Teachers Write 7.7 Tuesday Quick-Write with Phil Bildner

It’s time for your first Teachers Write Tuesday Quick-Write! Today’s post is courtesy of Phil Bildner, the author of the New York Times bestselling Sluggers! series, the Texas Bluebonnet Award-winning Shoeless Joe & Black Betsy and its companion, The Shot Heard ‘Round the World, both illustrated by C. F. Payne; and Twenty-One Elephants, illustrated by LeUyen Pham. Phil’s new picture book, Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans, comes out this month from Chronicle.

Here’s Phil’s prompt for today…

People make wonderful prompts. Sometimes when I’m building characters, I’ll go to a place public — a coffee shop, a park, the library — and I’ll people watch. When I taught middle school in the New York City public schools, on my way to school, I would sit with my journal in my lap (when I got a seat) and make up stories and build characters based on those around me.
Find a fresh place to write. People watch. Create characters or character traits based on those you see. You’ll be amazed at how quickly the ideas develop.
Note from Kate:  This is a really great prompt to do with your kids in the first weeks of school, too. Take those notebooks and pens out of the classroom — outside, or even just to the front hallway or cafeteria — and get them writing!
We’d love to hear about who you watched (and wrote about!) today, so if you’d like to share, feel free to post a snippet of your writing from today in the comments!
And just to remind everyone… I tried to reply to every comment yesterday to say hello to everyone, but that probably won’t be the case with all of our guest authors. Most try to pop in to say hello and chat a bit, but many folks are traveling or on deadline and can’t reply to all of your comments. That makes it even more important for you to build this community and talk writing with one another, too. 🙂

246 Replies on “Teachers Write 7.7 Tuesday Quick-Write with Phil Bildner

  1. So I’ll be the first to comment on my writing prompt. This morning, I have to bring my dog to the vet. I’ll be bringing my journal and arriving early for the appointment. There is LOTS to observe while waiting at the vet.

    1. What a great idea! Yes…the vet’s waiting room… a little anxiety, curious glances, animal and human personalities. Do share after your experience today, Phil.

  2. I love this prompt! So fun. I need, and will, do this more. Essential to writing authentic characters and dialog. Thank you! This is very rough. I look forward to playing around with it more!

    Starbucks, Jackson, Michigan 7:00 AM

    7:00 Two male customers already seated.

    One female waiting for an order, nurse. She didn’t use the drive-thru option. Instead, opted to come in for her to-go order. Wearing scrubs; plain, no fun patterns. She must work with adult patients. Perhaps had a complicated order and didn’t want to hold up the drive-thru line.

    7:06 My breakfast sandwich sat, unclaimed. Older male, on his way out for the morning, checked with myself and other remaining male guest for ownership. Kindly wished everyone a great morning on his way out. Casually dressed, tshirt and khaki shorts, sandals. On a Tuesday morning, he looks like he is on vacation or retired. He makes Starbucks his first stop in the morning. He reads the paper and catches up on the day’s news.

    7:09 Young adult male walks in, black jeans, black tshirt, bookbag. He waves to the staff when he walks in. They say hello back. The barista asks, “Any breakfast?” He pauses. “No.” Mumbles order. Tired. Maybe a server who worked the late shift, and now, he is coming in to use the free wifi before he has to go to work later.

    7:11 Order came up. “There you go, Drew. Thank you!” “Thanks.” Sat near first seated male. “Can I sit here?” “Sure!” Guys occupying the two leather, cushy chairs in the seating area. Young male has one earplug in. Both guys on devices! Come here for free wifi! But that’s why I’m here too!

    7:14 Another female nurse in scrubs come in. Nurses and coffee save lives! “Hello!”

    1. I love that you included dialog in your notes. I often forget to “lean in and listen” and so many great story conversations happen that way. I enjoyed your piece!

    2. This was so awesome! When I read the prompt my first thought was I would love to go to Starbucks (closest is about an hour away). You took me there. Love you time stamps and the descriptions that feel like the beginning of a story…where’d they go next? Where’d they come from?

      1. Ha ha…Deb. I too live about an hour from Starbucks. We need a proper coffee shop in my rural town. We have the old school, downtown breakfast place, and a regular group of retirees meets every morning at McDonalds. My people watching (and coffee) is going to have to take place in my own kitchen with my children and dog.

    3. I love it! You took me back to my college days. I used to love to set @ 9th Street Cafe (the closest coffee shop to campus) and watch the variety of characters that stopped in.

    4. I am heading to a trendy restaurant in many ways similar to a coffee house for lunch today with a friend. Your Starbuck’s description has prompted me to go early and to take my notebook with me. Thanks for sharing!

    5. In addition to dialogue, I found it interesting that you recorded the times. It seems this would be helpful information in further developing a character or story.

    6. Jessica, so smart to go to Starbucks to people watch! I’ll have to try that. I love all the interactions you caught!

    7. I forgot all about how we get to learn math while writing comments here.
      I do have a local Starbucks and think I may just head over there soon to check out the scene. It’s always so noisy and I tend to prefer quiet when writing. Thanks for getting us started with this play by play.

    8. Hi Jessica,

      I had already decided to head to Hansa Coffee – my favorite coffee shop when I read your post this morning. I had to wait until this afternoon because I was at summer school when I read it. I’ll be headed there soon. Thanks for the inspiration!

  3. I got up early this morning, which I rarely do in the summer, and sat down at the computer with my cup of coffee to write! I love going out into the world and observing others. We did this a lot in a college writing class I had with Jane Hansen. But, I live in a rural area and there is nowhere for me to “people-watch” this morning. So, I decided to sit on my deck (it’s a beautiful, cool morning here) and watch the wildlife out back and see what “animal characters” I could develop. Here’s what I’ve seen so far: (in about 40 minutes)
    ~The doves that live out back are sitting at the base of the bird feeder. There are always two. I’ve read that doves select a partner for life. It makes me happy to see those two out there for a morning snack!
    ~There are two different hummingbirds flitting back and forth, taking turns at the hummingbird feeder. One is mostly black with a white collar…he sort of reminds me of a pastor or priest. The other is smaller and iridescent green, almost like a rainbow shining in the sun. Back and forth, taking turns.
    ~There is an ant army I can’t seem to deter. It climbs up the post where the hummingbird feeder is hanging. The ants march up, across the bracket, turn around, and march back. Some go back down, others find their way to the liquid, lean in for a quick sip and whoops! They end up in the feeder. Ant hazard!
    ~There is a thin squirrel sneaking up on the doves. The doves don’t seem to care.
    ~OH! I’m so excited because across the pond the mother doe has popped out from the hedgerow. I hope the babies follow her out. Sometimes they do, sometimes not. There must be berries over there where she is because she is steadily eating. (about 10 minutes have passed.) She’s still over there and the littles just popped out. Three fawns…you can see their white spots from here. They hop around like baby goats! I’m so excited I got up to do this or I wouldn’t have seen them! They are funny characters themselves. Spiritedly hopping around. I hope they don’t fall in the pond. Hmmm….that could be a story….

    1. I bet Nicola Davies has done a lot of this exact kind of observation before writing her beautiful books! What a great direction to take this prompt in!

    2. I love how you adapted the prompt to fit your situation. I know that I might just throw up my hands and say, “Oh, well that doesn’t apply to me. Guess that won’t work.” What a rich world you inhabit! Thanks for sharing.

    3. Ohhhh! I’m so glad you went outside to write, too. I watched that momma deer eating berries and saw the babies’ heads pop out of the greenery to eat, oh so close to the water, but surprisingly surefooted (or not?). I felt your excitement and was waiting to find out if we’d see the littles. I’m so glad you brought me there with you! Thanks for sharing.

    4. I was doing the same thing when I read your observation…looking out and watching the birds and the pushy squirrels. I like your word choice.

    5. Your response has inspired me; I wrote about the ‘animal characters’ in my piece, as well. It is as though I had company on my journey down the trail that I had not noticed before :o)

  4. I love this exercise and will for sure use it in the fall. Even more fun (for me anyway, lol!) is that I live in a tiny, tiny…very quiet town. Hardly anyone here and out and about for me to observe which kind of got my imagination (wonders!) going on where are they? Are they really all moved away, down south. Maybe this is a town of super shy people who never come out of their homes unless they are sure they will run into no one? Maybe it is a ghost town? Maybe….I will wander the town today and see who I can see…

    1. I really enjoy how you can play with the What Ifs of your town, giving it an almost eerie feeling of everyone being the same. I can imagine you wandering today, looking at everyone with wondering eyes!
      Hope we hear what you come up with!

  5. Working through a story & at the moment my life won’t allow downtime at a coffee shop…three kids, but I have been more aware of boys lately & what they are like. I need to study it more:
    A lot of my life lately seems to focus on BB guns.
    This Christmas my boys watched The Christmas Story for the first time. My 9 year old son went to the cottage of a family with four boys between 9 and 12 and they used a BB gun. All my son asks me for everyday is a BB gun and when I travelled to Boothbay, Maine for the 8th Annual Heinemann Literacy Retreat this summer, I got to hear the fabulous Chris Crutcher read, from his memoir King of the Mild Frontier, a hilarious story about his devious older brother who shot him in the head with a BB gun. (His brother still denies it.)
    Last night I was talking to one of my fellow soccer coaches & he told me about friends of the family who had boys with BB guns. They got them for Christmas & went outside to shoot them. They shot rocks at first, but their mother found out and said they weren’t allowed too. So…they shot frozen dog poop instead. I can imagine it exploding and going everywhere causing rounds of laughter.
    Boys! I don’t think I knew how much boys like guns, cars and motorcycles. I think I need to incorporate this into a character in my story. I also had an interesting group of boys in my class this year to draw from.
    So here’s a greater character development for Adam:
    Older brother to Hannah
    Brave, brash, bold
    Rides bikes through the bush
    Finds ways around the rules set-up for him
    Torturing a sister causes great delight
    Loves sleeping outside in the trailer – degree of freedom
    Bruised shins & scabby elbows
    Disappears into the bush with friends bikes and shovels for hours.
    BB gun-loving
    Desparately wants a dirt bike
    Deep friend Twinkie – crusty on the outside sweet on the inside
    Loves animals
    Thank you!

    1. Wonderful details you’ve got, especially the frozen poop! What a great list of observations.

    2. “Bruised shins and scabby elbows”! I can see it. Those skin-juries…tell stories for sure. I enjoyed your thoughts about boys. I have two sons. The captivation with airsoft guns and video games…and certain youtube personalities/videos/games….I try to pay attention. Ha ha!

    3. Studying boys through observation and writing. What a great way to dig deeper and gain understanding. I loved reading your observations and thoughts about your boys, and your character development of Adam. I especially liked: “Finds ways around the rules set-up for him” Thank you for sharing!

  6. I love the line, “People make wonderful prompts.”

    While I haven’t gone out people watching yet, I did ponder the prompt on my blog.

    Here’s my highlight:
    As someone who loves to read, it seems so natural that the people all around us inspire characters. It also seems natural that the characters we find most interesting, intriguing, or identifiable are real characters, so paying attention and being inspired by what you see is one characteristic of a good writer. I’m not sure I’ll be back to this blog or task today. My life often seems to be running ahead of me, but my hope for today, is that I can slow it down a bit to pay more attention to the who/what around me.

    I also am filing this prompt/idea for an early writing task for ELA 9. Thanks for getting me thinking and writing this morning!

  7. I am going to my children’s swim meet today so I plan to take a notebook along. Being from New Orleans, I can’t wait to read the Marvelous Cornelius!

    1. Yea! And I’ll be in NOLA for the 10th Anniversary of Katrina next month. I have an event at Octavia Books on Sunday August 30th. Can’t wait to be back in New Orleans!

  8. I love this topic for brainstorming and character development! I fully intended to seek out a person and describe them in detail and then… my thoughts veered into a different direction, my fingers tapping words and thoughts hidden from my view. Powerful! My response for today’s prompt is on my blog (http://bit.ly/1H70TKj) but here is a snippet to entice:

    I’m a people-watcher by nature. The act of social observation is something that flows through my veins like water rippling down a stream. It’s the purpose of people-watching that changes over time. I used to people-watch out of curiosity, intrigued by characteristics that vibrantly stood out against the crowd: the spiked porcupine hair, the ripped shirts and fall-to-your-knees baggy pants. Then I people-watched out of boredom, waiting for my daughter to be released from her ballet class; dance moms eagerly vying for for position, nearly scrambling over one another to spotlight their darling virtuoso.

    Looking forward to learning more from each of you as we work together to stretch our writing each day!

