I admit it. I eavesdrop sometimes. I try not to, but can’t help it. And my favorite place for eavesdropping is our local java joint. I’m there for lunch an embarrassing amount of time. (Okay, almost every day). I bring my laptop and work. But here’s the interesting thing. Fascinating insights can be gleaned by “accidentally” listening into the following groups…
Bikers – Yes, we have motorcyclists in my part of Connecticut. Trust me, they’re not the Hell’s Angels of Fontana, California, bristling with muscles. These bikers are more… well, older gentlemen with gray hair, headbands, unruly beards, and elaborate tattoos. I sat next to a few yesterday, expecting to hear about hogs and Harley’s.
Instead, I learned a buddy of theirs had passed unexpectedly. “There but for the grace of God,” one said. Another had had a medical scare recently. “It really gets you thinking about life,” he said, voice catching. The others gazed at the table, thoughtfully. It got me thinking. These guys who look so tough are also vulnerable. Maybe people aren’t always what they seem.
Business people – I’m always amazed at the amount of commerce conducted at this little hole-in-the-wall. I’ve heard brokers giving financial advice, job interviews taking place, graphic artists presenting projects, and even psychic readings.
The other day I heard a man being interviewed for managing a dry cleaner’s store. He was Asian. I sensed his struggle with the language as he tried selling himself to this fast-talking American businessman. I heard the nervousness in his voice. I realized how I take speaking my native tongue for granted. I’ve never had to navigate my world in a different language. I admire people who do.
Teenagers – A foursome of young girls sat next to me last week. Their conversation was mostly about school and classes. Then they leaned forward. Their voices lowered. My curiosity switched on. “National boyfriend day was yesterday,” one of them said. “I was so sad.” “I don’t get why it’s so hard getting a guy,” another lamented. I stole a peek at them, shocked. They all had long, silky hair, doe eyes, and adorable figures.
Wait a minute. They’re having trouble getting boys? These were the girls in high school I assumed were out every night on exciting dates. Like so much about high school I got wrong, was this something else? The strangest thing is decades past my dewy prime, I’m more confident now than I was back then. I want to tell these girls — be patient. The boys will find you.
Retired Couples – Alas, these are the least interesting of the tribes. (I know because I’m one of them). The other day an older couple, both heavy with gray hair, entered. They each had canes and carefully settled themselves in their chairs. After getting their meals, they ate silently the whole time. “Is that a tomato in your sandwich?” the man finally asked. The woman nodded. That was the whole conversation.
But then I thought, there’s something nice in that too. Sometimes the biggest test of a relationship is if you can be together and say nothing. I’ve seen the opposite where couples keep stiff smiles while keeping a steady stream of words. You can almost feel the tension. Maybe the greatest test of any relationship is if you can be quiet together.
Families – A month ago, four middle-aged people sat down — two women and two men. After awhile, I sensed they weren’t couples, but maybe siblings. “Someone’s got to tell her,” one of the women said with a sigh. “We can’t go through this anymore.” One of the men nodded. “I was thinking maybe this weekend. Let’s invite her over and talk about it. She’s got to get help.”
Wow, I thought, they were planning an intervention. I couldn’t help wonder what “she” had done. Then I realized she didn’t know it, but she had brothers and sisters (or cousins or friends) who clearly loved and cared about her. Maybe none of us know the hidden kindnesses done for us behind the scenes. Maybe we’d all be surprised.
I’m always amazed by the human drama played out among the lattes and “black with two sugars.” I’ve grown to love this little coffee shop. It’s like a watering hole in Africa. You wait long enough and you see every species come in.
Sometimes I’m tempted to put a sign in front of me: “Warning. I try not to, but I sometimes eavesdrop.”
But of course, I don’t. Instead, I sit quietly and unassumingly, clicking away at my keys.
Do you ever eavesdrop? Comments are always welcome. And if you like, please share.
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