People watching is the best entertainment, especially in a crowded place like New York City. It has all the elements of great performance: drama, excitement, mystery, comedy, sweetness. And the best part- it’s all free! A favorite pastime of ours is to sit in a spot where we can observe unnoticed, and make up stories about the people we see. You can really let your imagination run wild!
That lovey dovey young couple snuggling as they walk down Fifth Avenue? Ah, young love, we think…they are probably here from Nebraska. It’s their first time in New York City; in fact it’s their first time anywhere at all but Des Moines, Iowa. They are high school sweethearts. He works in an auto parts store; she works at Walmart. They got engaged last night at an Irish pub and they haven’t told anyone yet- not even her mother or her best friend. They are planning to go to the top of the Empire State Building and take a photo of the ring on her left hand and text it to everyone later today.
That young man sitting on a cardboard box leaning up against the storefront, holding a sign that says, “I am on a road trip. Please make a donation.”? He’s probably from Dallas, Texas. He got a girl pregnant there and took off. Left all of his belongings in the dingy apartment he shared with the guys from the construction company where he worked- didn’t pay his last month’s rent either. That was the money he used to start out on his travels. Hopped on the train headed anywhere east and landed in New York City.
Here comes a family. The little ones are skipping ahead of the parents, laughing as they go and oblivious to the parents’ heated discussion. They are speaking Hebrew. They just arrived from Tel Aviv yesterday, and this morning she found a text on his phone from a young woman in his office asking how long he would be gone. She is accusing him of having an affair. He is angrily denying it and explaining that he left some work for her to do- she’s just asking when he will be back so she will have it done before then.
Here comes another family. They are speaking French; arrived only an hour ago at the hotel after a long day of travel. The children are older teenagers, and they are saying they are hungry and want a glass of wine too. The parents are explaining that the drinking age in the United States is twenty-one. The son starts going off- this country is stupid, I should have stayed home with my friends. The parents roll their eyes, thinking we should have left you home.
AWWW, look at this couple coming down the street. They are old; I mean really old. He has to be around ninety and she is not much younger. They are walking slowly through the rushing throngs- this is what made them stand out. It is like they are in their own movie and everyone who is zooming around them is just scenery. They are holding hands and smiling. They are so cute! They are probably locals- they are from Brooklyn and have lived in the same house for almost seventy years. They met when they were twelve or thirteen; married three years later. They had two children and now have five grandchildren and two greats! Life has been hard but good. They feel blessed and we feel it too, just watching them.
People watching can be done anywhere. I love to sit at the beach and watch the families or the crowds of teens. Last time I was there, a group came and plopped their stuff down right next to me. They were speaking Spanish- a mom, her mother, her friend and her two sons- one around 14 and the other around six. Immediately the older boy started yelling at the little one. He was angry as only a fourteen year old can be, and taking it out on his brother. He probably was supposed to meet his friends that day and spend the day playing World of Warcraft. His mother insisted he come to the beach on this beautiful summer day instead of spending it cooped up in front of a television screen. He is determined to make everyone as miserable as he is. The little one is ignoring him, happy to be at the giant, warm and sandy spot with his mamá and his abuela, who is feeding him pieces of mango and rubbing his head with love.
Watching people and making up stories is a bit stalker-ish, I’m aware. But its entertainment value far outweighs the feeling that I am intruding. Besides someone is probably watching me right now and making up a story about me! Good for them.