I Like To Watch

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Shhhh…

I like to watch.

image by bret weichsel via flickr creative commons

image by bret weichsel via flickr creative commons

No not that way! Get your mind out of the gutter and go say three Hail Mary’s and a couple of Acts of Contrition. Throw some salt over your shoulder for good measure. I’m not watching in that way. I like people watching — you know, seeing how people really are in their natural environments. Especially, when they are just being themselves.

The art of people watching is in catching the subject unaware and seeing them for the douchebag they are when they’re not pretending to be something else. Or, when your subject is stressed-the-eff-out and the thin veneer of sanity begins to melt away.  I’ve taken notes on the character traits for my stories and, if I have to admit it, I’ve killed off characters in my fictional work who may have been based on real assholes individuals who must work in customer service call centers I’ve interacted with and gotten into long, drawn out political arguments, or disagreements over billing cycles, or what phase of the moon is required to get my coffee order right discussed world events. Chances are, if I’ve argued with you, I have killed you in one form or another, perhaps more than once. It’s very therapeutic.

image by rev stan via flickr creative commons

image by rev stan via flickr creative commons

I’ve been in a few airports lately and I’m convinced these places are big sucking black holes pulling masses of socially awkward people together into a people watching Nirvana. I plan on getting to the airport early, not so I can deal with the TSA grope-a-dope, but so I can find a good seat for the show. Mid week travel is the best. You can always count on herds of harried business travelers loud talking on their phones, tossing out the latest in management-speak buzzwords — value added, client centric, eating your own dog food, and integrated down-sizing. I’ve often believed these buzzwords are simply a game of insider bingo. Toss enough of them into a conversation and Bingo! The client has no idea what you’re selling.

Fly enough and you’re guaranteed to encounter weather delays. Nothing like mother nature to bring out the inner douchebag. I witnessed a Southwest gate attendant blamed for the fog. He must have been a witch — burn him. I was stuck in an airport in the aftermath of the Loma Prieta earthquake. Flights cancelled and delayed for hours. Want to see what a person is really like? Strand them in an airport and watch — and it ain’t pretty.

image by renato morebach via flickr creative commons

image by renato morebach via flickr creative commons

There are always a few souls who shouldn’t be left unattended in public settings. For these cognitively unencumbered people, finding the correct gate for their flight is a challenge akin to playing whack-a-mole while under the influence of GHB. The big, bright six foot wide sign at the gate says Chicago and these poor folks inevitably ask, “Is the flight to Miami?” How do they dress themselves in the morning?

Then there are the “Runners.” I have come to the conclusion that people come to the airport for olympic training. Why else would someone run from one end of the terminal to the other, weighted down with a backpack? It has to be for some new cross-fit training regimen.

The group I sympathize with are the parents traveling with small children. Children, or semi-feral seat kickers, as they are known in the industry, must act out in public. I believe that provision is in their contract. They have an extra sensory ability to know when mommy has her hands full, to stop, drop and roll in the crowded terminal and loudly fuss over something. You can pick out the experienced parent, the one who can stop the little display with a look that could melt ice. The child knows he’s taken it one step too far and prays he won’t be riding in the cargo bay.


I never manage to get much reading done in the airport. I’ll grab a coffee and take my seat for the performance. Flight delayed? No problem — bring on the show.



  1. I can’t read in an airport either – too much people watching. I was in an airport on Christmas day – hundreds of flights into the midwest were cancelled and the Christmas cheer was nowhere to be found.

  2. I see why Shell enjoyed working with you so much; brilliant. I too am a people watcher as I prefer to sit it out in a corner somewhere and take it all in. I started that in high school…the socially inept me looking for a place to hide I guess. Looking forward to your newest book. Thanks for the smile in my day.

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