People watching: the pastime that unites us all

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Hunter Johnson, Commentary Editor

 

State Fairs, like the one here in Dallas, are golden opportunities to study humans at their unhealthiest. –Photo courtesy of Amy Mingo/Wikimedia Commons
State Fairs, like the one here in Dallas, are golden opportunities to study humans at their unhealthiest.
–Photo courtesy of Amy Mingo/Wikimedia Commons

We live in a nation of hobbies as diverse as its demographics. From sailing and home brewing to parkour and binge-watching “Breaking Bad,” we Americans enjoy the ability to indulge some unique interests in our free time.

There is, however, one hobby that I believe many of us don’t recognize as such. It’s something we all do when we’re bored, eating at a mall food court or waiting for that doctor who scheduled our appointment for, like, two hours ago. Whether we admit it or not, there’s one hobby we all share: We are a nation of people watchers.

People watching? A hobby? I’m sure that many of you are asking these questions. Many view this sort of amusement simply as something you do when there is positively nothing else to do and your phone has finally run out of juice.

Yes, those are the times when people watching is called upon the most, but that’s not what makes it a hobby. The pleasure derived from an activity can potentially cause it to become a preferred pastime. With that in mind, what makes people watching the hobby that unites us all is the fact that deep down, although we may not want to admit it, we secretly enjoy it.

Don’t think of this as your dirty little secret! People watching is not synonymous with creeping. The key difference is that people watching is simply observing the characteristics and actions of random passersby, while creeping is targeted stalking and is just plain – well – creepy.

No, people watching is totally harmless and rarely fails to be amusing. If it makes you feel better, I’ll share some of my experiences with this enriching pastime.

On Saturday, some friends and I decided it was time we actually visited the Texas State Fair. While we gorged ourselves on heart-attacks-on-a-stick (chocolate-covered strawberry waffle balls!), there was no shortage of peculiar people passing by. This was just after the Cotton Bowl, so Texas and Oklahoma fans were swarming everywhere like locusts, some drowning their sorrows in fried felicity and others drunk with victory (pun very much intended). Seeing these often fantastically fat football fans hit up food stand after food stand made the inhumanly sweet sweet tea even sweeter.

On Sunday, I followed up on my fried expedition at the fair with something much healthier: Waffle House. This is a prime location to observe some of the most interesting characters this world has to offer. There were the waitresses who clearly wanted to be somewhere else, glaring when they thought customers weren’t looking and slamming syrup onto tables. There was the old, wrinkled gentleman who ate his eggs in the manner of a philosopher pondering the meaning of his existence. Of course, no Waffle House experience is complete without the one child who decides, “No, I don’t want this stupid glass of water,” and throws it furiously to the ground as his overwhelmed mother simply accepts that she’s raised a monstrosity.

However, there is one location that stands above all others as the Elysian Fields of people watching: the Walmart parking lot. In fact, my mother and I used to have this post-church tradition on Sundays: We got McDonald’s, pulled into Walmart for our weekly shopping trip, devoured our McGriddles and watched shoppers head to and from the supercenter. There was once a woman doing her best to hide her two buggies full of toilet paper. Another Sunday featured an elderly lady with fluffy white hair shuffling as fast as she could to catch her fleeing grocery cart. I oughn’t to forget the frustrated mother who, having subdued one unruly youngster and gotten him into his car seat, turned around to find that the other had made a grand dash for freedom. Never was there a Sunday that disappointed.

These experiences have been no less entertaining than they have been educational. When you’re in a group or talking to someone one-on-one, you don’t have the liberty to observe and learn about people the same way you might birds or cats. People watching gives you the ability to observe people without the filters that come with direct interaction. You can see people with their guards down, going about their daily lives, and it’s here that we really see how people in our society think, function and interact. The fact that it’s engrossing as well is what makes it America’s real pastime.

So don’t be ashamed; embrace your secret hobby! Go grab some lunch with your friends, drive to the Walmart on Highway 183 and observe the social behavior your philosophy books only talk about.

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