Watch, wait and wonder
An adorable little chap, he was great mates with ladies of the night and burly bouncers
Now here’s a confession that will divide loyalties. I like airports. I arrive early and, with check-in out of the way, I enjoy a leisurely view of the planes and my fellow travellers. In departure lounges, cafes or on the street I indulge in the not-too-mentally-taxing pastime of people-watching. It’s fuelled by a curiosity about fellow human beings, and what their lives are like, where they are off to. The answers are all in the imagination, although mobile-phone conversations often let me know rather too much detail.
A few years ago I was paying frequent visits to New York, my favourite city. I would stay at a hotel near the Waldorf Astoria (note the word “near”). Mine was a reasonable hotel, but after placing my luggage on the only available floor space in the guestroom and checking essentials, such as whether the plumbing worked, I would spruce myself up and head to the Waldorf, order a manhattan cocktail, sit close to Cole Porter’s piano and absorb the magic. “There are eight million stories in the naked city” would run through my mind and I would try to create just one or two. Everyone in the foyer was a Brangelina, of course, and while perfection is pleasant for a short while, diversity adds the spice.
There is an etiquette to people-watching in company. Foghorn voices and pointing are not on. I have a discreet sotto voce but my travel companion (who does not like airports and otherwise accuses me of mumbling) is horrified if I dare to make a comment until the observed is over the hill and far, far away. Sometimes the moment is lost.
On the other hand, I have a dog, Oscar, with a sharp eye for human aberration. If he spots something unusual he will sit, wait and watch; no amount of liver-treat entreaties will get him to budge. He spent puppyhood in Sydney’s Kings Cross and Darlinghurst, so there was no shortage of sideshow eccentrics, and walks could take a while. An adorable little chap, he would be pounced on for a pat by the peculiar and the plain, and was great mates with ladies of the night and burly bouncers.
Only once was there clear and present danger. One early evening we were out to pick up a pizza when there was a kerfuffle behind us as a not-too-pleasant guy attempted to impress his qualifications on a girl. Oscar’s head swivelled, he anchored bottom to pavement; clearly, we had people to watch. The girl saw her escape and headed for the pup. So many questions — his name, breed, age, height, weight, eating habits. We were more than happy to help out with long answers, but the guy was getting edgy and I planted myself between his chunky boots and the dog.
Finally, the oaf admitted defeat and moved off, his Saturday night dreams ruined by a spaniel. But he had a parting snarl of advice: “Get that [you guess the next word] dog home, mate.”
The grateful girl smiled and planted a lipstick kiss on Oscar’s head. A gallant people-watcher had won the day.