People Watching

It was a crowded airport. I was between layovers. I sat at the airport bar.

The man beside me was nursing a cold beverage. I ordered a beverage, too, but I realized I had forgotten my wallet. It was in my checked bag. I had been fiscally castrated. I was penniless.

The waitress brought me ice water.

The man beside me was wearing a suit, staring into his beer glass. The conversation went like this:

“What do you do for a living?” he asked.

Ah, yes. The quintessential guy question. It’s never “Where are you from?” or “What’s your sign?” It’s always “What do you do?”

“I am a writer,” I said.

He looked at my ice water and nodded as though this explained everything.

“I’m executive marketing director,” he said.


“Yep. And you wanna hear something?”


“Well,” said the man, thumping his chest. “I’m a dad today.”

“You are?”

He smiled. “Yeah. My wife had a baby girl. I was in Oregon this morning, on a sales conference, when she had our kid. Want to see a picture?”

The man removed his phone and showed me a picture as I sipped my tepid bathwater. It was a baby all right.

“What’s her name?” I asked.


“Shut up,” said I.

He grinned. “No, I’m serious. My wife loves music. Loves Shania Twain. It was either that or Janice Joplin.”

“Good call.”

On cue, a gaggle of business guys sat at the end of the bar. People-watching never fails to hypnotize me. Watching business people is a particular favorite pastime.

Many businesspersons move through this world like they are very important. They simply exude confidence. In an airport, they move through each terminal wearing the expression of people who have the world by the groin.

Whereas I move through terminals wearing the expression of a guy who has just stepped in a pile of something.

The man wore a mournful smile that almost looked like a kind of cry. “I should’ve been there,” he said. “I WANTED to be there. But I was in Oregon. My job has always come first.”

I said nothing.

“I make a lot of money,” he said.

“Mazel tov.” I said.

I was hoping Moneybags would offer to purchase a poor, misfortunate wayward traveler an ice-cold seasonal beverage lovingly brewed by the good individuals at Samuel Adams.

“But as of today,” he went on, “my job doesn’t mean anything. My wife was in the hospital, and my two kids were there, my mother was there, and my dad. And I was in Oregon.”

“You know what I think of whenwver I think about Oregon?”

“My daughter was born today. And I wasn’t there.”

“Oregon always makes me think of malted beverages.”

“I’ve been putting the wrong things first,” he said. “I’ve been so competitive. That’s my only skill, really. I’m competitive. That’s all sales and business is. Competition. It’s a game. All about winning.”

I jingled the change in my pockets. “Have you ever tried the Sam Adams seasonal lager?”

“But you want to know something else?” he said, “this morning, I called my boss. I told him that my daughter was born. And you know how he reacted?”

I shook my head.

“My boss said nothing. No congratulations, no nothing. I wanted to cry. All he cares about is the same things I’ve cared about. Making money. Winning. So you wanna know what I did?”

“You ordered a stranger a beer?”

“I quit my job today. I told him that he could go on without me. And he was like, ‘Are you serious?’ And I was like, ‘Yes, I am.’ I’m going back home, and I’m going to raise my family. I’m going to get a job in my dad’s hardware store, man. And I’m going to be a dad, the way God intended.”

He paid his tab. He packed up his suitcase. And he walked away, exuding a different kind of confidence than before.

Whereupon the bartender came to me and gave me a sympathetic smile. “I can’t stand to see you drinking plain water all by yourself,” she said. “Would you like a free glass of Samuel Adams? On the house?”

I don’t care what they say about this old world.

Dreams do come true.

1 comment

  1. Eva Marie Everson - May 24, 2023 9:28 pm

    I spend a lot of time in airports myself … this was classic. What always makes me laugh is the way people jockey for position at the gate when 1) you HAVE a ticket, and 2) you HAVE a ticket with either a seat number already set for you, or you at least have a number that indicates which person you are in the lineup. I also do not appreciate the way First Class looks down on the lowly “rest of us.” Yeah, yeah. We know. You’re something special up there. Although I do admit that I fly business class and DO like to give the “yeah, I’m in business …”


Leave a Comment