  9. Wow, Phil! What a refreshing way to work on characterization. I may try this tomorrow while I’m “actively monitoring” students re-taking the dreaded STAAR EOC. I’ll have to imprint it in my brain (as I am not supposed to be doing anything other than “actively monitoring”), then, I’ll let it spill out in my journal when they are finished testing. Living out in the country with the closest civilization being a small town, I will have to pick and choose the best opportunities to accomplish this activity!

    Thank you for the inspiration, Phil.

  10. I’m off to work at the Rummage Sale again – there are always plenty of “characters” there! I’ll be back later with my observations!

    1. There most certainly are “characters” at garage sales, yard sales, and rummage sales!

  11. I am for sure saving this for my revamped writing club this fall at school.

    Because I’m in Japan, I don’t see the day’s posts until the evening, so I jotted down everything I could remember about a fellow I saw at the cafe today and wrote it out into a character sketch. I’ll bring my super secret spy notebook while I’m out tomorrow for more careful observations, too.

  12. On my walk in rural Maine for vacation, I chat with an elderly gentleman sitting under a tree for shade. He is in an old lounge chair, flannel shirt, suspenders, an undershirt, gripping his cane in one hand and a glass of lemonade in the other. Always a raspy but cheery hello to me and my dog. I need to chat more with him!

    1. I love that image of both hands full – cane in one and lemonade in the other. Someone told me once when I was working to develop a character to think about what they hold in their hands – it was such good advice.

      1. Yes!! What do they hold in their hands! I was acting in Man of La Mancha about ten years ago…and the stage manager, watching the scene of D.Q.\’s death… just a few days before performance….came to me afterwards with a new prop for me to hold/use during the scene–a handkerchief. It made the scene 10 times easier for me to enter into as an authentic character!!

  13. Coffee and Eggs
    A crisp blue-sky morning. Writer’s notebook in front of me. Sitting with a cup of coffee at a small rural eatery. The kind with pictures of colorful trout swimming in small streams hanging from the walls. I sit and wait for a friend to arrive for our morning breakfast. I’m usually the first one there. I like that. I like that I have time to sit and observe and write.

    As I sip my coffee I watch as common folk come in from the evening shift at a local nursing home. A local doctor and his wife chatting over eggs and coffee. Landscapers coming in for a quick chow down before they start their day in what looks to be a hot one. Summer folks, loud, happy, and relaxed enjoying huge breakfasts of eggs, whipped cream topped strawberry pancakes, and of course coffee or milk. As I sit note-taking drinking my coffee I can’t help but notice the waitresses. She deserves the biggest of tips because she is working the worst of shifts. I remember those days, and not longingly. I will leave extra in my tip. I don’t really even need to make mental note of that. It’s automatic.

    But as I sit here I realize it’s not the tourists or landscapers that catch my curiosity. It’s a group of older men who use their hands for work. They are all wearing outdoor clothing, looking like they just came in from the woods. Dirty hands, wood chips sticking to their red or blue flannel shirts. Grubby, well-worn and well-loved baseball caps with the revered “B” proudly displayed on each. This table was enticing because it also holds one young man who was one of them, but not. Unlike his companions, his Red Sox cap is on backwards. I watch him, wondering what it must be like for him sitting amongst such elders. “He probably gets ragged on a lot,” I find myself thinking. He has a huge appetite. Eating a heaping of eggs, sausages, and home fries with a generous amount of ketchup over everything. Holding his spoon like a shovel, he focuses intensely on his food with a lowered head. He drinks a lot of coffee; lots of cream and sugar. While he appears very much within himself he never stops listening to the conversations of the table. I begin to wonder….

    Liz finally enters. My attention diverted.

    1. I enjoyed your description of the older men. You’ve got me wondering, too. I wonder about the older men’s conversation and whether or not the younger man would be a participant some day. Thank you for sharing!

      1. Thank you Laurie. They were an interesting lot. Always fun to watch. I wondered about that too. My guess is the younger guy thinks about it himself.

    2. I love the description of the old men too, but I want to know more about the young guy. What’s his story? Is he related to one of the men? College age? What does he do when he’s not working or hanging out with these fellows? What has he learned from them? This could be a great story.

  14. Good Morning, Mr. Bildner and TWer’s!

    I am a people watcher, so I love this activity. I have done this many times, and my three favorite places to find characters (through people watching) are the community pool, the baseball stadium, and the New York State Fair.

    Here are some patrons from the community pool:
    – Abrasive mom: She is pushing her four-year-old daughter to take the swim test (swim 25 yards without touching bottom) so that the girl can dive off the diving board. She is basically making her grow up faster than she should. She is yelling at her (What is wrong with you?) and praising her at the same time (You can do it!). When the girl fails, she begins to cry and Mom hugs her to console her, but all the while she is asking the girl if she wants to try again. The mom wants every patron of the pool to see this spectacle, so she is very dramatic.
    – 80’s mom: She is dancing to the pool music (Poison, AC/DC, Micheal Jackson, Asia – what a mix) while whirling around her big hair, which she has kept as a memory of the era. She teaches her daughter how to dance like an 80’s girl (basically sway back and forth while waving her hair) and her husband looks very uncomfortable. This person has made it into many manuscripts and stories – the mom that has control at home but wants to hang out with her kids. Her kids are really annoyed because they are in middle school and Mom is from another era (literally). Mom picks the kids up from a friend’s house while Ratt is blaring from the car speakers. Her kids tell her that they will get a ride from a friend.:)
    – Talkative dad: He is telling all of the lifeguards and the other patrons his political and religious views. He is also talking about the old days (reliving actual games that he played in and/or concerts he has attended). Occasionally, he throws his daughter into the air and she splashes into the water, pulls her through the water, or buys her an ice cream from the concession stand, but the rest of the time he is talking to someone and not watching her. The lifeguards and other patrons like him, but they are always looking over his shoulder to make sure that his little girl doesn’t drown or hurt herself by mistake.

    1. Now I’m going to be singing “In the Heat of the Moment” and “Smooth Criminal” all day!

    2. I laughed out loud at your descriptions. It seems that everyone has an agenda at your pool. What interesting characters! My favourite line: ” . . . and her husband looks very uncomfortable.”
      I’ve got to get to the pool more often!

    3. I love the classifications and descriptions. You hit it right on and your writing is hilarious!

  15. I love that this prompt requires us to be observant. I also love how it ties in with Kate’s “I wonder…” prompt from yesterday. For example, I just watched a clip of the Women’s World Cup final. In it, the crowd is going crazy after one of the U.S. goals, but in this one close up shot, a guy is looking down at his cell phone while cheering erupts all around him. I thought…I wonder how he’s not caught up in this? I wondered what was happening with his life in that moment. Thanks for getting us thinking today, Phil.

    1. Hi Kim,
      Great observation – I noticed the same thing. I also wonder how the girls are feeling after winning the Cup. I know that it is happiness and joy, but I wonder which girls are relieved (from all of the years of training), sentimental (thinking of a loved one, maybe someone who drove them to practice every day), tired (thank goodness it is over), or proud (of their nation or their teammates or their effort). I also wonder about the Japanese girls and their sadness. There was so much emotion in that stadium. A wonderful place to people watch if you could take your eyes off of the action on the field. Thanks for making me realize something that I did not realize while watching it live. Happy writing!

    2. When I visit schools, one of the things I always tell kids — when discussing screen time — is that you can’t just watch your life, you need to live your live. Grownups need to do the same.

  16. Love this prompt–thanks for being here.

    A woman in an orange dress and brown-framed glasses makes her way up a side street. It’s a bright dress for a hot day, something pulled out and de-wrinkled for a special occasion. A calling-attention dress.

    She keeps her eyes on the ground, watching for uneven places, her feet uneasy in higher-than-she’s-used-to espadrilles. She steps carefully around a place where roots have lifted the sidewalk and tucks a strand of escaping hair behind her ear. She smiles a small, hopeful smile, thinking of conversations that haven’t happened yet.

    1. Just the right small details to pull readers into her story. Thanks for noticing & sharing, Jane.

  17. I’ve gone to the pharmacy on the Fourth of July to get my daughter antibiotic drops — her eyes have been oozing this holiday with pink eye — when a quick glance around shows that everyone in the overly air conditioned building would rather be celebrating somewhere else. The man in the consultation line in front of me wears his graying blue hair in a pony tail longer than my nine-year-old’s, his arm in a sling, and with his falsetto speech he beseeches the clerk to try to work the insurance some other way, because he really needs, and cannot afford, pain medication I imagine the many ways he might have ended up with his arm in the sling — everything from a street fight, to slipping on a wet kitchen floor in his patent leather high heels, and I want to invite him to our block party, offer him a folding chair, and hear more. Part of me imagines he’s delicately nurse his shoulder, regaling me with stories of his life that I wouldn’t want my children to overhear, and the other part pictures him whipping off the sling as soon as he escaped the view of the pharmacist, joining us all in the street for the block party line dancing without a grimace in the world.

    1. I like the what-ifs your brain conjures from this seemingly mundane situation. Thanks for sharing, Gayle.

  18. Today I am going to a rally created to bring attention to the fact that our governor ( I live in Ohio) has decided to send a CEO to take over the operation of a our school district. I know there will be a TON of interesting situations to observe at this event!

    1. Who better to run a school district than someone who has no interaction with kids and educators?

  19. I had to run out and get more oil for my car. So I headed to an auto shop, a place where I definitely do not venture very often, probably for good reason. Here are my observations, turned into a story:

    The door dinged as I opened it, and I was greeted by rows and rows of shelves stacked with every kind of car fluid and accessory one could ever imagine. There was no one in the store, but the ding probably signaled to two male employees in the back that they had a customer. They most likely looked at each other at that sound, and mentally tried to decide who would get up to handle the business. One guy obviously lost, but he put on his cheery “customer face” as he headed out the door, the other guy smiling to himself at his superior mental dominance.

    “Good morning! What can I do for you?” He instantly recognized that a young woman in an auto shop would probably need help, but being a pro at buying oil for my oil-burning car, I knew exactly where I was headed.

    “I just need oil.” I said, hoping he wouldn’t ask for specifics. Because although I knew I needed oil, I couldn’t explain much more than that. Satisfied with my answer, the employee made himself look busy at the front desk, while I grabbed my oil and tried to stride confidently up to the checkout counter. I knew what I was doing.

    “That all for ya?” he asked, eyeing my purchase. I nodded, and he rang me up. He printed my receipt on an old-fashioned machine, thinking as he ripped it off that they desperately needed to update their system. I signed the receipt and he ripped off the top copy, handing it to me and giving me the last he could muster of his service smile. Trying to continue my act of confidence, I strode out the doors, the bell going off one last time. Back in the shop, the employee walks back into the break room to take a seat, but not before the phone rings. Determined to be strong, he stares at his coworker, and while he clenches his teeth he sits, daring the other man to remain seated. The chess match continues.

    1. Next week, I have to take my car in for servicing. Instead of dropping it off and coming back, I think I’m going to wait the hour or two and observe. Thanks!

    1. Adding the content of the day’s writing here:

      Day 2: Observing in a public place
      I used the EarthCam site and app for this.
      Abbey Road, England

      A man in a heavy backback stands at the side of the road with his iPhone. His short sleeved button down shirt is untucked. He’s along. He hold his camera up and takes a picture. Looks. Leans back to get a better view or angle with the camera. Leans back further and almost topples over backwards before finally snapping his picture. Satisfied, he walks away.

      But a minute later he’s back. Walking back and forth looking at other people. Is there an angle he missed? A sight he didn’t know were there?

      A man stands at the corner and starts brushing his hair with his fingers. Bed head? He is vigorously trying to mash his hair down onto his head.

      A man stops in the middle of the road to snap THE Abbey Road shot, and a red double-decker bus creeps up behind him and stops. He is nonplussed. There is no beep. The man finally turns around and then scampers off to the sidewalk.
      Once the bus passes, he takes up his don’t-hit-me position… and the group of kids he’s with cross and he finally takes their picture.

      Even the construction vehicles are Mercedes!

