People watching: an unobtrusive pastime
I’m on a trip for my other, other job. Alone in a new city, with hours free stretching out into the evening. I explore, photograph, tweet. I retire back to the hotel for food. Seated on a single table, hiding behind my wine, I can indulge in one of my favourite pastimes-people watching. I’ve developed a terrible habit of making up entire lives for my fellow hotel guests. Over the years, I’ve imagined whole worlds for fellow commuters, course attendees, shoppers, customers…I love it. I’m interested in people, their stories, their nuances and features and layers. I settle myself for an evening of stereotyping. Taking a bite of my Thai noodles, my gaze wanders in the softly lit room.
The businessman on my right. A leadership and management handbook lies solidly underneath a blackberry, red light blinking incessantly, both out of immediate reach whilst he focuses his entire attention on the mountain of beef burger and ‘chips in a basket’ filling the plate. Respectable, slim, greying, designer frames. Polite, quiet, a man who appreciates a moment alone with a burger. I like him. Not a brash manager. Computers, consulting. Wife, grown-up kids, 21, 22. A girl and a boy, both good-looking. Middle class. The son plays team sports. Both at good universities, although not Oxbridge. Beemer estate but not a twat. Earns a good whack and deserves every penny. He finishes, quietly confirming everything was delicious, and pays the bill. He gathers the hefty tome and tech with a slight reluctance and a backwards glance at his squeaky clean plate.
The couple in front are from the USA. They’ve just reluctantly complained that their food is taking too long, but graciously turn down all offers of free drinks and sides. The food comes, suffused in apologies. They thank the waitress profusely, they appreciate that. The guy mentions to his wife that was nice. The single tealight flickers as a saxophone version of ‘heal the world’ drifts in an out of audible range in the background. They tuck in, commenting how good the food is, all forgiven. Small talk, checked shirt, diminutive wife. They agree everything is lovely. More apologies from the staff regarding the food. They appreciate that.
Grown up kids, grandma and grandpa. Gramps. Uk as ‘Europe’. Not the ‘London’ type. Well mannered, polite, beliefs. They ask for the check.
The manager reduces their food total to a tenner. They protest-they don’t mind at all about the delay. The manager reassures them. The appreciate that a lot, and retire.
I spot a possible 2 other people on the same course as me. British reticence forbids me from approaching. I’ll find out tomorrow. 5 other lonesome people, meals for one. Pints being sunk on expenses.
To the left, a gelled-up, shiny businessman orders double chicken and tiger prawns. Company expenses flexing hard. Everyone glued to screens, books, the solitary miles under their belts. I write. The chef flambés. The travel-weary. No longer are tourists left. Just hardened, high mileage suits, jackets off, ties gratefully forgotten. Everyday a new hotel.
Double chicken sinks into the glow of the iPhone screen, thick hair immaculately coiffed, expensive shirt crumpling. Spreads throughout the chair, taking it over. Power suit. The word braying comes to mind. I observe an exchange with the waitress and decide braying is too harsh. Business-minded, then. Career-ladder. We’ve all been there.
I drain my Pinot and pay the bill and wonder what they are thinking about me. Free toiletries and immaculate white sheets are awaiting in my 3rd floor room. Hotel bliss.
N.B. I got talking to the American couple the next day. They’d spent 2 weeks in Ireland before London, then a few other places. They were heading back to London before heading home. They were, of course, an absolute joy, and utterly lovely. I wished them a safe journey and enjoyable rest of their trip.
Neither of the 2 people were on my course.
You can never tell anything by appearance alone.