Like a lot of people, I harbor several guilty pleasures — huge bowls of mint chip ice cream; music by ABBA and KISS (yes, you read that right), endless episodes of “Chopped” on the Food Network. But perhaps my guiltiest indulgence is people-watching.
Do you do this, too? I can’t help it. No matter where I am, I find myself noticing the people around me, listening to their conversations, taking stock of what they wear and do when they think no one is paying attention. People are infinitely entertaining.
In a way, I’m carrying the torch. My mother is also a big-time people watcher; we used to listen to other people’s conversations on lazy afternoons at Oakland Beach in Rye, NY.
And certainly, when I was a journalist, this affinity served me well. I wasn’t just a fly on the wall at meetings and events, I was a keen observer — a skill that helped me add a lot of detail to a story. At least I hope so.
Commuting to New York, as I did briefly, offered a veritable buffet of people-watching experiences to offset the hustle and bustle, and ease the angst of waiting on the platform in snow, heat or rain. (Or riding on the ancient cars while it rained INSIDE them!)
Every day there were plenty of sights and sounds on which to comment. I took to using my Facebook status messages to share what I observed, and wound up with a regular following of people who wanted to hear what Patterned Tights Lady was wearing; whether Bose Noise-Canceling Headphones Guy got on in Greenwich; when a character like the man who was tattooed from head to toe took a seat near me; whether some idiot spilled his coffee in the aisle, leaving us all to dodge the growing caffeinated river for 50 minutes; or if some creeper was getting fresh next to me while pretending to sleep.
There were patterns to where and with whom people sat, what they read or listened to, whether they worked or slept as the miles clacked by. Some people were regular snore-fests, others were chatterboxes.
One time a woman with dragon-nails and wearing an outfit suitable for clubbing spent a big chunk of the morning ride singing the National Anthem. She should keep her day job.
On another occasion, a fellow boarded the train out of Grand Central Station with a humongous clear trash bag full of empty cans, then put them on the overhead rack, with the cans’ remaining contents puddled ominously over my head for the whole ride.
A lot of people tell me they miss my train tales. While I’m glad to be rid of the commute, I miss the daily “conversations” with my Facebook friends who often had hysterical comments to add.
Today, I thought about all this while I waited outside Starbucks in Riverside, Conn., before a meeting.
Coming across the parking lot toward me was … Patterned Tights Lady! (For the record, she was wearing black walking shorts and a neutral-colored T-shirt with really cool purple sandals.)
She seemed to recognize me as she passed by and gave me a big, warm smile.
Which made me wonder: Had she been watching me every morning, too?