People Watching

The hotel lobby is about the size of an aircraft hangar. It’s like a city unto itself. They do things big in Atlanta.

There are restaurants, cafes, gift shops, arcades, boutiques, and a glass elevator that brings to mind “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

I am sitting at the bar. Watching people wander through the lobby in clots.

My bartender is a youngish woman with a pronounced drawl. She pronounces “dance” as “daintz.” She brings me a beer and asks how I’m doing, but my attention focuses on the throngs in the lobby.

“Are you a people-watcher?” she asks.

As it happens, I am a longtime people-watcher. You can put me in an airport, beer joint, train station, school, or Holiday Inn Express, and I’m at a matinee.

“I like watching people,” I tell the bartender.

She nods. “Me, too.”

So here we are. Both of us. The bartender and yours truly, People-watching.

“I like to look for old couples,” she says. “I like to see old people who are still in love. They remind me of my parents.”

“Where do your parents live?”

“North Georgia. They’ve been married 52 years. Good people.”

A group of young dark-skinned men walk by. They are wearing traditional African garb, rolling suitcases. Long tunics. Wild colors. I can hear them talking. Their accents sound melodic.

“Those guys are from Kenya,” says the bartender. “I waited on them yesterday. Happy guys. They’re here for a wedding. They’ve got more money than Jesus.”

More hordes walk by. A girls soccer team. Midwesterners with shopping bags. Young men in sports coats and Guccis. A mass of older women, all wearing matching T-shirts that say, “Happy birthday, Caroline! You turned 35 twice!”

“How did you end up in Atlanta?” I ask.

“Came to Atlanta with my husband, who is now my ex-husband. He had a job here. He left me the day after my fortieth birthday. He married a girl who was twenty-two years old.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Water under the bridge. We sort of divorced for religious reasons, anyhow.”


“Yeah. He thought he was God, and I didn’t.”

A small group of businesswomen walk by. They look like classy professionals. High heels. Skirt suits. Deathly serious faces.

“Those business ladies were in here last night, too,” the bartender whispers. “Complete witches. Everything had to be just so. You know what I mean?”

“I am familiar.” I took a sip. “How old are your kids?”

“Two boys. Ten and eight. My oldest is whip smart. He’s going places. My youngest is a typical boy. He only cares about fishing and sports. Kids need their dad, you know, but my ex never comes around. Never even calls my boys.”

I nod. Because I get it. I had a father for a brief period. I had him until I was 11, then he was gone.

“My youngest is always asking me when Daddy is going to take him to a Georgia game. My sons are always texting their dad, but he won’t answer them back for weeks sometimes. Breaks my heart. So I try to be both Mom and Dad.”

“You sound like a great mother.”

A cluster of high-school kids walk by. They are emitting sine waves of hormonal energy. Trying hard to impress one another.

“I took my boys to Disney this year. That’s where they wanted to go. It was tough because I work three jobs, and I had to take time off. Few of my bosses got mad about it. One boss almost fired me.”

“Did your boys have fun?”

“Does the pope go in the woods?”

I sipped and nodded.

“I have tried to give my boys a good life. Took them to Austin, Texas. Took them to Virginia Beach. Gatlinburg. Atlantic City. And next month, I’m going to take them to the Rocky Mountains.”

We watch more crowds pass. People of all shapes, creeds, colors, and persuasions.

“You want to see a picture of my boys?” she says.


She removes a phone. She shows images of her kids. They are dressed in University of Georgia shirts. Smiling to beat the band. Their mother holds them closely. One boy in each arm. And I am reminded of the single mother who raised me.

This world doesn’t do nearly enough for mothers. But it does even less for the single ones.

While looking at a few dozen pictures of her children, the bartender smiles at her photos, lost in the kinds of warm memories that only mothers hold.

She says, “I’d give my boys the world if I could, but I can’t afford the world. So I just give them myself, you know? I give them all of me, and I pray that’s good enough.”

Yes. They’re doing just fine here in Atlanta.


