I’m at Starbucks near the harbor—close enough to mention, far enough to park for free—and I’m supposed to be writing about a past, flawed relationship. But facing my own naivety doesn’t seem near as fun as people watching, so I choose the latter.
Small groups of people are scattered around the patio, swapping life’s disappointments or the promise of the upcoming weekend, and I sit alone at a table for two.
An older, red Honda pulls into the parking space in front with the unmistakable crunch of bumper hitting concrete. There’s a collective gasp and the chatter momentarily stops. Mouths hang ajar as they watch the car reverse slowly, producing a scrape rather than a crunch this time.
When the older gentleman (maybe 60) steps out of the car, he smirks at the onlookers and I turn away. I’m embarrassed for him, although he seems relatively unaffected. The patio crowd continues to point at the car and talk about the event, even after he walks inside. They’re acting as though he rolled over a box of kittens, their blood giving his car its audacious color. He crunched his bumper. It happens.
When Honda comes back outside a moment later, he holds what looks like a Passion Tea. Good choice, Honda. He chooses a table I know to be too under the sun and not enough covered by the awning, and after sitting for only a moment, he looks for another empty chair.
He eyes the table directly next to me and chooses the chair whose back is inches from my own. That’s fine, I think, because we’ll be sitting with our backs to each other, maintaining the appropriate personal space of strangers. But he turns his chair so that he’s perpendicular to the table and gazes out at the patio. This, combined with the slight angle of my own chair, suggests that we are old friends. But we are not, and I don’t like him in my bubble.
My back is clearly to him, but I can see his reflection in the screen of my laptop. I see him gazing at my email, and I’m thankful I’m writing this blog in my head. Our eyes don’t meet as they would in a true mirror, so I can tell he doesn’t see me looking at him looking at my inbox.
I consider moving to the other side of the table, but perhaps that’s blatant. Mac would no longer filter our gazes, and we’d be looking right at each other. And then he’d know, that I know, that he knows what my emails say. And he would know that I don’t like it. This would be a move my sister would make. And then she’d look him straight in the eyes and dare him to speak to her. And he would get up and leave.
But I choose a passive aggressive route. I dim my screen considerably and pull it slightly forward, so that he is mostly reading glare. He averts eyes to another table and I grab my phone unconsciously.
I don’t think he can read this tiny screen, but I shield it with my hand just in case. It reminds me of second grade spelling tests, when I’d hover protectively over my work, not wanting anyone to get their answers from my paper. (In retrospect, this protected them from my terrible spelling more than it protected me from their cheating.)
I have a text message from Favorite explaining a pun he’d actually based on my poor spelling skills displayed in an earlier message. I didn’t get it at first, but now I do and I think it’s very clever. I tell him so and I include “creeper at Starbucks,” a phrase that has come to mean more accurately, I’m uncomfortable right now.
Another car pulls up carrying a larger, yet slightly younger man. He’s wearing a polo shirt and the homemade pajama pants that were popular in the 90s with an elastic waistband and shapeless, baggy legs. The pattern shows hundreds of lemon slices on a bright, orange background.
Lemons goes inside as a third man arrives, and I begin to consider today’s Starbucks session curious. This third man rides right up on the patio on a blue scooter. He half slides, half falls off his ride and throws the kickstand down. He mutters to the air around him and several people look up and around, asking themselves, “Is he talking to me?”
Lemons walks outside just as confidently as he went in, but he doesn’t acknowledge Honda or Scooter. I find this odd. They must know each other and planned to meet here. Is that ageist? To think three oddly behaved, older gentlemen must know each other? Or is it sexist? Perhaps it’s both with faulty logic mixed in, but still, I consider the possibility that this is the beginning of an impending flash mob, and I’m eager to see their choreography. But Lemons leaves, and Honda finishes his tea, and Scooter goes inside, and I’m left alone to consider the consequences of procrastination.
Then a fourth man enters the scene, and I find him the most interesting yet. He walks up to the blue scooter and slowly begins to circle it. He looks at the object like Aladdin looked at the magic lamp, both their hands reaching, unsure of the power before them.
A commotion distracts us both, and I see that once again, the patio people are looking at Honda with their mouths ajar. As he was leaving, he reversed without looking behind him and stopped only inches away from another red car. Several people tell the newer patio arrivals about the time Honda ran over a box of kittens right in front of them. I’m embarrassed for him again, and I forgive his earlier attack on my personal space.
Aladdin resumes looking at the scooter, and I resume watching him. What am I missing about this scooter that this man understands? His obvious and unabashed curiosity eats at me, and I want so badly to ask him what’s on his mind. But I don’t. My two hours of free parking are up. I take one last look at Aladdin and the lamp and walk over to my car.
I’m not exactly sure why I noticed these men. Honda’s arrival, Lemons’ pants, Scooter’s ride, and Aladdin’s fascination caught my eye, but I don’t think there’s any significance to our paths crossing. The afternoon was quirky, sure, but not overly remarkable.
And yet, anytime I see a scooter or lemons or a cracked bumper or Aladdin, I’m going to think about these men. And wonder what they’re doing in life now and if Aladdin got a scooter for himself or if Honda ever got his bumper fixed. Does Lemons still wear those pants and has Scooter ever been a part of a flash mob?
Maybe that’s what’s so interesting about people watching. Not getting the full story. I watched these strangers and wondered about their lives and their motives, and I get to create the answers. I get to make them characters in my life and rewrite their stories, not worrying about the truth.