Mama always warned me not to stare at people, but I've gone and become a writer. Here I sit, sipping my Komodo Dragon at Starbuck's while giving every customer the thrice-over.
Who does that woman hope to impress? Why does that man attempt to hide his large bald pate with those wispy long locks? What causes the look of despair in the eyes of that pale girl with the purple hair? Is that young man as arrogant as he seems to be, or has he just had a bad day? Why is that old gal so impatient that she feels justified in belittling the barista?
It's not so much that I stare at people as that I stare at books. I see each person as a potential protagonist or antagonist in a novel. Each one is a round character, an aggregate of comedy, tragedy, romance, melodrama, and mystery. Lacking the facts--I can hardly interview each one--I draw my own conclusions, snatching clues from their dress, stance, expression, and voice.
As I try not to stare outright, I've had to devise ways of doing so without being detected. Even Mama would approve of my latest method. I am seated in the middle chair at a three-person table. Though my back is toward at least half of the coffee shop, I face a glass display case that reflects everything behind me. Voilà!
Postscript: Mama also said that it is impolite to eavesdrop. Don't you just love cell phones?