      The posing-like-the-cover-of-the-album walk is repeated again and again…

      New Orleans Bourbon Street (@St. Peter)

      It must be early, but the road crew is out. You know the old joke, “How many State workers does it take to dig a hole? … One to hold the shovel and five to watch.”
      Apparently this isn’t just a NY thing. The neon-yellow vested crew is just sitting and watching. Nothing. They occasionally lean forward and scan the road, then turn their heads the other way. Are they looking for the boss? Checking that they’re not BUSTED standing still? The slick black ponytail of one “observer” dances on the back of his neon vest as he turns his head side-to-side. It “shortens” as he bends his neck to look at his phone.
      Nothing happening here. Moving on…
      Dublin Pub Cam

      I’m outside the Temple Bar. Would it surprise you that Guinness is featured prominently in the window? I’m surprised by the number of hanging flower baskets on the building. It doesn’t strike me as an Irish thing…
      The rain makes the cobblestone road glisten. A family of three–little girl holding her own leopard-print umbrella–stops on the corner and asks a native for directions. The local starts pointing down the road and indicates that they should go straight to that spot there, then swoop left around the corner.
      Why do some people carry umbrellas while others don’t seem to care about the rain? Some wear hats…
      What is affection? A man puts his arm around his stroller-pushing wife as they near the intersection. Cute.

      1. David,

        i’m struck by the intricate details and musings. You see more than meets the eye, and let the reader in to the scene behind the scene. Marvelous!

      2. Love the Abbey Road piece. I didn’t realize that everyone was imitating the original picture until the end- great.

  20. Shop owner at the scrapbook store:

    The store clerk was an aging, slightly portly man with a large nose, brown eyes, and bushy, untamed greying eyebrows. He wore a faded, well-worn navy tee shirt with saggy, distressed blue jeans. His tennis shoes, although still white, had seen their better days. He owned a cat, white with patches of black, which he has raised from a very tiny kitten. As he strolled around the store with an oversized cat cartoon coffee mug, he talked to himself about his morning and his trials of getting the cat in the truck.

    1. Another observation choice –
      After moving on to the rest of my day, I flipped on the radio and found myself listening to music lyrics in a completely new light. I do not know why this had not occurred to me before; they are FULL of character traits. Which I feel would possible be a great “buy in” for my reluctant writers

  21. The same workers have been at the Big Apple Bagel ever since I started coming. Usually the one behind the counter is in the background racing back and forth to keep up with the orders. She wears a tie dye T-shirt with the company name on it. He baseball hat is evidence she rolls out of bed at five am to get here by six. Today, she smiles at me. “Hi sweetheart! I’m sorry, I’m forgetting your name. You’re part of our coffee rewards program aren’t you?” I’m taken aback with her personal tone today. I’m touched. “Can you believe your name is in here three times? I’ll just pick one.” I hand her a twenty and accidentally rip the little tear until almost half the bill is torn. “I’ll fix that, sweetheart.” With the cash drawer open, she tenderly lays the bill on the side. An older employee, also with the baseball hat tie dye combo is rushing around to keep up with the customers. She gets his attention, “This little guy is going to need some fixing. Can you grab a piece of tape?” She gives me hope. Her manners, her kindness, sense of humor, and easy going way set my tone for the day. What a gift!

  22. Although I didn’t go anywhere public for my observations, my apartment is on the ground floor and my street is busy with morning commuters walking to work. So I sat here with my tea and watched. It is Stampede week in Calgary, Alberta, which means a whole lot of denim and plaid shirts. I wonder how many people are excited by this and how many are simply fulfilling an obligation at work. After watching a number of people walk by I conclude that the more accessorized the person is, the more enthusiastic the participant.
    She walks down the street wearing black jeans, a black, ruffled cowgirl shirt, a large belt buckle, bolo tie (I had to look up what those are called using “cowboy neck accessories” as my search), a cowgirl hat and comfortable worn-in boots. She walks by with a smile and looks eager to start the day. Stampede is her thing. She looks forward to it every year. Maybe she has moved to Calgary for work and the Stampede reminds her of her childhood growing up on an acreage just outside of a small, rural town. She is now making her way in the big city. Happy childhood memories fuel her participation in a long-standing city tradition that feels a bit like home.

    1. I really like the idea that different people are wearing their outfits for different reasons–some grudgingly, some enthusiastically. And street views are ideal for people-watching!

    2. Excellent! There’s an old 90s band called Dog’s Eye View. Your post reminded me of them. The name of the band came from the lead singer — his apartment was a basement apartment, giving him a “dog’s eye view” of all the passersby.

  23. People-Watching in the Market

    Young man watering the plants – staring intently as he works, until a curvaceous young woman passes by, clad in skin-tight workout attire, and his eyes drift to her figure.

    Mature woman awaits her coffee, staring blankly outside. Her countenance changes when her hands gently receive her order of java. She then joins a small group of friends at a nearby table where they happily commune.

    Coffee server has brilliant fingernails, each a different, distinct color, yet her delivery of warm coffee is muted by her cold, aloof disposition.

    Older gentleman hunched over in his chair, slowly eating his salad. A morning salad seems an unusual choice. He has no book. No device. Eyes fixated on the table he sits at.

    Fair-complexioned caucasian woman pushing small malado child in her cart. She seems adrift in her thoughts, while her child is delighted to be picking snacks out of a bag to munch on.

    None of these characters jump out to me as someone who would be a main character in a story, but I am intrigued by what THEIR stories are. I’m intrigued to know where each goes from here, what activities will fill their day, and what purposes will drive them.

    1. What I especially like is how you’re picking details that hint at the internal spaces of these people–the unexpected morning salad, the cold demeanor juxtaposed with the warm drinks, the blank-faced woman who perks up when she sees her friends (happiness? a facade?).

    2. One thing I like to do for these “peripheral” characters I observe is to write their “thought bubbles.” What is their internal conversation?

      1. Thoughts bubbles added, per your brilliant suggestion:

        Young man watering plants: “Did I set the DVR to record the game toni…WHOA!”

        Coffee server: “Two more hours of this until I can get home to my kiddos.”

        Older gentleman hunched over salad: “Where else can I go to kill a few more hours before my wife leaves for her yoga class?”

        Woman pushing child in cart: “We only have $30 left for groceries until next week. How can I make this last?”

        1. Love your thought bubbles. And how how some of my kids love to draw their own graphic novels . . .

          1. I live the thought bubbles idea, and the man eating a morning salad just to kill time until his wife leaves gave me a good laugh!

        2. Greg, The thought bubbles really enhance your observations. Even though we have no way of knowing what these people are really thinking, our projections can make us more empathetic.

  24. I live in such a busy area it usual to stop and look ( really look!) The uncombed gray hair was strangled into a tight ponytail, Her head touched the ceiling of the car. Behind her stacks of newspapers and empty tossed bottles were growing reaching for the front seat. Slouched clutching the steering wheel she maneuvered the car on its straight path. Her face was not that of an old woman but that of a child crushed and cracked by life.

  25. Loved this prompt! So true that people watching is a great filler of the wells of inspiration. Can still remember travelling with my children on the Toronto subway ystem and trying to guess the stories behind the people we saw. Thanks Phil!

  26. Thanks for a great prompt. I’ve been out and about a lot on my own lately and have enjoyed listening in to bits of conversations–people listening instead of people watching. This weekend I reclined on the beach, eyes closed and listened to snippets without looking at the speakers. I enjoyed imagining who was speaking and considering the undertones, if any, to their comments.
    man: “Honey, we didn’t even bring any chairs or anything.”
    woman: “That’s because we’re in the Viper.”
    man: “I could have fit them in.”
    woman:”Where? On the roof?”

    Taken out of context I realize how many nuances there are to conversations–things you don’t notice unless you see the body language, hear the tone of voice, etc. This dialogue could be read sarcastically but in fact, they were laughing and teasing. Note to self: writers need to work hard to ensure they convey these nuances.

    Here are a few more:

    “Hey–get me the bug juice! And I want the real stuff–not that organic, bunny-hugger s*&t!”
    “Go away, stupid bird!”
    “I’m going the cool way–all these rocks to climb.”
    “Flap! Flap! Why’d it fly away?”
    “You can do it. Step. Step. Step.”
    “And then he said that…right in front of her!”

    It’s fascinating to listen to the different rhythms of conversations. Each of these lines could spark a whole story, a new character or at least a vignette. I want to work on incorporating more dialogue in my writing–a goal which sparked my budding eavesdropping habit. Who knew it would be so much fun, too?

    1. This is a great one-two punch with the prompt! First, people watch. Then, try it with eyes closed! I’m going to continue to use BOTH of these, for myself, and with my students!

    2. I once took scraps of conversation that I heard at Starbucks and wrote them down. Then I tried to make it into a found poem. Not very coherent, but an interesting exercise.

  27. So, one of the other writers wrote about boys…getting in their heads…their fascination with bb guns…their bikes….their bugs, bruises, boxes of boy stuff. That brings me to my boy, Sam. Almost fourteen. At the end of our vacation trip in Maine, he found himself wandering about an antique/junk store with ten dollars to spend. To be almost-fourteen…with a little cash in hand…alone with your thoughts…perusing old post cards and a bowl of old-fashioned zippo type lighters. When I joined him, after a half hour or so, I felt what he was feeling–a familiar shopping-high–treasure-hunting satisfaction. He had gathered up an old cigar box, a small pocket knife, a lighter with a monogrammed “R”, and a little pair of scissors. He has notions of creating a little survival kit. He wants to add some twine, some tape. He says this is inspired by The Dangerous Book for Boys. He may be a boy, and I often find the things that fascinate him (Halo, Youtube humor) pretty darn dull. But I get this fascination with a shop full of nostalgia, mysteries, stories, imagined possibilities. And the desire to take a book’s idea and make it your own. That notion of a handy-dandy box of useful tools struck my boy as something true…something he wants for himself. How many notions and truths have I encountered in books that struck a chord, a longing, recognition. In developing characters, this might be something to think about. What would that person read? When they read, what ideas will grab them, shape them, make them long for an experience or a way of being?

    1. I like how you talk about Halo and YouTube are dull fascinations. I agree, especially when you compare them to real world experiences. I think that’s the case with most screen experiences.

  28. July 7th people watching
    I am stuck in my house for now, but lucky for me I am also an amateur photographer and I have photos to look back on that I took in one of my fav places to people watch: Grand Central Terminal in NYC.
    A young boy, maybe six years old, is standing next to his parents near the information booth. They are looking around them, half in awe and half-lost. It is obviously their first time in Grand Central, maybe their first time in New York City. The boy, on the other hand, is looking at an unfolded map. It is almost as long as his arm span, and so he holds it in accordion fashion. He looks at the map very seriously- he is determined to be the man his parents are telling him he will be some day. He wants to figure this out for them all. He looks like he is on the verge of success.
    Two men in desert camo and standard military boots stand near one of the arches that feeds people to the street. They hold automatic weapons at the ready and their gazes sweep the constantly moving and changing landscape. Periodically, one utters a short statement and the other nods. They are both young, in their early twenties; but their knit brows and unsmiling faces belie the heavy responsibility that surrounds them. Many striking women, in pairs or groups or alone, stride past them; seen but unseen by them as they stand watch over all.
    A woman in a knee-length skirt, sandals and tank top stands very near the information booth. She appears to be in her mid-twenties. She has long brown hair, sparkling eyes and smooth skin, and wears little make-up. She intently scans the crowd coming off of the trains. Her head moves in a sweeping semi-circle past the doorways that lead to each double track. Then she checks the stairs coming from the lower level, and then turns to look at the passageways behind her that lead to the little shops and more tracks. When she finishes, she begins again. It is evident she is waiting for someone. A boyfriend? A family member? As time slips by, she begins to get restless; but afraid to leave the meeting spot, she begins to rock back and forth on her feet. Heels up, heels down, toes up, toes down- she appears not to realize she is doing this. As she turns her head once again towards the stairs, she hears a shout of joy from behind her and obviously recognizing it, spins around to see a rushing mass of similarly dressed young woman rapidly approaching. She begins squealing and jumping up and down and then sprints towards the other woman. They meet in a breath-stealing bear hug accompanied by screeches and yelps and tears.

    1. Within the last couple years, my traveling through Grand Central experience has definitely “evolved.” I have a rule where I have to photobomb at least once every time I’m there!

  29. I spent the morning at the VFW listening to veterans from numerous wars share their stories. In walked a man they call “Sponge” with a beard that looked like it could tell a million stories on its own. Priceless inspiration .

  30. I had a LOT of fun with this one! Thank you Phil Bildner for the awesome prompt. It reminds me of when I took acting classes and was told to go people watching, to observe the ways in which people walk, move about, and interact, so that I could copy those movements and build characters based on them.

    Here’s my piece:
    Sitting on my front porch, sipping my morning coffee, I can see her walking down the street towards my house. From here, it’s hard to see particulars, her clothing, facial expression, hair, so I focus on her gait. She walks at a leisurely pace, but there’s an obvious strength and deliberateness to her footsteps. Arms swinging ever so slightly emanate a similar strength, as if every movement is planned, purposeful, rehearsed.

