People Watching is Awesome

I’m sitting in the sole terminal of the Flagstaff Pulliam Airport, about to fly to Minneapolis. With no one traveling with me, I am free to observe the people around me. Some people hate flying — I love it. Every interesting character from every novel I’ve ever read or wanted to write eventually wanders through an airport, making them prime creative hunting grounds.

I have my notebook at the ready, ever vigilant to an overheard conversation or unique mannerism of a passing businessman. Pulliam’s tiny terminal — little more than a long hallway with the check-in desk, baggage claim, and cafe all in sight — allows me to see and hear everything. Creepy? Maybe. But I’m a writer, which is Latin for “eavesdropper.” All around me are potential stories. How could I possibly help but listen in?

A few seats down from me is a serious, older man with a military-style haircut and a highlighter yellow parka. His shoes are leather and so clean, I can nearly see the entire building in the reflection on his toe. His watch is hefty and silver; expensive-looking. It flashes in the fluorescent light every minute or so as he checks the time.

Across from me, in the cafe, a couple is eating and drinking Oak Creek Nut Brown Ale, even though its barely 9:30 in the morning. They don’t make eye contact. He stares unblinkingly at the TV above the bar, watching CNN while saying something to his wife. She nods every so often as she texts furiously and brushes a strand of straight, blonde hair out of her face. It keeps falling back down.

At the bar, a clean-cut man is perched on stool, wearing a plaid button-down, jeans that look like they’ve been ironed smooth, and a black satchel. He’s arguing with the barista, as if he will somehow get to bring his half-finished beer through security if he’s persistent enough. After a few minutes, she starts to ignore him and focuses her attention on wiping down the tap spouts with a white washcloth.

A tall, swaggering man is standing further down the bar with his girlfriend. He carries himself with a brutish confidence. One hand remains on his girlfriend’s shoulder, as if claiming his property. His head is shaved and a well-maintained red beard shrouds the lower portion of his flushed face. A gold chain hangs around his neck. Green-tinted, mirrored sunglasses sit on top of his head and his light blue eyes are constantly scanning the terminal, sizing up everyone who walks by.

An exchange student in a blue and gold NAU hoodie chats excitedly on his cell phone in what is probably Arabic. Everyone watches him.

Any one of these people could be the inspiration for a new character and if I speculate on their stories (What is the couple fighting about? Why is the bald man so suspicious? Is the man arguing about the beer anxious about flying or about what he expects to find at his destination?) I could find more than enough material for a scene, a short story, a screenplay, or even an entire novel.

For some reason, travelers always betray themselves. The masks that we all wear fall away in the cramped spaces, slow lines, and long periods of waiting and everyone is themselves; raw and uncensored. Airports bring out the best and the worst in humanity. For the writer, there are few places more exciting and full of potential.

— 30 —

Follow my running commentary on life on Twitter at @jonnyeberle.

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