Tuesday, September 14, 2010

People Watching in Starbucks

One of the things I love most about being in the city of Washington, DC is the fact that I get to people watch all the time. I wouldn't say that I have an unhealthy fascination with people watching, but in the silence of the morning bus ride, or the quiet chatter of my new Starbucks haunt on 16th and K Sts, NW, there is something comforting about looking around and imagining the lives of the people around me.

This morning, for example, the man sitting next to me and my double tall skinny vanilla latte this morning had the weirdest hands I'd ever seen. They looked like rubber gloves - reddish and sort of oily, and they were typing furiously on a keyboard that was about the size of his thumbs. It was so weird and funny that I started wondering how he held a fork (did the sweat on his palms make it slip between bites?), held the bar of the Metro car (what if he lost his grip and fell over when the train lurched into Union Station?), or even held hands with someone (I don't know about his significant other, but I don't think I'd want to hold hands with ol' rubber palms). And that led me to thinking about what he did in Washington, DC. I work in lobby land, so if he works anywhere near my office building he probably crunches numbers at a think tank, lobbies Congress with a top DC attorney or possibly reviews political trends and publishes analyses to gain support and funding. He probably got up this morning and went to a small closet in a small apartment in the NW section of the city, chose his pepper colored suit and orange tie and threw his laptop in his messenger bag and scurried onto the Metro, getting off at Farragut North and proceeding straight to my (I really haven't been here long enough to call it that, yet) Starbucks on his way to work. I wonder if he had a good day...

There was a woman on the bus this afternoon whose life I've been imagining since she sat down next to me. She couldn't be more different from RubberPalms. She had a silver Adidas bag as a purse and walked onto the D6 bus chattering into a bejeweled pink LG Dare touch-screen phone. Her tight jeans barely reached the ankles of her colorful pink and silver sneakers, and she had a ripped and shredded T-shirt underneath a leather jacket. Her hair was stick straight and carefully arranged, and I could see small fake diamond hoops in her earlobes.

Her phone rang loudly inside her bag as we were nearing Metro Station and apparently her mother had called. The girl, who I named Adidas, is pregnant. Her boyfriend or the baby's dad (I don't know if they're dating) wants to check on the baby with an ultrasound every month. Adidas thinks that's ridiculous. She does want amniocentesis though, and her doctor to test the baby for "Down syndrome and tri-sonomy... trisomy... treesony 18 or something," because if her baby is sick, she is going to terminate the pregnancy. My eavesdropping hit the pit of my stomach about two stops after Union Station (Massachusetts Ave & 2nd St, to be precise), and I suddenly felt devastated. There is a baby inside Adidas that may or may not be wanted depending on a medical test. There is a lonely-looking guy in the Starbucks. There are faces everywhere of people who are haggard, overworked, sad, frustrated. There IS joy and movement, excitement and a rhythm in this city. But people watching also opens my eyes to difficulties, to cultures I have never known before and to people struggling with life, just like they do in Rowley.

I hope that when I return from this journey, I have better eyes to people watch in the North Beverly Starbucks, or on the T, or walking through the streets of Rowley or Boston. I hope that I learn to see the stories behind the faces, where RubberPalms and Adidas are more than just passing encounters.

Be well, all.

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