I recently started a new job. It’s a job-job complete with a desk, office hours, a direct phone number, paper work and a commute. There is a novelty to this new life and the fact that I’ve avoided it for so long. I am an alien creature meandering through silly things like ‘15 minute breaks’ and ‘statutory holidays.’ As I am new to this office culture I’m taking notice of the little things about my routine.
I spend 40 minutes traveling from home to my desk. Luckily there is a lot to look at as I pass through Vancouver. I love people watching. I’ve come to think of it as visual poetry. Often times I find myself quietly laughing alone wanting to nudge someone’s elbow to get them to see what I’m seeing. Sadly I have yet to find a transit companion who’s in on my jokes. So I will share a few of the things I have seen that, like good poetry, have stayed with me:
* A middle aged Chinese woman alone in a tennis court with one ball she hits over the net to no one, only to have to walk around to the other side and repeat the task.
*A behemoth man in the line at Starbucks barks his orders at the barista – three pumps! extra hot! room for cream! – while at the same time he’s plugged into an iPod acting like he has somewhere important to be with his torn backpack. Then he waffles over how to pay, “I’ll do interact. Wait, no I’ve got some cash. Oh, here’s my Starbucks card.” The barista and I exchange a look that seems to say, ‘so it begins.’
* A man in his mid-twenties hands out those cheap and terrible free newspapers at the Skytrain station. The skin between his nose and upper lip looks purple. Everyday I find myself wonder what caused this discoloration: A birth mark? Smoking too much? Grape soda?. I try to politely refuse his handouts and he always gives me a smile. Then a flash of memory consumes me: the barrage of free newspapers in London and how they always ended up at the top of escalators in the Tube when people were finished their commutes, or how they people handing them out barely had time to make eye contract and forced their papers into my chest when I didn’t grab them.
* There’s a happy blind man who often catches the same Skytrain as I do. He comes to the platform assisted by Vancouver transit workers and is met by a transit worker at his destination. He sits so calmly between his stops he makes me wonder what he’s thinking about, where he’s going, what for, and what my world would be like if I lost my sight.
* On the Skytrain I pass by; apartments still hanging their patriotic Canadian flags in their windows weeks after the Olympics have ended – perhaps they are too cheap to buy proper curtains, derelict buildings with blinds pushed up against windows crammed with junk living like hoarders, yards littered in broken children’s toys growing moss – did they lose a child? did they abandon their home? Then there is a house with the word Islam and something else printed on the roof that I can never fully read because the train goes past too fast.
* At the end of the day I notice that about 90% of people on public transit look like they hate their lives, 5% look stoned and the rest, the part I hope I’m a part of, seem to be watching the show. Too many people’s faces are sullen, eyes glazed over, completely checked out from what his happening around them. I often wish that Improv Everywhere would get on my train and take class photos of us or start a dance party shaking us out of our comfort zones, or as suggested by the guy sitting behind me to the girl next to him he wanted to impress, “there should be jukeboxes on here, that way I could play you a song.”
This desk job may not be the way I want to spend my life but for the moment it’s giving me a perspective on the world that I haven’t seen in years. So long as I can people watch I know I’ll be present in the moment wondering what song each person would choose. Me? I’d pick Groove is in the Heart.