He is determined and purposeful, a goal in mind. 

A small terrier puppy yips at the corner of the cafe, realizing he had been momentarily ignored and hopeful not to miss his scrap of leftover cake. 

A young woman in hen party bride gear, complete with sash and veil and fancy embellished sunglasses, walks into the square.  She is tall, elegant and blonde, thin and prettily dressed, surrounded by friends, most at least 3 inches shorter, each wearing light summer dresses and plastic leis around their necks.  They stand in the corner chatting as if deciding where to go next.  What to do?  So many options.  It's early, only 3:00, so too early yet to hit the bars, but, then again, you only get married once.  Hopefully.  They slowly wander a few feet off to the corner, not quite yet decided, still on a lumbering exploration.  A friend points down one street, but no decision is made.  Are they lost?  Suddenly another girl comes down the corner street, wearing a similar lei and waves at them.  They recognize her and wave back and immediately the group strides off purposefully toward her.   She knows where they're going and they follow her off out of the square.  So the hen party officially begins.   

The puppy whines again, tail wagging, looking at the people walking in and out of the cafe door, hopeful a piece of cake will drop and he will be gifted with a treat.   

Kingsmeade by Shirley Toogood
Two young men, one heavyset with silver earrings and carrying a large bag, the other tall and lean, wander through the square, chatting amicably. Along with their bags they carry the easy air of student life.

The teenagers on the bench have been joined by even more teenagers.  They have multiplied like rabbits in only a few minutes.  They laugh, showing each other their shopping.  Are they telling adventures of their day?  They don't seem to be in a hurry to go anywhere and instead are working on perfecting their skills at the age old teenager pasttime:  loitering. 

At the same time a large group of teenage tourists, accompanied by an occasional harried looking chaperone, walk en masse down the corner of the square.   

A man sits with his sons on a bench, having a snack, observing the brave pigeons coming towards them.  The older son, standing up, stamps at a pigeon to scare it away.  The mother comes and sits next to her husband, sharing the seat companionably.  As the father speaks, she laughs naturally and gaily, a wide open smile, her head thrown back.   The younger son throws a treat to the pigeons who rush in and attack the lone potato chip.  He is entertained and throws another one until the flock becomes overwhelming and the the big brother steps in again to shoo the birds away.  The snack done, they get up and wander off, the younger brother dawdling behind as he finishes the last of his chips.  He throws the bag responsibly in the bin as he walks away, hurrying to catch up to the rest of his family. 

An elegantly middle aged Asian woman takes the bench they were sitting on and calmly waits.  For what?  She is dressed in all black and everything mid-sized:  a 3/4 length light cotton shirt, mid-length black trousers and gold shoes with a medium sized brown leather purse slung over her shoulder and her moderate length hair casually pulled back in a clipped ponytail.  She observes the birds for a moment out of the corner of her eye, then looks back up and stares off.  Is she waiting for someone or just waiting for time to pass?  She is calm, unhurried.  Her hands rest patiently on her lap, her legs crossed casually.  She sits quietly and still.  Not observing.  Thinking?  Occasionally she seems to focus outward but then her gaze turns off again and she is lost in her thoughts once more.  Suddenly she sees something, or someone, and gets up with purpose and walks off. 

A middle aged man in a white and blue striped oxford shirt and well pressed salmon colored shorts shops with a basket at the farmer's market.  He scans the vegetables, thinking, then picks a large cucumber off the rack.  He continues to look around, as if creating a menu in his head, filtering, choosing, selecting, eliminating.  He hands his basket to the seller, then stands, his right hand resting on the top of his head and yawns, waiting patiently for the total and his bag of completed purchases.

The man with the bike has returned.  He unlocks it and sets off across the park in the opposite direction from whence he had come.  Where has he been?  And where is he going?  Continuing his journey or ending it?  His glasses, balding head, beard, shorts and golf shirt make him an unlikely candidate for a cross country trek; more likely a environmentalist professor biking home, running errands while saving the planet.  

A maitre'd comes up from the stairs of a subterranean restaurant at the far end of the square to rearrange the placard board outside advertising the restaurant's existence.  He looks around at the people momentarily as he adjusts the sign, angling it for the best view from the entire square, as if wishing he could stay in the sun just a moment longer.  He reluctantly turns and heads back down into the caverns of the restaurant, a unenthusiastic nocturnal creature.   

The man in the salmon shorts takes his purchases to a bike, wanders with it to the corner, starts to mount it but then reconsiders.  He walks the bike across the street, over the pedestrian-heavy corner and onto another road.  Finally, he gets on his bike and slowly starts to creep his way up the hill.  

A muscled man in his 30s with a backpack, laptop bag and shopping tote from a clothing store strides quickly and purposefully across the square.  His sunglasses hide his eyes.  The faded eagle tattoo on his arm is in stark contrast to the bright blue of his striped polo shirt.  

A community worker enters the square in his neon yellow vest with a new garbage bag to replace one in an overflowing bin.  He moves slowly, as if happy to do his job today outside in the nice weather.  A car going around the square stops and asks directions, which he happily obliges, pointing the driver around the corner.  He walks around the square, carrying three large bags of rubbish, using his metal claw to pick up the bits that lazy people have dropped here and there.  He is thorough and efficient, unhurried but not lazy.  His movements are of habit and routine, but without the impression of any sense of shame or resentment.   He focuses on what he is doing but also at the same time manages to take in his surroundings and observe.  Watching the garbage and watching the people. 

A group of helmeted lady bikers stand on the corner next to the coffee shop, deciding what to do next.  The tangle of wheels and spokes, chains and people take up a section of the corner, but they are oblivious to the pedestrians trying to make their way around them. 

A elderly black man with a can of beer in his hand wanders around talking loudly to unwilling strangers.  Some acknowledge him, some ignore him.  He asks a middle aged woman for the time.  He asks several times, each time more loudly.  She looks over her shoulder and doesn't respond.  He moves on to a group near the bikers who seem to know him as if he's a local and a regular, as are they, though they come to the square with different intentions...and mind. 
11am Kingsmead Square by Peter Brown
Just when I think there are no more people to watch, to observe, to notate, to write about, another interesting character comes along.  Someone else whose body language and actions are curious, compelling and distinct.  It reminds me that there is beauty and fascination in the normal, in the everyday, in the plebian as much as there is in the extraordinary and unique.

And so, as I walk away from The Society Cafe in Kingsmead Square in Bath, somehow I feel as if I've met all of these people, if for only the briefest of moments.  That by watching them I've gotten to know some tiny, interesting fragment of who they are.  And at the same time I wonder who was watching me?  And what, watching the woman sitting in the corner with the laptop, a now empty pot of tea and an obviously hungry dog, would they be thinking?

1 comment:

  1. Awesome writing!!! People are fascinating! People watching is a must! XO