My dad was a people watcher. He could sit in a public place all day long and watch the world as it passed by him. I grew up in New Jersey—the outer suburbs of New York. An area ruled by autos, it was rare for us to take public transportation anywhere. But, when we did take the bus, the train, or the ferry, my dad would invent stories about the people on them. I suspect that we all play this game whether consciously or not. We label people and assume certain aspects about their lives. The mental stories become more elaborate when we’re forced into the idle observation associated with public transit.
Who are these people who come and go? What are their stories? When I am the observer looking out I forget that the people I’m observing are also observers looking back at me. We’re all engaged in this swirling game of curiosity.
A recent ride on the Larkspur Ferry to San Francisco brought back memories of my dad. As we settled into our spots, a certain dynamic took hold. Positions were assumed, people got into their seats and on with their activities. I wondered what my dad might conjure up on this particular ride of this given day. I wandered off to our rides on the Staten Island Ferry and the wonderment of those boats. I remembered my dad’s observations of the people onboard—they were almost always positive and flattering in nature. My dad often assumed the best in people, especially when he wasn’t personally involved with them. He did, however, find amusement in the quirks and foibles of human behavior.
My attention came back to the present as the ferry eased itself into its San Francisco port. The dynamics shifted as everyone relinquished their positions. We exited and then scattered off into the city. I’d never see most of these people ever again. If my dad were here, he’d probably have something to say as we watched everyone scurry off. He’d always have one, final observation to make—probably revealing more about himself than the people he was watching.