    As she gets closer, I can see that she’s wearing white running shoes with a splash of pink on the sides, a white sports T that shows off her golden tan, and black shorts that hug muscular, but still slender, thighs. Her hair, a golden blond, is perfectly coiffed, parted on the side, sleek with a faint curl inward at the bottom, just tickling her shoulders.

    She sees me sitting on the porch and turns toward me. Although my front lawn is deep and quite a way from the sidewalk, I can make out her features fairly well: a few freckles on her clear skinned cheeks, dull blue eyes, a straight thin nose. A half smile appears on her lips and she tilts her head just a fraction and just for a moment – a tight ‘hello’ – and then her gaze returns toward her path.

    Is it my imagination, or is her chin up? As she walks past the house and continues down the street, I notice that her calves are powerful, and I realize that this walk is more a cool-down for a much more intense workout that she probably does quite regularly.

    It is obvious that she’s physically strong and quite beautiful. It is also wholly obvious that she is aware of both of these facts. Her age is a bit of a puzzle to me. Perhaps she is about 45 years old, an estimate I feel compelled to make given the confidence she radiates combined with some degree of restraint that I can only describe as an aura, an umbrella of composure.

    I imagine her reaching her destination, her home, a perfectly manicured lawn, an imposing building. It won’t be until she quietly closes the heavy door behind her that she lets down her guard. If then.

    1. One of my former students is an actress (proud teacher can brag that she was just nominated for a Tony!). She always talks about how much she enjoys people watching.

    2. I enjoyed watching with you as you tried to figure this woman out. It’s interesting that you thought she might be putting on a false front, one that she might keep up. It reads like her story has just begun.

  31. The last time I wrote about people I was observing, I was in Paris, writing in a café, in April. (Did that actually happen?!) It’s not something I’ve done often- people watch and write- but it’s something I’ve been inspired to do from time to time. Today was different, however, because Phil helped me to connect this with further writing. The couple I wrote about in Paris, they are still sitting in that café, in that notebook. They haven’t come off that page to be part of other pages. So this morning, while sitting in a waiting room for my doctor appointment, I wrote about the few people in the room. Then I went home and re-read it, and this is what came out of my head:

    Scene: Waiting room at ob/gyn office. Young couple sits in a corner, near the television, which is loud and intrusive. The Kelly and Michael Show is on and the woman is thinking…

    I can’t believe I still have to wait a little longer. I want to see this baby! Plus, my bladder is about to burst! Dave is so calm, like we’re sitting at a ball game, or in a movie theater- just hangin’ out, just chillin’. I wonder, Is it the same or can it be the same for men? I’m the one whose body is mutating and feeling this baby grow. It’s become a part of me, and I’m desperately anxious to get a first peek at…”Huh? What? Oh, that’s funny, Babe.” Okay, it’s not the same. I mean, he’s trolling Facebook for funny posts, and I can barely concentrate on Ryan Reynolds, who’s damn cute by the way, being interviewed by Kelly and Michael. Not to mention, I am going to pee myself if they don’t call us back soon!

    (Maybe I’ll go find those people from the café now…)

    1. When I was waiting in the vet this morning, I found the television showing the local news incredibly distracting. There’s enough going on with people and dogs. The extra tv noise was unnecessary.

  32. No one really wants to go for lab work on a perfectly crisp summer morning, but today I skipped along leaving five children in the capable hands of my husband. Going early meant no waiting, right?
    Today everyone and their brother thought the same thing, especially if their brother was 80 or older. While feigning reading of every People magazine of this year I sat back and watched.
    Phlebotomist One ; “George, is there a George here?”
    With great effort Alan steps up and says, “My turn, good.”
    “No, sir, I’m looking for George.”
    In the far corner, George rises and shuffles to Phlebotomist One.
    Phlebotomist Two thumbing through the charts, “I’m looking for Catherine,”
    Catherine springs out of her seat, excusing herself to everyone else and looking like she was just was picked for a grand prize.
    Alan, who had struggled to his feet again, gave a grunt, mumbling, “Not me, I guess.”
    Phlebotomist Three bade goodbye to a regular client, and turned around, almost toppling Alan.
    “Must be my turn by now,” Alan grumbled.
    “No, sir, I’m looking for Alice.”
    Alice, needing a little help from her aging daughter, winked at Alan. “I’m sure you’re next Big Boy.”
    The lab dance continued with Alan making many more false starts. I’m feeling like I should give him my turn. Really. I would have if there weren’t five children waiting for my return. Not sure what he pressing appointment he had that kept him hopping.
    I was next. Patting him on the arm I assured him it couldn’t be much longer.
    Sure enough he was next.
    Listening to his conversation with Phlebotomist Three made me chuckle.
    “Not sure why I’m get this blood thing done today. You know, I’m gonna die tomorrow.”
    Reassuring murmurs answered his claims.
    “No, really, I am. I’m dying tomorrow. That’s what he said. This is just a waste of time.”
    As I’m poked, prodded, and told my blood is moving really slow, I wondered if Alan was in a hurry to make that happen, too.

    1. I love the use of a dialogue in your post. I wonder if anyone noticed that you were fake reading People magazine! You would’ve been a great person to write about.

  33. Hi Phil, thanks for this great prompt. I am loving the idea of people watching in different places. I am currently in a small village in Northern Italy, on the shores of a beautiful lake. These are some of the people I noticed. Thanks!

    The old lady sitting on her balcony
    White shortly cropped hair. Deep lines criss crossing her face.
    The first day I pass by her house, greeting in Italian, she looks pretty grumpy and does not return my greeting.
    The second time I pass she acknowledges me with a small nod of the head.
    The third time I pass and greet her, she lifts her hand and it seems her lips are moving slightly upwards for the shortest of moments.
    The fourth time I pass and greet, she returns the greeting with a warm smile on her face. It’s like a light has suddenly been switched on and her face radiates so much kindness, it’s beautiful.
    I notice that she has a bandage around her leg which is resting, slightly elevated, on a small stool in front of her.
    At the same time, there seems to be some melancholy, some sadness – maybe about being confined to this small balcony at the back of a house that has seen better times. I wonder whether she has seen better times… How did she end up there all alone on her balcony? Maybe she wonders the same, after the exciting life she has led…?

    The boy and the fish
    I watch a tall and slim young man swimming in the lake.
    He wears goggles and colorful swimming trunks.
    He keeps diving in from the jetty, swimming out a bit towards the middle of the lake before returning.
    He is clearly in his element, oblivious to anything else but the water and his swimming.
    The water is crystal clear and I notice that swarms of little silver-colored fish seem to follow him all the time.
    As he dives in, the fish follow him.
    As he returns to the shallow end of the lake, I can see the fish are still with him.
    I never noticed this before and wonder whether this happens with every swimmer.
    As I watch other swimmers, I see a few fish moving away as soon as the swimmers get near. So why do the fish follow the young man?

    The German family
    Consists of five people:
    two younger woman, maybe in their late teens, both with long dark brown hair, they might be sisters or just best friends, they both joke about not seeing much in the water as they feel blind without their glasses;
    one man who might be in his late thirties/early forties – curly brown hair, maybe the dad of one or both of the girls;
    a grey-haired couple, maybe in their late fifties/early sixties – or could they be older? The woman shares with someone else that her husband used to be a high school teacher for German and Mathematics, that he is retired now; they could be the grandparents of one/both of the girls and the parents of the middle-aged man.
    They seem very close, they speak warmly with each other, the teasing speaks of deep and affectionate relationships – maybe also for a group of people who have experienced hardship which has brought them closer together?

    1. Tanja… It’s against the rules to write on the shores of beautiful lake in Northern Italy. That’s not fair to the rest of us!!

    2. Tanja,

      these are beautiful observations mixed with wonderings! I will carry the image of this melancholy lady on her balcony – you created such a vivid picture for me! There are stories there to tell!

  34. Kid watching/listening…so funny! I like to hang out in the library — lots of inspiration…books, conversations, sounds, parents. Thanks, Phil!

  35. Phil, thanks so much for such an inspiring prompt! Suburban Westchester Library 10:55-11:25
    He was furiously tapping on his typewriter keys, thirtyish, with close-cropped salt and pepper hair. The rounded face and body was taut, like a boxer or a contract killer. He took a swig from his Dr. Pepper. His left arm was almost fully inked: something purple and scrolling. A dragon? His eyes never left his computer screen. Lost in my own thoughts, I realized minutes later that the tapping had stopped. I looked up to see his empty chair with Dr. Pepper standing guard. After a few minutes, tensely waiting for him to return, I gathered up my things and went in search of my writing challenge target. I found him, phone to ear, outside and in front of the library’s wide glass windows. As I passed him, I yearned to know what he was saying and to whom, but like the tatoo on his arm, it was unidentifiable.

      1. Ah, that comment posted in the wrong place. Grrr.

        I’m really enjoying all of the different settings people are finding to write. It’s motivating me to get up and write in other places… even more than I already do.

  36. I LOVE this prompt! I watch people all the time. I remember reading a Marion Zimmer Bradley book, and she described a priestess as incorporating everything she saw into her spell. I feel that way about writing sometimes. And I always tell my husband that if he really ticks me off, I’m writing him as the tick-turd husband in my next project.

    Sometimes I want to BE the one that people watch. I want to talk loudly on a cellphone in a coffee shop and declare my undying love for a houseplant, or beg my fitness instructor not to leave me. I need to live in a bigger city, though.

    So today at work:

    She shifts her weight from one foot to the other, tossing a glance over her shoulder every few seconds rather than studying the giant tortoise sleeping just on the other side of the fence. Her shoulders curl inward, as if to make her already slight form invisible; a tree, simply part of the landscape. The toe of her shoe dusts the surface of the brick.

    Summoning her courage, she leans forward but loses her nerve just as quickly and stands back up. A frustrated sigh escapes her, and she dusts her hand on her faded varsity t-shirt.

    “Let’s go,” he says, his hand pressing into the middle of her back. She brushes him away.

    “Just a minute,” she says with a stamp of her foot. “I want to see him pull in all the way in his shell.”

    She turns her wrist and reveals the stick she has held concealed against the inside of her arm.

    Sometimes, I hate people.

  37. Brianne, I want to know so much more about the girl who is anxious to start her day. Why is the Stampede Day week something she looks forward to?

  38. 7.7 Phil Bender Quick Write TeacersWrite

    Phil, thanks for this prompt – it is a valuable tool. I often people watch, but my observations seldom make it to paper. I also love walking the Brooklyn Bridge!

    Bologna, Italy at the Piazza 
    She wears a forest  green dress and snazzy, classy black sandles.. She holds her head up high and on top of it is a luxurious wreath of laurels aand red berries. Her parents, dressed formally, position her in front of the majestic Neptune statue. She smiles, her parents smile, her boyfriend smiles as he shyly puts his arm around her. The mother seems to be giving them directions on how to stand. So proud.

    She/he? At first I can’t tell which. A white robed figure whose face and arms are covered in white make-up. As she approached me I could see she was a she and that her head was wrapped nun- like in the white sheet. Un nun like was her face, thin lips clenched, eyes beady and continually darting to my purse. She extended her palm and blurted something again and again. I shook my head no and strode away, leaving the ghost behind

    An alligator polo shirt, tasseled moccasin shoes. While the man was on his cell phone he carefully cut each ravioli with his knife and fork. His hair was beginning to recede. Ciao! He put his phone in his pocket and briskly walked out.

    1. I enjoyed the blend of formality & oddity you captured, Jennifer. Feels right for a bustling Italian piazza. Thanks for sharing!

  39. This is a great prompt for me today…I am currently sitting at the airport waiting to be checked in for my flight to Vegas for a teaching conference. Lots of time to people watch!

    1. I love people watching when I’m waiting at the gate at airports. In particular, I love watching the (lack of) interactions between kids and their parents.

  40. I loved this writing prompt! We have had a string of burglaries on our street lately, and when a description of the suspect was given, I realized I had seen him before.

  41. Her usually peppy voice had changed, not in tempo, which was always rushed, but in tone. There was an urgency associated with her words that had replaced the excitement that I was used to. Immediately, I attended to the conversation. The customer hadn’t paid. The company was in trouble. It was up to him to fix it, and fix it quickly. The orders he was working on wouldn’t matter if the company couldn’t pay their bills.

    All it took was one bad deal. That’s the problem with huge ventures. They put us at risk. The bottom line starts at the office, but it is the roots that support the tree. Each branch supporting an employee, each leaf, their family. Kill the roots, kill the tree. Kill the tree… and it was more than I could take on right now.

      1. Thank you, Brian. I’m working on weaving elements of nature through some of my writing. I’m hopeful that it will work to support a series of stories set at our family cottage over multiple generations.

