People-watching ponderings


A girl in a royal blue sweatshirt whose lettering I couldn’t see with wild blonde hair— natural, I think— hunches over her notebook, determined. Her mouth is pressed into a firm line of confusion, of frustration. She has got to be working on math, and yet, no calculator is waiting at the ready. 

Her friend with similarly toned hair and a fun, almost bohemian, headband pulls her MacBook open on the shared tabletop of the booth. I’ll bet they’re sisters— ones who actually get along well. The two girls— sisters— don’t say much, but their silence is soothing, practiced. No awkward word jumble here or annoying word overflow there. 

Do they play sports? I think they’d be soccer players, though I’m not sure why I feel they would. It’s not as though these two teenage girls came to Panera in full cleats and shin guards.

A guy takes off his charcoal gray puffy coat to reveal a navy blue vest as he takes a seat in the booth next to the girls—alone yet not lonely. A minute or so goes by before a bouncy brunette with some sort of pink drink collapses into the seat across from him. Raspberry lemonade, if I had to take an uneducated guess. 

Conversation rolls easily and comfortably— friends, or something more?

But, my attention swings away as a girl rushes in, eyes skimming the room. A guy about her age immediately stands up at a table for two near the door and introduces himself. They take a seat and begin to make small talk—  their conversation has none of the relaxed hum of Raspberry Lemonade Couple. 

They’ve definitely never met before, so the question is this: job interview or blind date? I think it would have to be a first date of some sort. Who meets at Panera to meet an employer? But then again, would someone really go on a blind date to Panera? That’s not exactly how it works in the movies.

Perhaps, Panera is more their style. I wonder if they have a great love story ahead, one that a mutual friend and matchmaker can proudly take credit for. Maybe, one day, they’ll become like the adorable elderly couple in the corner. 

The little cuties ate daintily, for lack of a better word. It wasn’t as though they were judgemental of the food, just appreciative. They picked apart their shared meal with a level of contentment that could only come from being with your soulmate. 

I’m sure they’ve had a fantastic love story— 54 years of marriage, at least in my head. Despite the wrinkles and gray hair gifted to them by time, they don’t mind because it’s time they spent together. Love laces every blink, breath, and movement. 

As I sit there—watching, imagining, wondering— there was a sporadic flow of customers in and out. Mr. Cowboy and the Orange Atrocity caught my attention for longer than most. While I can’t explain why a seven-foot, white-haired, middle-aged man earned the name Mr. Cowboy— he rocked a long trench coat, not a shiny boots, belt, and hat— the Orange Atrocity certainly deserved his. 

His neon orange coat exploded from his short body, doubling his size. As if the coat wasn’t flashy enough, he paired it with a burnt orange baseball cap. I wish I could have told how old he was. I’m not very good at guessing ages—  or heights— to begin with, and his outfit was doing me no favors.

He could be young and living his life to the fullest in his flashy fashion. Or maybe he was a father picking up food for a child, maybe even grandchild. 

I may know nothing about any of these individuals, but I’d like to.

What pulled this motley of people to the very Panera I was sitting in at 6:30 pm on a Monday night?

What’s their story?

What do they fear and hope? How was their childhood? What are they passionate about, that thing that will make their eyes come alive? What secrets are they keeping, ones maybe they subconsciously keep from themselves? What are their pet-peeves?

I can write a story for each and every person in the room, but that isn’t their story— it’s simply a story, the one I’m seeing, creating. 

My alarm jars me out of my thoughts as I scramble to collect my clutter on the table, the headphones dangling off the edge of the table. The to-go coffee cup, not quite empty but still cold. The assortment of pens and notepads. 

I push out the glass doors and towards the darkening sky, but not before my own reflection greets me.

How did they see me? Did they write their own story of me?

Picturing myself back at table 23, I see me amidst my controlled chaos. My hair is still untamed despite the ponytail it was hastily put into. One hand twirls a piece of hair, moving on its own accord, while the other writes on rectangular, white notepads in a frantic and loopy print.

Every once in a while, the girl— me— scans the room, pausing for a moment her pencil in the air before launching another attack on the poor piece of paper. What did the notepad ever do to her?

Peculiar that this girl writes by hand rather than computer, they must think. 

But, they don’t know my story. 

They don’t know that my computer died, and I had forgotten a charger. They don’t know that my coffee is cold, though I sip it anyway. They don’t know I came from practice and set my alarm so I know when to return. 

There’s so much they don’t know about the story of me.