A Lesson in People Watching

Yesterday, another police unit and I were waiting to attend a call and were parked in a city block where opposite ends of the street are firmly rooted in areas that are light-years apart.

At one end there is a very nice Irish pub, a fancy restaurant, a coffee shop,  and a tourist shop.  Mid-block are a number of doorways, several of which lead to residential apartments located above the shops.  Apartments funded by Social Assistance are directly across the street from newer, high end apartments, with both sides of the street sharing the same ecclectic view.  The apartments are followed by a bar/nightclub, a clothing boutique, then a pharmacy, another coffee shop and a methadone clinic.  

The variety meant people-watching was at its prime. 

A benefit of my unmarked police vehicle was most of the attention was drawn to the marked Crown Victoria parked behind me, allowing me the luxury of sitting back to observe.  The two officers in the Crown Vic had a steady stream of people stopping to say hello, to ask for directions, or to try and report a crime.  Agent Condor swooped in on them for a few minutes and I watched with some amusement in my side view mirror as he flapped his arms and talked at them about his stint with the FBI and the CIA (thus the name).  The officers were very good with him, humoring him enough so he was satisfied the espionage plot against the masses had been averted for another hour.  I’m not kidding.  Agent Condor has been around for longer than I’ve been on the job.  He’s a gem.

Dog walkers, families, babys in strollers and hand-holding couples mingled with the homeless, a man fighting his addiction and a handful of known drug dealers.  No one person stayed in the same spot for more than a minute or two, turning the hustle and bustle into an almost living, breathing entity.

The stand-out part was everyone seemed to be quite happy existing in the same space as everyone else.  No one shied away from the toothless and bedraggled woman shuffling her way down the sidewalk in yellow work boots several sizes too big for her feet. People just took her in stride, a couple even stopping and making way for her so the woman could enter the methadone clinic. 

Then there was my friend, Jack, a freelance photographer.  He stopped by with two photographer friends on their way to the coffee shop.  We bantered back and forth, with Jack’s friend asking where the action was going to take place and with me replying that if the ‘action’ happened he wouldn’t be able to keep up for the Kodak moment.  To that, Jack joked he would jump onto my truck’s running board and cling to the roof, leaving his friends in the dust, all in the pursuit of getting the best photo.  We had a laugh and then they carried on their way, knowing I wasn’t going to share the goods on why we were there in first place.

By the end of it, the ‘action’ never took place and the people watching came to a close.  I’ve found that you can learn a lot about an area and it’s people just by taking the time to watch how they interact with one another. 

When I first started on the job this block was violent and dirty, offering nothing but despair, hurt and loss.  Now, fifteen years later, I marvel at the change.  The block can still show its violent side, as can just about any street in any major urban center, but the biggest difference is that now people care.  Staff at the methadone clinic and adjoining coffee shop take pride in their business, and they offer a safe place for those in need or struggling to overcome addiction a safe place to go.  The woman in the boutique across the street smiles and waves at a clinic regular, and the patrons of the bar regularly dole out spare change or an extra cigarette to someone having a bad day.

For not seeing any ‘action’ at my call, I saw plenty else yesterday to make up for it. 

No, not a bad day after all.

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