  42. I’m Katlyn- I teach 8th grade ELA in Arlington, VA. I didn’t introduce myself yesterday! Here’s what I wrote today:

    Starbucks, 12:08 pm.

    Sometimes, he dressed up in a suit on a weekday, dusted off his leather briefcase, and gathered up his smartphone and laptop for a midday trip to Starbucks. He trimmed his beard, washed his face, and tried to remember what he felt like a year ago, before he was laid off, when he would leave the office for a brief change of scenery. It didn’t feel the same now. He sat by the window, head in hand, scrolling through his smartphone for job openings, pretending to fit in with the business crowd looking busy answering e-mails and reading snippets of The New York Times between sips of a venti iced coffee. His forehead reddened with frustration. He loosened his tie, looked out the window, then picked up his coffee and left. Back to the couch. Back to his dark apartment where he would continue to scroll through his smartphone, waiting for an interview.
    Before the divorce, she would have been embarrassed to sit alone in any restaurant, even a Starbucks. Now, she sat on the patio alone for hours, sipping endless refills of iced coffee, flipping through pages of a fashion magazine, and listening to the birds and the buzz of people walking around the courtyard. Even though she was almost 40, a size 12 on a good day, with hair that resembled a black cotton ball, stretched thin, and a stain on her white tank top… maybe ketchup, maybe coffee… she felt more confident than ever before. She relished the quiet time alone, and didn’t feel the least bit guilty that this was the real reason she had hired a part time nanny for the summer. Not because she couldn’t care for their 2 kids alone, as she had told her former husband, but because she was learning to enjoy herself again.

    1. Great juxtaposition of surface and then underlying layers. Thanks for sharing, Katlyn.

    2. You’ve pulled so much out of two character sketches. I feel like I know these people, and like how their outside appearances don’t match their insides. Nicely done.

  43. Love this prompt so much! I did my people watching today while at my local Market Basket. This is always a multi cultural and multi generational adventure so I thought it would be a good place to start. You see the same people throughout the store as you meet them in each aisle and at the deli counter. You can definitely observe a lot. The only drawback was having only my phone to type notes on. Let’s hope my powers of observation were keen today.

    The young couple I encountered in the candy aisle was probably in their early twenties. She had shoulder length dark hair and glasses. She was wearing a maternity top and shorts and rubbing her hand over her belly in a very sweet and maternal way. The man with her was a bit taller with a baseball hat and a beard. He was carrying the red hand basket so you knew that they were not in for a big grocery shop but were just getting a few things. They both looked dressed for a summer day, maybe an outing, but not a working day. First, the woman said, “candy was a necessity” – a woman after my own heart. Then as she proceeded down the aisle, I heard her partner say, “Oh, yeah, the baby wants it? What a great excuse!” She stopped in front of the nut butters and said “The baby wants peanut butter” and they both laughed. It was a conversation every pregnant woman has had with her spouse or significant other at one point. The eternal excuse – it’s all for the baby. It was wonderful to hear them laughing and so happy in this phase of their life. They walked off with both the peanut butter and candy.

    I next observed an older couple. If I had to guess, I would say the gentleman was older than his wife. He was pushing the cart and she was walking ahead. She had on shorts and a fleece and her long gray hair was braided and hung down her back. He was wearing jeans, a t-shirt, and a ball cap. She stopped in front of the doughnut and pastry display and was looking at all the goodies. He read her mind and said, “ You have cake at home. We don’t need that.” She said “What cake?” “The red one” he answered “There are two pieces left”. Red velvet perhaps? “Did you wish her a happy birthday?” she asked. “Of course, I did,” he answered in a grumbly kind of way that husbands do who have been married for a long time. They wandered off together as older people sometimes do in the grocery store with no apparent sense of urgency or the appearance of needing to be anywhere but here. The retirement shuffle – when you are done your work life. You stop running around like a crazy person, chasing children and paying college tuition. You get a break from living in a 21st century world of “hey-let’s-get-this-done-yesterday”. You have time to peruse the grocery store and debate with your spouse whether or not you have enough sweets at home.

    People watching is great fun and I really enjoyed this prompt. Can’t wait to do this with my class and to people watch some more this summer!

      1. Hi Molly! I was just reading through and saw your beach observations. Love them. It’s kind of like spying but huge insight into human behavior. Hope you are having a great summer!

  44. He sits on the porch, slouched in the wicker chair. His head tilted down towards the hand-held screen. For a minute or two, he is frozen as he stares. There is a shift. The fingers on his right hand wiggle, flutter and peck. The cycle begins. Freeze. Stare. Flutter. Peck. Repeat. Around the porch, the weather defies all the predictions from forecasters. Instead of grey clouds and rain, there are puffy clouds and sun. Birdsong plays in the background. Blue Jays and cardinals swoop in and out around the bird food. The phone bird does not see outside his screen.

    1. “The phone bird”- I love it! I think this is a clever way to comment on the increasing trend of people stuck in their phones instead of being in the moment.

    2. I have read this over and over again, and am in awe of what you have crafted here. Thanks for sharing it.

  45. I’m Emily. I teach second and third grade in Northern California and write children’s nonfiction (and dabble in fiction).

    Olga’s Diner was his morning spot—his place to be an ordinary old guy; to drink his coffee; to read the paper; to eat a greasy fried egg and hash browns. To be George, just George. He wore his ratty jeans and an old t-shirt and most mornings he didn’t even worry about washing his face or smoothing down his thick white hair.
    The middle-aged waitress, Darlene, knew him—knew who he really was. So did Mike and John and the other regulars—mostly old guys like himself. And they were over it long ago. Thank goodness. Most of the other folks who stopped in for breakfast—the non-regulars, the out-of-towners, the occasional mom with a few kids in tow—didn’t notice him more than they noticed anyone else in the place. He was pretty non-descript, or so he’d been told.
    But every once in a while he would notice the heads coming together at an adjacent table. The sideways glances and the whispering would start. The texting would start. Then the iphones would casually turn his way to get a picture of him eating his breakfast at Olga’s like a normal person. And then he’d fold up the paper, slip a twenty under his plate, nod his head at Darlene and be on his way—back to his other reality, in a galaxy far, far away… but just over the hill from Olga’s.

    1. You’ve created a fascinating picture of George that makes me want to keep reading. Well done!

    2. I bet you can do a variation of this writing prompt with your second and third graders. You could really get them to use their five senses in their writing.

  46. Wow, I am taking an alone moment at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. There are so many “older” women flitting about. This was not at all what I thought I’d focus on today.

    Woman across the cafe:
    There she resides slightly bent over iced tea and pastry whispering in concerned conversation with her confidant. She is dressed in too loose a blouse with dangling beads. Deep ruby lips and a wide brimmed hat outline her pale features.
    Don’t know where to go from here or if I want to.

    1. I think that’s one of the nice things about this writing prompt. It challenges you to look closely at things that otherwise barely register on the radar.

    2. This is who I’d picture in the Museum of Fine Art on a weekday afternoon. You’ve captured her perfectly! Now I wonder what she is whispering, and how her confidant is processing the words. I also wonder if the confidant wishes the blouse were not quite so loose. 😉

  47. I didn’t have anywhere to be this morning, so I turned to one of my usual stops in the morning paper–the obituaries. While it may sound morbid, I find it fascinating to read about the people here and wonder what their lives must have been like and the people who loved them. Today I focused on a very kind-looking lady. She has a nice smile and warm eyes (and she was a teacher!). With her work at the food pantry, I suspect she really was kind. I do wonder why her family moved from Philadelphia when she was a child to Iowa, and believe there must be a story there too. She had many grandchildren, whom I sure she loved and spent her time with. Just from her picture, I sense she might have sat down in the evening with her knitting needles making sweaters for her grandchildren. Or perhaps she planned fun adventures for when they visited. I also read that she loved the beach in New Jersey. I wonder if there is a childhood connection there.

    Thanks for the great prompt. I’m already working on where to put this in my writing with students!

    1. What an interesting place to look for characters! Although morbid, what a brilliant way to carry on someone’s legacy-even if it is a piece!

    2. Actually, I enjoy occasionally walking through cemeteries. I love to read the tombstones, especially the older ones, and conjure up images of the people and their stories, as well as giving thanks for the contributions they made in their time here.

      It might creep out my young students as a writing activity, but for some adults, I love your idea!

  48. No people to watch, and no time to get to where the people are, so I\\\’m watching a tree out my back window, and remembering the array of people that have been under that tree. (Something that would have never occurred to me without today\\\’s prompt. Thanks, Phil.) It\\\’s a huge expanse of an elm tree that somehow managed to avoid the life-sucking bark beetle, stayed standing through the years of the no-watering-allowed drought that toppled a gorgeous little tree in my own backyard, and is still healthy enough to send out a barrage of annoying little sucker trees to slow the mowing on my property. I wish I had thought the tree was significant enough to take a picture of it when I first moved in. I wonder how much it has grown since that day. Now it stretches from the neighbor\\\’s fence to the chipped backboard of a half basketball court.

    This is a family tree. When I first moved in, a grandma lived there…the kind of grandma with flowers in the yard, cookies for the neighbor kids, crocheting hands, an upbeat smile despite her shuffling step, and hugging arms for her only grandson. One month her son started dropping off supplies and building a frame for the concrete that eventually held a brand spanking new basketball hoop, the kind of bright white, factory-made backboard and hoop that only the family of an only child would splurge for.

    Once the concrete cured, grandma and the tree had a backyard full of eight and nine-year-old boys who wandered in with her grandson to play basketball. A chain-link fence kept my dogs from joining in the fun, but I always knew when the boys arrived due to some initial barking, followed by a whole lot of fence running. A plate of cookies, hugs, and waves cleared the court at dusk with the dogs and tree left cookieless.

    All too soon, the grandson was driving. He\\\’d pull up under the tree and teenagers would pile out, basketballs in hand, for some real competition. The dogs and tree…

    1. Wendi… Way to go! This is something I often talked about with my students. Don’t be afraid to expand on the writing prompt. Be creative with it.

  49. Smart and Final grocery store parking lot, Venice, CA. Happens to be my across-the-street neighbor, so just sitting in the kitchen, people watching!

    Middle-aged woman, putting groceries in her van. She’s alone, still has the van, even though the kids are grown. At least she has shopping to do because there isn’t much to fill out her life. Already got her hair done for the week, so can’t use that for a time killer. Buying bags of groceries which is kind of ridiculous because her husband has passed, but she can’t stop shopping for food. At least she wore her new purple shirt that’s kind of tight and had her hair colored–you never know who you’ll meet.

    Guy on a bike, riding through the parking lot. If I ride fast, they’ll think I have a regular purpose, just like them, like I belong. If I ride fast, and don’t turn my head too much, they won’t notice me checking out their cars, they won’t pick up on the drug deal that just went down. I’ll sit tall in my seat, that’s what they’d do, the normal people that have normal things to do. I’m just riding over to Sam’s house anyway, that’s sort of normal–at least my kind of normal.

    Thirty-year-old woman. Got to get back to the kids. Jeez, I wish summer time was over so they’d be back in school. How much entertaining can one woman do? I’m tired and the day hasn’t even begun. And that store, advertising itself like you’re getting a deal. The prices are a joke. There’s just too much to do today, and it’s not even a workday. One day of peace, that’s all I want.

    1. That’s so cool! Whenever you need an inspiration or idea for a character, all you need to do is look out the kitchen window!

  50. Hi. This is a great prompt. Love people watching! Publix is a popular supermarket in FL. My friend and I sat at the café to observe in the AM. The café was set in a cubbyhole next to the Deli and consisted of 6 or so tables. I had a bird’s eye view of the “hot bar” and the fruit. Here are some observations:
    The purple plum woman-with spectacles hanging on her chest squeezing plums 1x, 2x’s, 3x’s but walked away.
    Hot bar brown colored organic containers stacked which looked like Paddington’s hat.
    The steam rising from the hot bar was like pictures I have viewed of the geysers of Yellowstone. I hoped the HB didn’t erupt. That would be a mess.
    Sun-glassed woman with green specked blouse glancing-eyes constantly scanning.
    Two stock boys wearing green shirts with Publix logo and long black aprons stocking sweet cherries- Swinging the top of each bag of cherries to keep the fruit from escaping.
    At the HB an older white haired gentleman with gauze affixed with tape near the inside of his elbow. Did he have a blood test this morning? Was this a preventative yearly blood test or does he have a terminal disease? We all know that you have to fast before a blood test and this made sense because he scooped 3 containers of clam chowder. The aroma lingered.
    From the other side of the HB big hair came into view-only big hair. Not eyes, ears, or a nose, just big brown hair. The big hair must have been scooping out an entire meal. I watched the big hair for a long time. Was the big hair a male or female? I’ll never know.
    At exactly 12:03 a knee padded, ear-phoned, shaved head with a green cap appeared with a white t shirt and jeans that crinkled at his bell bottomed ankles. He must have been some type of construction worker, but no he did not have the appearance of sweat so he must be a rug layer, tile layer, or hard wood -floor layer. He glanced at the HB soup but wandered and circled back to retrieve his soup. My brain was screaming “not soup! Buy something more substantial . You are a working man. You need the protein, calories.” He must be into nutrition and healthy eating. A few minutes later the knee padded man circled back and choose a half gallon of tea and a container of watermelon. Only after this, he sprinted to the checkout.
    My reflections on these observations: Most customers walked in slow motion and wondered, studied, scanned, examined, glanced, squinted, and lingered, oblivious of others. What were they looking for- something specific, a particular item or just window shopping? As it they had blinders on-they were in the zone!

