To get from my home to the post office, I have to cross a gently arched bridge. There are cars on the bridge, and if they're doing the speed limit of 50 km/h, I typically look to see who's driving. If I know them, I'll wave. Such is the life of the village idiot.
Growing up in Fredericton as a child of the 1970s, I felt like I knew everyone. I used to hitch-hike from my home up to the mall. Inevitably a friendly face would slow down and give me, and my bell-bottom jeans, a lift up the hill. These days I wander through city traffic and rarely see a familiar face...but I never stop looking.
Here's where things get a little dicey...when I'm in a town where I don't know a soul, I still look at people when they pass by. There's no chance that I'll know them, so why do I look? I've come up with three possible solutions, not including the overly simplistic, happy-go-lucky village idiot defence:
1) I've been suckered into Western society's obsession with spotting famous people,
2) I'm either tremendously bored or curious,
3) I'm human bird watching.
I've spotted famous people before. I've crossed the sidewalk in Manhattan with Jennifer Aniston. She was by herself, and she didn't seem to be too irate with Angelina (despite what the tabloids said). I've shared Cape Spear with Alanis Morissette. She seemed preoccupied, probably working on lyrics for her next 'somebody done somebody (Alanis) wrong' song. I turned my attention away from her, and enjoyed the jagged little hills which shouldered the blustery North Atlantic. I'm not needy of worshiping false idols, so that blows theory #1 off the cliff.
I am tremendously curious, but not to the point where I fixate over strangers in mauve Skodas going 30 mph in the opposite direction. I'm never bored so it's not like I haven't got something better to ponder. So why do I look at people in cars?
I'm pretty sure that I'm human bird watching. I'm looking for someone who stands out in a crowd. Let me put this in bird watching terms...when I go traipsing through the bush with my binoculars, I'm not looking for seagulls, pigeons, robins, starlings or grackles, though they're all lovely in their own Lois Lane kind of way. I'm looking for something unusual, rare, exotic or beautiful. It's not always a physical obsession, in bird or human terms. I get a kick out of people doing stupid things, like driving with lap dogs or, in Britney's case, lap toddlers.
I get a kick out of people, period. You're all quite fascinating...even you! When you're behind the wheel, it's not like you're less interesting, you're actually more elusive...and that's appealing. I watch people at malls, but that's like watching neutered parrots at the zoo. I like the challenge of capturing a fleeting image, be it of a soaring eagle or a revved up redhead.
This fascination begins at an early age. We've all driven on the highway and glanced over at the car passing us. We've watched the bored parents in the front seat, hawk-eyed on the road ahead. The backseat brats with their dirty little beaks, they're gawking at us. They're bird watching. Not wanting to be anyone's pigeon, I often make faces back at them. The kids cross me off in their life list of exotic birds in traffic, and start looking for their next sighting.
Do you look at people in other cars? If yes, have you ever thought about why you do this? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below. Are we birds of a feather, or am I a lone gandering goose?