  1. Trudy - September 5, 2022 12:02 pm

    Not only do you people watch, you care about the people that you see. You “get” people. You’re a good guy, Sean.

  2. Chasity Davis Ritter - September 5, 2022 12:03 pm

    What lucky boys to have a momma that loves them so and works so hard. She could be living on handouts but like your momma she’s showing them that you gotta work hard and keep going. God bless her. I hope some well to do person comes in and leaves her a ginormous tip. I’m sure you left her a good one that’s your way too. I love getting to people watch through your eyes.

  3. mccutchen52 - September 5, 2022 12:13 pm

    Single mothers have the hand of God on their shoulders. When things get tough he will help with the stress.

  4. Ann Fuller - September 5, 2022 12:44 pm

    You need to callUGA sports & get that Mom & her boys football tickets!

  5. Anne Arthur - September 5, 2022 1:05 pm

    I love people-watching too. But I doubt I “get” them like you do. You connect with those you meet at heart level.

  6. Donna from Iowa - September 5, 2022 1:28 pm

    What an inspirational message to start my day; God bless that mom and you for your talents!

  7. David Britnell - September 5, 2022 1:46 pm

    Sean I wish words came to me as easily as they seem to come to you. You made me have feelings for this single mom and all the single parents out there. It has to be so tough being both mom and dad to your kids. Kudos to you for helping us to empathize with them just a little bit.

  8. Cathy M - September 5, 2022 2:49 pm

    People watchers are observers. They usually are caring people. I am in this club of observers and the airport is a great place to observe others. I just put my sunglasses on and have a party for one. Often you can tell when people are sad or unhappy. Then, I often feel compelled to offer help but I try to stay in my own backyard. I always say a prayer and hope their day or life gets better. I love this hardworking single Mom. Her boys are so fortunate. She could have folded after the divorce but she took the high road and three jobs. Her boys will be telling stories abt. Her the rest of their lives. Esp. Once they are grown and have their own families. Let’s hope they already tell her. Thank you Sean for rocking my world on Labor Day. ❤️👏

  9. sjhl7 - September 5, 2022 4:24 pm

    Love this! A people watcher and a loving Mother – can’t beat that combination!

  10. pattymack43 - September 5, 2022 5:32 pm

    Yes! Single Moms need special appreciation! However, there are, also, some single Dads who try just as hard. May God bless the single parents who are doing their best for their kids. Thanks, Sean. Blessings!

  11. Patricia Gibson - September 5, 2022 5:54 pm

    God bless her❤️🙏

  12. Linda Moon - September 5, 2022 6:11 pm

    My old guy and I were at a matinee yesterday, watching a movie. We like both like watching movies, and I like watching people and wondering why they came out to watch “Jaws” on the big screen. Our son and his wife joined us, and well, that made the day just fine there at the IMAX. Moms and people-watchers know, Sean. We do fine wherever we are …. IMAX or Dollar Movie, and I think the Atlanta mother does, too.

  13. Debbie - September 5, 2022 6:55 pm

    I hope the boys understand how blessed they are to have such a mother. I hope that understanding stays with them forever.

  14. Rebecca Souders - September 5, 2022 8:32 pm

    Another nice one, Sean… I love reading your words!

  15. Linda Moon - September 5, 2022 8:51 pm

    So, the internet gremlin snatched my original comment about people watching. I’ll try to let all you people know all about it later, after this trial-internet-run here.

  16. Donna Bandy - September 6, 2022 2:03 am

    Here’s to all the single mothers! 🍻

  17. Debbie g - September 6, 2022 4:16 am

    Great mom story
    And I love the religious reason for the divorce. Priceless 😀
    Love you and Jamie and all

  18. Shirley Sawyer - September 6, 2022 3:18 pm

    I read your stories every day. It is a great way to start my day. I haven’t written a comment lately…. But I wanted you to know I enjoy your writings. Thank you for being in my inbox every morning. Have a great day!
    Love you ❤️ Shirley from Louisville Ky

  19. CHARALEEN WRIGHT - September 15, 2022 9:38 pm



Leave a Comment