Let me just put this out there. I like people watching. Not the creepy “where are those binoculars” kind, but the “sitting on a blanket in the park” kind. You know, you’re sitting on the grass, eyes closed, letting the sun wash over your shoulders. You hear a couple of kids shriek happily. So you open your eyes and watch as they play tag with their dad. A few feet over, standing near a picnic table are two high school boys trying desperately to impress a couple of girls. And a sweet older couple walking slowly, hand in hand. That kind of people watching. Little moments that are stories in of themselves.
Generally speaking, we spend so much time watching TV shows and movies that we forget that we have our own stories. Not that these stories are as exciting. Right now my story is sitting in my robe and slippers with my dog snoring lightly next to me as I type. Yeah, not exactly riveting television. But nonetheless, my story has moments when I feel as though someone is going to jump from the bushes yelling “you’re on Candid Camera!”
In the past I have shared my crazy stories with my friends who have often said that I needed to share the crazy with the world. Write a book or a blog or something. And for a while I thought about it. I’ve had plenty of crazy stories. The lady who assumed I was an employee of Target while I shopped, because I was wearing khakis. Or the guy who thought I sold him a laptop (never sold one in my life) and he was upset it stopped working after two days, because he didn’t know that you have to charge the battery. And the 5-year old kid who asked me on date while I sipped coffee at a shop because his dad sent him over, only for his dad to loudly tell his child “no, the pretty one”. But we can talk about those later. The thing is that for each one of those stories is one about the old man who stopped to enjoy a walk in a fresh snow fall with me, or a little girl in the restaurant who wanted to “adopt” me.
So I decided that if I was going to write about any of the crazy things, I would also write about the charming. After all, the world isn’t filled with only moments when you want to smack your hand to your forehead. There are plenty of times when a stranger’s actions will bring a smile to our face or stop us long enough to pause in our busy day.
Which brings me back to the people watching. About a year ago I traveled to London to visit a few friends studying and living there. Incredible city by the way, very much worth repeat trips, if I can manage. My first day was spent just getting settled, but my second was a day ready for exploring the street and sounds of the city. My hotel was only a few blocks from Victoria station and as it would be several hours before I would meet my friend, I decided it was a perfect time to wander the city streets and get lost in them. I write this with sincerity, I feel this is the best way to see any city. The tourist sites can be wonderful, but you only get a true feel for a city by visiting the places that are off the beaten path. So, after a cup of coffee I took hold of my map (in case got REALLY lost) and set out just turning onto random streets and taking in a sun-dappled Sunday morning. After several turns I paused at a local corner store for a fresh and fragrant nectarine (how could I resist?) when a kindly and slightly Egyptian accent called out “are you lost? I help you find the way”.
Before I could utter an answer he was at my side, pointing at my map and telling me it was “no good” insisting on getting me a safer, more reliable one. He called over to his son in a lyrical foreign language, who in turn answered something about “Dad not again, we open in 10 minutes.” He rolled his eyes and waved his father off.
Telling me that he wouldn’t allow his daughter to have such a bad map in a strange city, he insisted on treating me to a coffee at a cafe up the street where I could get a better map. I’m still not sure why I agreed, and walking along the sidewalk I was briefly concerned that my dad would have to break out into his best Liam Neeson impression about having a very particular set of skills. However, when we reached the cafe the barista behind the counter smiled and told me this was his favorite thing. Coffee with a stranger. So we ordered our coffee and selected a table in the cozy courtyard, one filled with the floral fragrance of a late October in London. He asked me about what brought me to England, what I did for a living, what did I do for fun? My unusually quiet self just gave short answers, keeping mostly quiet, when he smiled and said “I like Americans. You work too hard and don’t rest enough. Also you Americans are scared of everything.” He told me of his holiday in America, how he loved talking with the people he met. People, he told me, are what make him happy. His favorite thing to do, whether at home in London or away, is to talk to people. Learn their story. He came to London as a teenager with his family and settled there. Some of his family lived in other places, but no matter where he went people always fascinated him.
I didn’t tell him too much, just that recent life events had encouraged me to travel as I have always wanted to do. That I too enjoyed listening to accents, casually watching people, and taking in the essence of the places I visit. Most importantly I said, I think that you find the best food in a city at the local mom-and-pop eateries. He openly laughed at that and gave me a few recommendations, one of which turned out to become a daily stop while I was there. We chatted about life, people, and the universe for about an hour.
Our coffee cups, having been drained of their hot brew, sat on the table as we stood to bid the cafe farewell. Looking back I rather wish I had filled them again. He walked me to Victoria station and told me that from that starting point I would find all I wanted and more. He took my hand in his, bidding me safe and happy travels. Before letting go of my hand, he told me the best spot to watch people would be near the river, just by the Parliament buildings. A perfect spot to observe a blend of locals and tourists.
I must say, he was right. I enjoyed a relaxing and meandering stroll along the Thames, seeing the sights for the rest of the mid-day before getting a cup of hot tea and sitting near the steps of Westminster Abbey. From there I could hear the music of several different languages spoken around me. Children begging for sweets and treats, and watching more than a fair share of people using selfie sticks to capture a moment. Couples walking their dogs and enjoying the afternoon. Meanwhile I myself captured a few quick shots, sans selfie stick, before soaking in the atmosphere.
We all have stories, some sweet and surreal like this one, and others are…well…crazy. But I’ll save one of those for another day.
One thought on “People Watching”
Waiting to read more of your stories, Amberjeansz!