Whenever I have a meeting – of any kind – I’m early. It’s my definition of being on time. I was facilitating a meeting yesterday morning, and with the rain pummeling the house, I decided to give myself more than enough time to get downtown. What does one do then with an hour to kill? Head into the open, skylit atrium with a cup of coffee, review your notes and then watch the world go by. Another olio from yours truly…
Rather than look like I’m just sitting there ogling people, I make notes, raising my eyes subtly to take in the action (Actually, I like to think I look surreptitious – I have a hunch I’m not so graceful).
– A guy walks by wearing a grey cap, striped sweater, wire-rimmed glasses…he looks like he could be a student at GW, but for the absence of a backpack. He’s so intently texting that he slams right into the corner of one of the metal (heavy, wrought iron) chairs. Unfortunately, said corner is of a particular delicate height and I wince for him. He lets out a “oooph” – a restrained exclamation if ever I heard one, and gingerly walked into the coffee shop. Those of us sitting nearby all look up with sympathy and even a little amusement (that’s what you get when you don’t watch when you walk and text). Ok, the women look more amused then the men.
– The skylights which are supposed to welcome all the natural light look like they are bearing the traces of a really good cry. It’s that kind of day.
– Beige lady – I swear this is a beige lady. Beige hair, outfit, shoes, necklace, purse…urban camouflage. Her posture is perfect, her strides are long and her heels strike the floor with emphasis. She covers a lot of ground with maximum efficiency. A person on a mission, confident, hyped, ready. She comes out of the coffee shop holding two Red Bulls. I feel for the people with whom she’s working today.
– Choices, choices..a man in biking shorts and a heavy sweat (or rain-soaked) checks out his options at the coffee shop. Grabs a yogurt. Puts it back. A box of Special K. Shakes his head and places it back on the shelf. Granola bar? Uh uh. This is a small Au Bon Pain, there are limited choices. He looks conflicted. Ah!! He grabs a an apple turnover. I like this guy.
– Cross-body bags with cross-body briefcases is not a great look. People look like pack animals heading up Everest. And the puce thermal lunch bag? Um, I vote ‘no’.
– Why does no one smile? I must be missing the memo. This feels like a very unhappy place, with questionable elan (but this is DC after all, we don’t pride ourselves on elan or fashion sense – or any sense at all for that matter). I am on a crusade to get people to smile. I consciously smile at everyone – the garage attendant, the vanilla-outfitted girl who passes my table with vacant eyes, the maintenance person who traverses the perimeter of the atrium scrupulously checking for…something.
I’m not talking maniacal smiles here – just a small smile that someone could choose to ignore or return without fear of a Jack-Nicholson-in-‘The Shining’ reaction. So far I’m 5 for 6…wait, 6 for 7 – not bad. Each moves along in his/her own moment, which is totally cool. I’m not looking to create memories here. I just want to break this wall of impassivity – see if there’s any light behind those shuttered eyes, as if there is too much risk in letting someone see any emotion at all.
And I want to know all their stories – where do you work? Do you like what you do? What’s on your mind this morning? House? Condo? Tent? Pets? Kids? Partners? What could change this moment from one that has merely passed to one that is fantastic? Are your shoulders bowed from the weight of your backpack or the weight of your woes?
Why fuchsia lipstick?
They need music here – something to lift these sagging commuter spirits, to imbue the morning with the hint of the possible, the funny, the sublime or even the stuff that really matters. Time for me to head to the elevator with the guy who looks like Stubby Kaye when he was in “Guys & Dolls”.