    1. The supermarket is a GREAT place to people watch. You get such a different mix of people depending on the time of day you’re there. We have a 24 hour Price Chopper near us. We’ve been there in the middle of the night — the music is often turned up MUCH louder. Dancing in the aisles is definitely permitted.

      1. Totally agree with this statement! (I just posted my own supermarket-based piece and am now coming back to read, realizing that I am part of a trend.) During college, I worked at the courtesy counter of Cash Wise Foods in Fargo, and I used to make up stories about the customers. You can learn a lot about people from what’s in their shopping carts!

  51. I am going to finish this prompt on Friday as I travel from middle Georgia to the Ukraine. I know I will find a lot of characters in the airports especially during my layovers in multiple airports.

    Tennis anyone? Middle aged man heading to the courts.

    He sits proudly atop of his brilliant, white Vespa as he crawls down a four lane divided highway. He is adorned with a wrinkled, oversized yellow t-shirt that blows in the wind, red gym shorts, white tube socks with three flaming red stripes right below the knee. He sports a navy blue backpack that zips to hold the two tennis rackets sticking out the top of the bag. His head is topped with a white skidlid to protect his head. As I pass in my soccer mom van, the corners of his mouth go up as he smiles and waves.

    1. Kathy… Your post is against the rules as well! I’m having travel envy reading posts from the Ukraine and villages in Northern Italy. Whenever I travel, I always write.

  52. Snippets of a conversation (some overheard, some fictionalized) in a bookstore cafe, between two men in their 60s, who sit with their heads closer than is comfortable for Americans, but they have no discernible accent. They hunch their broad shoulders as if to hide their usually commanding stature and go unnoticed. They must expect to be recognized, but none of the flatironed equestrians picking at their caesar wraps are glancing their way:

    He was my father’s nemesis. He accepted all Israeli intelligence as gospel truth.
    The only way I can work anymore is if I am directing myself.
    He lives in a house with his lover, and they tend to get in a lot of trouble. Their house is full of large dogs.
    They are building prisons for people who haven’t yet committed the crimes.
    What we had done was so much worse. So much worse.
    They acknowledged that there were so many hundreds of kilos airlifted away.
    He had taken us out in the desert and passed around peanut butter sandwiches.
    The isotope signature was a perfect match. Absolutely no flaws.
    I was on a kibbutz with a guy from the Bronx. Somehow we got along.
    That goes back to the wielding of power, justified by ideologies.
    I’m doing a little musical down on 13th street tomorrow. A completely different bird. A ghost story.
    It’s a trope that is totally uninterrogated. Tomatoes don’t sit down!
    And then the diphthongs break into a different part of a brain and the song is actually happening.
    The Germans loved her because she was such an oddity. She never knew.
    The hubris of the American counterparts is less justifiable.

    1. I stopped by B&N earlier today. The conversations taking place as story time was about to begin were VERY different. Most of them revolved around baby wipes.

  53. It’s a gorgeous afternoon in a suburb of Rochester, and Starbucks is packed with professionals, teens, and everything in between.

    Two men are sitting at a table drinking black coffee. One is in dockers and a checkered dress shirt and another is in work out clothes-all black, with red sneakers. They are having a spirited conversation, but out of the bustle on a few key words stand out: hamstring, structure, sport, function. They are brothers. One, the well dressed professional, is a local chiropractor with a small office in town. Although it is local, he is well trusted in town. His office is always full and with a number of civilians waiting to be readjusted. He was lucky to sneak out early to meet up with his older brother: a quick excuse of needing to pick up his wife from work because her car is at the mechanic seems to work without question!
    His brother just came from the gym and is struggling with a hamstring, of course he’ll ask his “hot shot” brother about it! The chiropractor is not too pleased to have to think about work, he amuses his brother and answers his questions.

    Two teenaged girls have stopped for coffee after a morning at the horse farm. One enthusiastically talks about a green horse she worked with that morning-a fiery red mare who would rather do anything but bend and be supple to the rider’s firm-but fair- aids. Her friend is supportive. She was in the ring, exercising her show horse and watched the girl’s ride.
    The conversation shifts to a show the second girl went to last weekend in Syracuse. It was a three-long day show; an A-Rated event that brought some well-named trainers with their clients. This was one of the biggest shows the girl had done, and wanted to impress. She was sure to walk into the barn at 5am to grain and braid her gelding: unlike the competition, she did not have a personal groom. Her gelding did well, but it’s hard to beat the $75,000 warmbloods with her off-the-track thoroughbred, no matter how well schooled he is. Breeding will always beat out the competition in the hunter ring.

    1. I wanted to hear more of the conversation between the two teenage girls. I wanted to hear their voices to know what they sounded like. What they were talking about was fascinating.

  54. We have had a string of burglaries on my street lately. Upon hearing a description of the suspect, I realized that I had seen him while I was out in my garden. This story (which I will be adding more to) is based on the man I saw. I am planning to add to it! (In the meantime, even though it has been fuel for writing, I do hope he is caught!)

    The Burglar

    I have been down on my times lately. Lost my job a year ago; stupid boss. My landlord won’t get off my case about the back rent. “Where is your rent, Carl?” he demands each time I pass him in the stairwell. “I’ve been patient enough with you.” Can’t afford a car to get to a new job. All I have is this rusty old red bike. Who would want to hire me anyway? I can’t even afford a haircut. My hair is overgrown, no way a man should appear to be.

    But things have started to look up. Last week I rode my rickety bike up and down some streets that look different from mine—streets without boarded up windows, streets where people mow their lawns and spend time taking care of their gardens. In the middle of the day, I was struck by the stillness of one particular street. On Clover Road, driveways were empty; garbage cans still at the street. This might work, I thought. I came back on several weekdays, and each time I found the same thing. Everyone was at work. I decided this street would be perfect.

    I decided to come back on a Saturday to get a feel for the neighborhood. This time as I rolled through Clover Road, up and down, up and down, checking it out, I had more company. I passed children on bikes, mothers pushing babies in strollers. I looked carefully at the houses; made small-talk with the neighbors. I wanted them to think I belong here, just another neighbor biking through, so that when I returned later I wouldn’t stand out.

    1. Erin…Thanks for sharing this. ‘I wanted them to think I belong here” is a very chilling line.

  55. This is definitely an awesome idea to build upon! I had no clue people watching could be so productive. I normally just did it for fun! I used an observation from yesterday because today I am laying as low as possible. Yesterday I took my mom to her mammogram appointment. I am sharing part of what I observed as I was in the waiting room with my nephews and my niece.

    First: A middle aged man with dark brown straight hair freshly cut is sitting in the waiting room as we enter. He is on his cell phone scrolling through some pages with his right ankle resting on the top of his left knee. He is kind of slouched down in the chair his body language looking as though he is not comfortable with being in this waiting room. I wonder if he is waiting for his girlfriend, his mom, or maybe his wife, or could he be the next patient that will be called to go back for testing. As we walk in he glances up quickly and then focuses back on his cell phone.

    (10 minutes later)

    A woman walks in with two young girls walking beside her. One girl sits on the chair near the wall, her hair is out, thick and course and is semi-defying gravity as though she recently took a ponytail holder out of it. Welcome to the club little sister! I know that battle oh so well! The other girl who looks younger and has her hair freshly braided and adorned with white beads, sits near the other leaving a chair vacant in between them as the woman walks up to the receptionist desk calling back for them to sit down well after the fact. Seconds later another woman walks in and takes a seat between the two girls who are just sitting quietly. They are really well behaved! Immediately the older one begins to start talking to the woman as the younger one gazes over at me, then my young nephews, and lastly my teenage niece. When our eyes meet as she runs her gaze the opposite direction back to me, I give her a quick smile and she quickly glances the other way. The all too familiar “I didn’t know you were watching me watching you” reaction!

    As the first woman sits down on the opposite wall, the younger girl darts to her side with the beads in her hair bouncing and clanking as she moves. I wondered if the two girls were sisters, no, maybe cousins. The younger girl didn’t seem to interact too much with the older one. As the younger girl sat down next to the woman, she began talking to her as she gently laid her head against the woman’s arm. A gesture that screams “I’m in my comfort zone”.

    Thank you Phil Bidner for sharing an awesome activity that I can use to help my young writers understand the importance of using details to take your reader to the exact spot you are writing about.

    1. The waiting room seems to be the place to go when you want to people watch for material. It worked for me today at the vet. It will definitely work with students.

      1. Hmmm… I wonder if I can get on good enough terms with the school nurse to take people-watching field trips to her office once school resumes? 🙂

    2. Von – I found you from the Twittersphere – I love the line “Welcome to the club little sister! I know that battle oh so well!” This phrase tells a story in and of itself. Well done!

  56. This was fun, and I surprised myself because I thought it was going to be really hard. Not sure the end result was great, but it felt good to just write (I use long hand first, then type!) Thanks Phil for the inspiration:

    As I’m pushing my cart full of groceries, I see a gray haired, older gentlemen sitting in a parked car two spaces away from mine. He is reading the paper with the window of his royal blue Camry cracked open. I notice that there is some speckled shade from the anemic tree growing from the parking median. The day is brutally hot and humid and I wonder why he would sit there. It can’t be all that comfortable. Perhaps he’s waiting to pick up his son or daughter up from their shift at Starbucks. Maybe he really hates grocery shopping and he’s dropped the wife of forty years off at the door of Trader Joe’s and found the only shade the parking lot affords to wait it out. Or maybe he’s trying to stretch an errand out longer because he doesn’t want to go home to that wife of forty years, or a house full of screaming grandchildren, or an empty house.
    Then another thought hits me. The wire framed glasses give him an intelligent, distinguished look. What if the paper was a ruse, and he was on a stakeout. He has a noble, kind face, so I don’t think he is on a sinister mission, staking out an easy mark or a drug deal. No, I think he’d be the good guy – perhaps he’s trying to bust a caffeine addicted ring of young twenty somethings who are operating a hacking ring from the public Wi-Fi at Starbucks. His glasses are probably fitted with Google glass, or an even higher powered thought driven computer, or he had an insider place a bug on one of their coffee mugs. Oh, the possibilities….

    1. I like how you prefaced this with your process — long hand followed by typing. I wonder how many others do that or just go straight to the keyboard. For me, it varies.

  57. So I woke up with the beach calling my name. I took the boys and were the first ones there. We left when it got pretty crowded so I didn’t have a chance to people watch much during our time there. I did, however, stop to visit my aunt on the way home. My aunt, we call her Mimi, is in her 80s. She is a loving, strong and very thrifty woman. We sat in her kitchen that was draped off by a sheet to keep the air conditioning to one room. As my boys ate her anisette cookies dunked in milk, we listened once again to her stories of World War II and her time spent alone in a convent with the nuns. She was the only remaining family member in her town after her mother passed, and her father and brothers left for America. Today, she told us of her husband, Mario, and his experience once his small Italian town was invaded (also stories I’ve heard but can never get enough of). Mario had four siblings all separated and some brought to prison camps. He and his father hid in the nearby mountains, but before they did, his father told them to bury barrels of olive oil from the farm, and also hid a bottle with money in a stone wall – he hid four bottles – one for each of his children, in case he was not to return. He told each child where there secret bottle was hidden. Mario and his father stayed in the mountains and would sneak back down to the farm for flour and water and would make small loaves of “bread” on stones with fire when they were hungry. Mimi also told us of the American soldier, once the war was over, who was sitting near the yard to her convent and showed her a picture of his children and gave her a piece of chocolate to make her feel special. She was told to stay away from all soldiers but she remembers this one and how he did not make her feel afraid. She said even when she came to America at fifteen to live with my great grandparents (her aunt and uncle), she was terrified of the sounds of airplanes at night passing over head. She spoke this to us, and it was time for me to leave her house. I felt so badly having to leave and return to my life of children, ipads and Costco trips. She stood at her sink and looked at me with tears in her eyes. She said she wore red, white and blue the other day for Independence Day and that she was proud to be American. I hope to someday record her stories, but I’m afraid i’m wasting too much time in the meantime not doing so. This was not a “people watching” experience, but I learned quite a bit, even if i’ve heard the stories before.

