Sometimes I wander out to get coffee somewhere – I wander coffee ships around Trinidad and Tobago fairly regularly, and the closer I am to home the more likely the staff will recognize me and confirm my order rather than ask me. Why? I people watch. People are interesting, telling stories about themselves with minimal involvement. Some are best without involvement at all.
Today, I ran into a Canadian as I gently nudged people ahead to pull the queue together since people were being forced out the door and even without a basic understanding of geometry, there was sufficient space for it while not breathing on each other.
We stopped breathing on each other in public. It’s sort of like masturbation but breathing on people without a mask is now legal again. Masturbation in public, for those of you uncertain, is not legal in most parts of the world except some of the more risque areas.
I digress. Our Canadian friend asked me about the nearby Rituals, and I filled her in – they do have better food, but personally the coffee (while better priced) offers me less value in general. If I want to eat – Rituals. If I want just coffee so I can bounce off the inner walls of my brain, Starbucks. She asked me if the Starbucks would allow her pay with the app, and I had no idea but was curious so I asked her to go ahead of me in line.
Starbucks in Trinidad and Tobago does not use the app, at least at present. And I was duly informed by our traveling Canadian, adorned with a local shirt, pseudo-dreadlocks (I need to start knowing the names of these hairstyles), and a complexion that fit in, that Jamaica had the same issue. That’s interesting. She wandered off later with her order, leaving me wondering about a few things about Trinidad and Tobago and technology. Filed.
Interactions like these are pretty interesting. This person is now a character. A character who was from Canada, had been to Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago at least, who knew a lot about maple syrup and bacon.
Clearly, she was a Canadian Spy. Very polite, blended in as best she could. She really did look like a Trini, but the ‘Carib’ shirt was a tell – but not a good one, as beer companies will pay any woman with breasts larger than their nipples to wear their brand, and they almost never drink the brand. It’s not just media, folks, socioeconomics and sex sell beer. I shit you not.
You get the point, though. That’s really not her life, but you can think of characters that way. It’s good to have an ensemble down. When we interact with people for the first time, we see what they’re consciously comfortable with showing in public which isn’t that much, so we fill in the gaps. We have poetic license. We don’t have to do it accurately or well. However, you also need to remember that’s not really who they are in case you bump into them again.
Another woman that springs to mind this week was the Coffee Cup lady. Coffee cup lady was local,well dressed in a tasteful and relatively bright cultural dress that hid as much as it showed. It was Middle Eastern or African styling, or a mix of the two, but this is a weakness for me – women’s clothing – so as a writer, I need to research that. She wore a slightly straightened hair, dyed blonde, seemingly pasted to her head (again, I need to research women’s hair), and was in front of me.
She kept looking back at the wall of cups as the line moved like the syrup they add to children’s drinks. She was not ashamed of it, not the odd glance back, she was doing it, unashamed, as so many people do. Somehow we ended up talking, and I brought it up. Her response was very honest and straightforward, only slightly smelling of a weakness, as she told me that she didn’t understand why, but she just could not stop buying the coffee cups.
She proudly said that she had bought so many that she now gave them to friends. There was nothing amiss about her, no weirdness, that was just her thing and she wasn’t ashamed to share it. A serial coffee cup buyer. I joked that she might be better off buying stock in Starbucks. She shook her head, clearly having thought of that, “It’s the cups.”
We continued talking and the rambunctious group of children with all 3 parents (3 sets of kids? or 1? Wouldn’t that be a story?) and our new Coffee Cup friend, J, and I were discussing how it ‘used to be’, when children were sent to find places to sit and leave their parents – and the line – unmolested.
We shook our heads sagely, her maybe less than 5 years my junior, and she said, “I try telling that to my daughter about her children…”, drifting off quietly, thoughtfully. I just looked at her sideways softly asking, “They’re all children, aren’t they?”
Suddenly she and I were friends, in that moment. She introduced herself, I responded in kind, and we went our ways later. But the coffee cups? Now there’s the character thing.
Let’s forget my new friend, I expect I actually know her reason. Why would anyone do that? Obsess over something enough to buy variations of them? Well, there’s all sorts of people who collect things, and I used to be one in some ways, but why do people do that? It’s an interesting twist though, coffee cups, because in a way, you could now tell who her friends possibly were when they got new coffee cups. It’s an interesting detail related to a character.
And that’s why I go people watch. People have real stories, from the mundane to the extraordinary, but those are their stories to do with as they please. Our stories don’t have to be their stories, and I’d offer it might be in poor taste to make them one and the same. First impressions, though, can give us excellent jump points for new characters.
You never know when you’ll need one.