A View From The Lobby

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”.

55 thoughts on “A View From The Lobby

  1. People watching…what better way to pass the time. Don’t imagine it’s done much anymore With noses stuck in texting and Facebook. I love the video!

  2. I loved this. Felt like I was right next to you sipping coffee surreptitiously and offering additional commentary and returning your smiles.

  3. I love people-watching. Like you, I wonder what they are thinking about, where they have come from, where they are going. But once in a while when I am feeling even more self-absorbed than usual, I think about what they might be thinking about me. I make up stories about myself from their point of view. Weird, but fun.

    • Now I can’t say I’ve ever done that (probably because I would horrify myself in the process ;-))…I just wish they had all been happier..

  4. I love your observations of the people you see, and your descriptions are so well done, it’s like I was sitting right there! I agree, what’s with the not smiling? It’s really not that hard, right? Exactly. I too feel sorry for the people anywhere in the circle of Beige Lady! xo

    • Thanks BonBon – you would have enjoyed the action. But for the smiling piece – with a little bit of effort there’s a lot one can think of to smile about! xo

  5. I was right there with ya, honey, nursing my latte and imagining the secret lives of each person passing by. And not for nothing, but the mystery man in the bike shorts sounded an awful lot like our friend DK. Just sayin….xoxo, l

  6. Wow–there’s a lot going on in your head, Mimi! totally with you on the smile thing. You’d see more of it in Minnesota, but there’s still some folks who wouldn’t want to look like they’re happy. Being miserable can be so hip, you know. 😉 Here’s to smiles all around–even (especially?) when you’re not feeling it. Oh those poor souls in your coffee shop–such scrutiny. lol.

  7. I once made it a personal quest to get the campus security guard to smile. Each morning when I dropped off LOML (Love of My Life) before I headed to my own teaching gig, we encountered a sour-face guard at the entrance to campus. So each morning I smiled and waved. Big. It took about six months to get a smile and a nod in return. As the saying goes, Never Give Up. Thanks for your post!

    • Thank you for stopping by!! I love personal quests like this – I’m not intending to stop. Just call me Don Quixote (or is that Dona Quixote?) 😉

    • I think I’d write – ‘ tall guy (ok, this is me, you’re tall even if you’re not) hurries in, places a polite, if terse request for a tall double shot latte. Back to his iPhone, head down, jaw tightening rhythmically. His order is ready and he gives the barrista a genuine wide smile and ‘thank you’. And then he’s off. I hope he has more reasons to smile as the day progresses. He’s got a goodness all around him that belies the armor’. Yup, that’s what I would write.

  8. People watching is a great sport, you learn lots through watching people if you have the time to do it.

    • We all do it – whether waiting in line at the pharmacy, on a train. Somehow there’s always time, even when we think we have none of it.

  9. This was enjoyable. You’re a good writer. And I’m going to try to smile more. (It would have been hard not to laugh out loud at the guy who ran into the chair while texting.)

    • Thank you Lynne – that is a high compliment coming from one with such formidable talent (and yeah, the women had a harder time with the full on sympathetic response than the men did).

  10. Very nice post, Mimi. I do the same thing. Always have to get to a meeting with a little time to spare… though I usually have a book to read in the free time. Enjoyed watching the world go by with you. Hope you had a very good day.

  11. One of my favorite pass times and before the days of TSA, the airport was the best place. I would go with friends and we would make bets on who was waiting for who and how they would greet or embrace their respective arrivals. Thanks for the memories 🙂

  12. See? Whad’ I tell you about your smile! People just WANT to smile right back! Bravo, bravo, bravo for you…I dare to smile at the stranger, too, and feel so rewarded when it plays forward. If everybuddy smiled at a stranger…or gave compliments where they are due as much as finding fault where that’s due–what a great thing that would be for the collective psyche.

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