    1. I think listening is a variation of people watching. It’s observing with our ears, and often, we’re able to “see” more this way than with our eyes.

      1. A fantastic idea for my students as well, Phil! Have them enter a public place, close their eyes and just listen to the stories unfold around them. Thanks!

    2. What wonderful, rich stories. I have been trying to write down or record some of the stories told to me by my older relatives who lived through such difficult times. It is so inspiring.

  58. I loved Julie Dauksys’ post of the ‘animal characters’ in her backyard so I decided to do something similar. I went for a bike ride and sat on a bench along the trail to watch what I thought was a huge osprey nest…until a bald eagle flew in and fed the babies (2). Leaving the babies, she (he) flew to a nearby branch where the male was watching over the young but I hadn’t noticed him. After watching them for some time, I continued down the trail and came upon an osprey nest. The mother osprey, who has been coming to this particular spot for quite some time, was feeding her 2 babies. The male, who happened to be a new love interest this year, wasn’t to be seen today. The mother osprey didn’t have any babies last year so this may explain her new love interest 😉
    Loved this activity…

      1. Thanks, Greg. Stopping and observing them is something I really had to make a point of doing; normally it is the river or trail, the other hikers and bikers that get my attention. It is like this opened a new window for me :o)

  59. She’s pulled down her dark-blue felt hat tight over her eyes, meaning she doesn’t want to see or be seen. She glides to the magazine shelves and plucks a copy of the latest _Vegetarian_. Her long black skirt skims the floor as she swishes to the copy machine. She flips open the magazine at random. Her grimace deepens into a pout as she flips a few pages forward, then back. Finally, she settles on a lentil stew that doesn’t sound awful. She flops the magazine onto the Xerox glass, drops a dime into the coin-op slot, awaits the recipe. Her head tilts slightly sideways. Perhaps she’s thinking of her new boyfriend who doesn’t eat meat? Her hungry eyes, though, say she’s craving steak.

  60. Today are writing prompt was about observing people.
    I sat with two of my best friends I have known for at least thirty years; our love does not waver even though our time together is much less.

    What I noticed today.. Besides the obvious amount of weight loss by T over six years ago, and the hesitation with eye rolls of D describing her oldest girl’s love life, the voices were the same. Tonya with her soft, sweet, soothing voice; she of us three actually has a beautiful singing voice. Donna has that “mom” voice and not in a bad way. She has all the hesitations when speaking about her kids, along with the nonverbal conversation of head back in laughter, eye rolls, eyelashes that flutter with that sweet chuckle. She actually has always spoken this way; she is the caretaker of our group and it is evident in her hesitations of saying it right. What I did notice was our discussion topics have changed. If you were an observer of us thirty years ago you would have heard talk of parties, college, trips, concerts, college football games, road trips to Auburn, our latest crush, etc.
    Today.. “I cannot believe the twins will be in first grade!”
    “We are possibly looking into buying land and building our dream house.”
    “The cost of two in college.. ugh!”
    “My mom has four doctor appointments next week that I need to take her to, but let’s see if we can squeeze in another lunch. It is ridiculous to wait this long!”

    1. This is a treasure! It is one thing to observe strangers, but to take in the details of such precious, long-standing friendships, that is remarkable. I love your thoughtful insights, both in the moment, and reflecting on the relationship dynamic transition over 3 decades. Lovely!

  61. Well, this one was more difficult than I expected! I’m good at writing descriptions, but it was harder than I thought to develop a story about the people I’m watching. I think the thing I enjoyed the most was knowing that I was watching and writing about them, and they didn’t know it. I will definitely try this again. It was fun and I can see how it might help me to develop characters for a story. Here’s a little bit from my musings:

    So here I sit at my favorite coffee shop – Hansa Coffee Roasters in Libertyville, IL. It’s almost 4:00 in the afternoon, so the place isn’t as crowded as usual. There are only 5 other people in the room. A young man and woman are sitting at a table, leaning across the table and having a conversation. Who are they? Are they together, friends, or siblings? They seem quite interested in what they are discussing, but it doesn’t seem to be a deep conversation. Are they gossiping about their friends? Maybe they work on a blog together and are discussing what they’ll be writing about next. Maybe they were best friends growing up and haven’t seen each other since they left for college. They do seem to be enjoying their conversation.

    1. Franci…I know exactly what you’re talking about when you say there’s something enjoyable writing about those around you when they have no idea you’re writing about them.

  62. Lazy summer day at home with the family so I decided to watch one of my teenage daughters.

    Sitting on the brown microsuede loveseat
    Wrapped up in the handmade crocheted afghan
    She turns off the tv and grabs her father’s computer.
    Quietly tap…tap…tapping on the keys of his silver Macbook
    Face lit by the soft glow of the monitor
    Serious, dedicated, and determined,
    Engrossed in the process of bringing her story to life
    She pauses to read what she has written….
    while she scratches a few mosquito bites gotten last night on her walk home
    from visiting a neighborhood friend.
    Then the tap…tap…tapping begins again.
    For the time being…she’s not wearing earphones blasting tunes from her iPhone,
    she’s not texting or on Instagram
    she’s not bickering or laughing with her twin sister
    or rolling her eyes at her parents.
    Through my proud eyes I can see that
    she is a writer.

    1. Maureen… Did you share this with your daughter? I wonder what she would write if she did an observation piece about you? It’s amazing what others pick up on. It’s amazing what WE pick up on.

      1. I did share it with her. At first she wasn’t pleased that I chose to write about her but after she read it, she smiled. Maybe she will write about me too? She won’t share what she writes with us yet.

        1. I loved this, Maureen. Having a daughter of my own, I see her through the same eyes. You’ve inspired me.

    2. This is beautiful! I can sense the determination your daughter has. You must be a great model.

  63. “Sun shines around…”
    The blues smooth the square corners of the narrow dining room table at the corner of the coffee shop. I’ve come to rid myself of the caffeine withdrawal of the morning and to rid the page of its blank space. Not yet ready for THAT space, I turn to THIS one. A warmup of sorts, an exercise in observation.
    The middle-aged woman flirts unabashedly with the much younger male baristo (??) or is she trying to impress the her not-as-much-younger female companion.
    The blond, whose cream stilettos make match her platinum locks has left. Her fidgeting pump no longer demanding my notice from the corner of my eye.
    Now that I look up, the man who had settled in front of his laptop as I paid for my latte is already gone, too.

    Five minutes of a warmup like this gets the ideas flowing. I love that today’s prompt validates this essential part of my writing process.

    1. Morgan – This phrase “Her fidgeting pump no longer demanding my notice from the corner of my eye.” caught me. I want to know what else is on the periphery but worth noticing. I too am surprise by how much can be written in just a few minutes. I think about the power of setting a timer for students – just to get them going for 2 minutes and build the stamina to five.

  64. (I at the Outer Banks, NC, this week and toured to see the Corolla Wild Horses today. My observation is from that trip, LOL): “Big human container. They all get out. Of course they do! All me and my girls wanted to do this morning was to cool off in the wet sand and surf. Click. Click. Click. Yeah. I see you there, buddy. Step back a bit. You can move to the other side because I’m not moving. The breeze on the beach feels too good right here. Ugh…Sand flies. Where is one of those annoying egret birds when you need one to take care of these critters on me? Yeah: Click. Click. Click. I see you, too, lady. Do you see my ears? I’m not happy. This is MY walking space and that’s- There you go. You go it! But I’m not happy you made me flinch. Yes, yes, I know I’m a pretty boy. I have a handsome mane. Click. Click. Cl- Just get back in your car, please.

    1. Love it! I always wonder what animals think of us and our absurdity! My family is heading to the Outer Banks next month. I hope your trip is fun!

  65. The couple rounded the corner of the frozen foods aisle. The man leisurely pushed the shopping cart, his slouch accentuating a premature paunch, giving a clear preview of his middle-aged self. Dark hair, slightly curly, was already thinning in front. His bright blue t-shirt announced “SERVE IT TO ME GREEK” in – appropriately – Greek-style letters and was worn untucked over knee-length off-white shorts, sagging slightly to accommodate his waistline. His flip flops schlepped rhythmically over the smooth supermarket tiles.

    She followed close behind, a doughy face with pale eyes rising above the gray yoga pants and lavender workout top fitted closely to her ample figure, padding along in tennis shoes, though this stroll through Cub Foods was to be the extent of today’s fitness regimen. She had child-bearing hips, she’d been told. They planned to have kids, one of these days. Maybe after his promotion to assistant manager at the restaurant. If his uncle ever followed through on that promise.

    When she passed, holy Rapunzel! Her medium-brown hair, pulled back in an industrial-sized scrunchie, hung past her rear end, almost reaching the backs of her knees. Chopped more-or-less straight across the bottom, the ponytail swayed as she walked, a heavy, organic pendulum. This hair was her pride, her strength. She wielded its power in matters domestic. Suddenly, in front of the corn dogs, she leaned forward, murmured low in his ear, and playfully swatted him in the behind with her faux black leather quilted envelope handbag.

      1. Thanks, Wendy. I wrote some poetry this spring for a reading with a “Fractured Fairytales” theme, and ever since, I seem to keep finding fairy tale references everywhere. I don’t even realize that they’re sneaking into my writing until after the fact!

  66. A women sits in a store wicker chair. Deep lines crease her patchy face. Smiles, hellos to passing customers… Staring… thinking… Smile and nods… “Ooh Muriel”. “It’s time to go Mom.” “Okay, where are we?” Lost thoughts…Another moment anew.

  67. I’m a NOLA girl too, living outside outside south. I observed several teens at tennis camp this afternoon. I listened to their dialogue. I like to code switch. I think of their interaction but translate it, NOLA style, in my head. Love the cover of your book Phil, can’t wait to read it. Have fun in New Orleans mon ami!

    1. Can’t wait to be back in NOLA next month. I’ll be there for a week at the end of August.

  68. I ordered a creamy soft serve vanilla ice cream in a small rural VT town. As I was waiting for my order, I noticed a beautiful older couple holding hands. They appeared relaxed and settled in. The wrinkles around their eyes spoke of love and happiness. They waited patiently for their order. Life was simple. They were patient. It isn’t often that I notice people who just simple looked relaxed while waiting. My life consists of rushing here and rushing there. There is never enough time in my day to get everything done. What am I trying to accomplish? I consistently ask myself this question. I am not wonder woman, yet I feel the need to do many things all at the same time. Yet, I notice these people feel at ease with each other and satisfied with life. As I was sauntering off to my next destination, I overheard the man say to his wife.. “Well that was perfect timing!” “Our order is up and we were able to watch the sunset go down together.” It was a beautiful moment. I aspire to take out more time to see more sunsets.

  69. Hi there!
    Christine from the Chicago ‘burbs.
    Liked writing this:

    He stands, slightly bent at the waist, leaning away from the bus stop sign. It’s almost as though he’s trying to convince himself that he’s not waiting for that bus, the one that will take him out of the circle and into…into…where?

    He had readied himself, gathering all that might be needed on a July day in Chicago. Red and blue windbreaker; he’d had always been a northsider, nothing was gonna change that. Compact black umbrella tucked into the back pocket of his black, too-loose jeans, and his new Blackhawks cap worn backwards over pony-tailed gray hair.

    Yep, the bus was comin’, but it was no where in sight.

    1. Christine, I love the line “convince himself that he’s not waiting for the bus.” I wonder where he is going (adding to my list from yesterday).

  70. I observed at the pool where my children take swim lessons. It was an odd experience, because I know most of the people there. However, there was one dad who I’ve seen before but don’t know. His physical characteristics will go into one of my scenes in my WIP.

    One of my favorite children, little Freddie, came up to me and declared, “I have a bug on my finger!” He showed me a fly-like bug I’ve never seen before. He reported back to me a few more times on the status of the bug on his finger. I must use this somewhere.

  71. I observed a car salesman, wrote a list of observations… may work it a bit more into a poem. Perhaps I’ll share when I become a bit more acclimated to our Teachers Write world!

  72. Two thirteen-year-old boys in the car on the way to a basketball game, make for an interesting bit of observation. Thirteen-year-old boys communicate in odd ways, grunting and mumbling insults, unsure of what can fly for socially acceptable thoughts, quietly retreating to a protective wall to hide behind. And they’re gross.

    “Dude, you’re black eye is nasty.”
    “It is? Take a picture and send it to me so I can see it. I want to see what it looks like.”
    “Okay, hold on.” Click.
    “Ahhh. It was worse yesterday.”
    “Did you put it on Snap Chat yet?”
    “I just did.”
    “Did you put it to The Group?”
    “No, why?”
    “I want to respond to the The Group.”
    “Hold it. I got something.” Pull phone away and lean forward. Videotape farting.
    “I’m going post that.”

    Me: Seriously? This is what you do now? Has the world come to this? Farting and then posting a video of your fart? Do you really want to put that out into the world?
    So glad you’ll be taking care of me when I’m old.

    1. As a middle school teacher and the mother of 3 boys (16, 13 and 10), I have to tell you — this is it. You’ve perfectly captured the essence of 13-year-old boydom. Bravo! (And yes, we’re all doomed.)

    2. Brilliant. A great example of even in the most obvious of spaces there is much to be noticed. Wow!

  73. As I take my morning walk down the graveled alley a young blue heeler dog snarls at me. He leaps at the dilapidated fence, igniting my innate primal fear, until I remind myself of his unsuccessful threats each morning. “The fence has held out for two years, it won’t deteriorate this morning, will it?” I ponder. With each jump and bark, the hair on his back rises. “Poor dog.” I breathe. His instincts are to herd cattle and sheep miles each day, nipping at their most sensitive flesh. This dog is confined to a 20 foot by 20 foot yard. A yard with spare 4 wheeler drive parts laying on the dusty ground. An attempt has been made to grow grass, yet in this land of only 10 inches of moisture a year makes it a feeble attempt at best. A door being thrown open calls my attention back to the jumping, yelping dog. “Sam, come here.” demands a weathered, bowlegged cowboy. He steps out of his 400 square foot log cabin in town. I have studied this house often on my walks. In my 80 year old neighborhood filled of tidy wood lapped sided houses this log home stands out. It feels as if the cabin was transplanted to this small lot of land in town, now missing it’s mountain valley. Dry, wood bark clings to the circular logs with hints of green moss growing in places. The flat, low roof sags which is echoed in the back of the old cowboy as he stands on the stoop. I long to strike up a conversation with this aching soul, yet the growling barrier holds me back. I imagine a bygone life of a poorly paid cattle hand, lending his help to any cattle or sheep rancher in the west. He does this just for the love of riding a horse and participating in an occasional branding or two. Each irregular pay check goes to paying the entrance fees into a local rodeo in hopes for that big win and large payoff to secure his future. In his day, I invision, he was a young cowgirl’s heartthrob; his tight wranglers wrapping around his slender legs deeply tipping his black felt hat at all the girls smiling his way. As I smile at him now, his aging gaze quickly turns from me to his anxious pet. Slapping his leg, his proud dog comes to his side. Turning his back on me, he and his companion retreat to the cabin as I retreat back to my busy life.

    Thanks for a great prompt!

    1. Leanne,
      As I was scrolling through posts, yours caught my eye when I saw the words blue heeler dog. My in-laws have a blue heeler, and she is such a dear dog! Beautiful writing! Your description painted a clear picture, and I am so curious about this man.

  74. In the library, following storytime, at snack table-2 four year old boys sitting beside each other talk about birthdays-one in winter, one in spring. As they eat watermelon slices, they say how they like food it makes them grow then hold their hands above their heads to show how big they are. What follows is what this turned into on my page:
    Chomping on watermelon, Elias says, “I’m bigger than you.” “No, I’m bigger,” says Vance. The room becomes quiet as the adults notice that with each bite Elias and Vance are getting bigger and bigger. Elias and Vance are now wide-eyed. “Wow, we’re gonna be gigantic. More watermelon.” By now they no longer fit on the plastic chairs that just 10 minutes ago were a bit big. They will soon be taller than the doorway. “Let’s go outside, maybe we’ll get taller than the trees, ” says Elias. They head outside, ducking their heads to just fit through the doorway. Their moms follow frantically trying to get their phones to work and call their doctors. They can’t seem to push the touch screen with their tiny fingers. “Oh no, I’m shrinking,” shrieks Elias’s mom. Vance’s mom is nowhere to be seen.

  75. Before the sun rose with the mist over the trees and onto the water he was up. He lumbered out of the bedroom into the kitchen and hung his cane on the back of the chair. “They aren’t up yet,” he thought to himself. “Figures,” he said and he heaved a sigh. He poured his water and fumbled with his pill box. “I’m like a pharmacy,” he said aloud to the dark kitchen. He didn’t turn on the lights, as the whole house was full. There were people, more specifically, his family, sleeping all over, in the tiny cottage. He looked at the clock over the stove. “Didn’t he say we’d go at 6:00?” He’d given up his turn to go fishing two days in a row now. For the kids. They aren’t up here much. “They don’t get to fish much. But, they don’t seem to want to fish as much as I do,” he thought. “Here I am waiting again.” He lumbered down the hall, thump, thump, thump. His feet felt heavier than usual. Why didn’t his legs do what he told them to do? He used the tip of his cane to rap on the bedroom door. Not a sound. No one stirred. He thump, thump, thumped back to the kitchen and swallowed a small piece of coffee cake that had been left out. With more power he thumped back down the hall. He rapped his cane on the door. This time he heard them move. “It’s about time,” he thought. Without waiting for them to answer the bedroom door he returned to the kitchen, pulled his cap on and zipped up his jacket. He opened the screen door letting it scream shut behind him as he faced the sun reflecting in tiny bits off the water.

    1. I meant to preface this with the fact that I haven’t been in public in a few days. I’ve been with my family in a cottage at the lake. However, they provide plenty to observe!

  76. In the waiting area of my daughter’s music studio: She sits on the sofa with two fingers pressed to her temple and the other hand feverously texting. When her hands leave her face, them immediately begin stroking her long brown hair. On first glance, she appears to be a typical teenager engrossed in appearance and technology; however, as I continue to observe (or stalk) her, I notice that, as is frequently the case, my first impression is wrong. Her posture is perfect and her eyes betray her intelligence. I see wonder in her glance as she looks up and spots my son. Her smile is contagious and as my son returns her smile and wonders over to her, I spot her folder sitting next to her: Guitar and Voice. She immediately strikes up a conversation with my two year old, not an easy task. He gravitates toward her as I imagine many have before him and many will after.

  77. He leaned over, his hands on his head, elbows on the table, face down. She sat up straight, hands in her lap, motionless. The temporal space between each tick of the handmade clock stretched wider as she waited for him to react, to breathe. She wouldn’t be the first to move, she wouldn’t be the first to react to the news, it had to be him, she refused to be the lesser person.

    He began to scratch his head, massaging his fingers through the thinning gray hair. She straightened her napkin, a pristine statue outlined in pearls, white print flowers on a yellow background, bright red lipstick.

    His first breath came through the nose, a whistling inhale of air, as his hands wiped over his face before interlocking in front of his chin. He slowly opened his eyes, looked at her sideways and then picked up his knife and fork.

    “Okay,” he said as he cut into his meatloaf.

    She didn’t move, he never saw the quick twitch on the corner of her immaculately traced lips. She pulled herself up to the table. “Thank you dear.”

    1. What?? Aren’t you going to share what the news is? I loved the description of your characters.

  78. Here is my observation from the rummage sale collection. I wish I could say I know all of the people who come to work, but unfortunately, I don’t. Rather than choosing someone I knew, I chose someone I didn’t know. Here’s what I came up with:

    Eighty-one years old, last mont, Betty was there for many reasons. First, her church was small, and there were few to represent it at the rummage sale, a sale that would bring about $2,000 to their coffers. Maybe it wasn’t a lot, but their congregation was dwindling, and that $2,000 could make a difference between whether they would be plowed out and could have services in the winter, or whether there wouldn’t be the money and services would be canceled.

    So, yes, that was reason number one. But reason number two was to thwart the loneliness that struck her every day since Sid died. Sid was not her husband, he had been a parishioner, just slightly older than herself, and before he died in February, he would call her every afternoon just to check up on her. Most days they only talked for a few minutes, but some days, when there was an issue on the news, or something local of concern, their conversations lasted as long as an hour. There were even a few occasions when he would come over and they would discuss the issues over a cup of coffee. But now Sid was gone…and Lionel, her husband of 45 years, he’d been gone for five years in May.

    Now her days were spent mostly in solitaire, except for the few times Marjorie came by for a chat, or to take her shopping. That’s why she looked forward to the church services. It was a time of fellowship, a time when the loneliness didn’t churn within so badly. And now. this week, there was the rummage sale. It was wearing. She drove her own car, because Marjorie and her husband felt they had to stay from the opening of collection to the close every day. That was from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. That was too much for her. So, she came at 9 and worked as long as she could, chatting with the faces that she usually only saw this time every year. Sometimes she forgot their names, but they all forgot, so they laughed over their feeble brains, and reminded themselves once more. Sometimes she left at 12, other times 1 or 2. it depended on how worn she felt, and how warm she felt from the conversations.

    So, those were some of the reasons, but the real reason? The real reason Betty came every day to the rummage sale? That was to prove to herself that she still could do it. Everyday she manned the sorting table with Marjorie, each with a chair. She never used to use a chair, but her lefts would not allow all of that standing. At the sorting table she went through the bags of clothes that came in, folded them, and sorted them, and then hoped that there would be someone with younger legs than her who would come by to take the items to their places. It wasn’t exciting work. It was tiresome. It was maddening sometimes to think of the young adults and teenagers who should be there helping. But mostly, it was rewarding. Here she was useful. Here she was part of a well-oiled machine. Here she belonged and made a difference. And that was all the reason she needed to come back day after day.

  79. This is an exercise I love to do for myself and in class. While people watching I love to catch dialogue as well.
    Today I was working with two ELL students. Two cultures merged into our American culture. I love to listen as they move in and out if two languages. They even try to teach me. I look at them and wonder how it was for their family to make the decision to come here. Was the sacrifice worth it? How much of their culture and language will they keep. I loved to watch how easily they learned and laughed together. Unaware of any differences. Children are a pleasure to watch. Their eager, easy way of walking through life.

  80. Late… but the same day as the prompt! I’m getting better!! 🙂

    I’m driving and my attention is on the road, but with three kids in the backseat, my rearview mirror glances award me more than a road view. I’m watching you. You are joking with your sister and brother. I hear you. Your laughter is a delight. You are funny, but your words quickly become cutting. I don’t know why. Your little brother is growing a thick skin. I give you reminders to be kind, and tell you to stop. And then I watch as you decide to put your hands out your window. All I see is your hands raised to the sky, and I know that feeling: the air pushing on you, the wind so loud. Your hair is blowing from your face, and I wonder what is happening in your mind. I’m hoping you are feeling peaceful with the white noise, and the chance to let go of impulse control and just breathe. The next time I glance back you have a water bottle hanging out of the window too, and you are experimenting with drops. They are falling out of the bottle directly into the car. You have invented a misting air conditioner, and nobody else in the backseat seems to mind. I wonder about the water since I can’t see it leaving the bottle, but I can see it on your face and hair, and I can hear your brother and sister laugh as you say “Our own rainstorm!” I’m proud of myself. I smile at your antics, and your joy. Checking myself, I don’t feel an urge to have you stop.

    We turn down the road that leads to the coffee shop, and suddenly your brother and sister complain loudly, “Ugh!” and “He dumped the rest of his slushy out the window!” and “It’s all over the car!”

    I’m annoyed, and I’m sure the drive through barista thought it was weird, but that’s okay. I decided that it’s no big deal. My annoyance is easily forgotten if I just picture you: hands out the window, hair blowing in the breeze.

    1. I love how your descriptions capture the sibling interactions and how quickly joy can turn to disgust. I love that you capture your own feelings of love and annoyance. What an authentic look at family life in a snapshot.

  81. I love people watching! I had a hard time choosing someone to stick with today, though (I also had a hard time posting earlier- apologies for the lateness). When I did choose someone, I dared to choose someone who I didn’t immediately connect with, as a way to push my thinking and initial assumptions; hope I did her justice.

    She waits at the coffee bar, large iced coffee with a healthy dose of milk in hand. She glances at her phone thrice in a minute, pulls her handbag closer. She leans over and catches the attention of one of two baristas working to make small talk. She seems to know him, but isn’t asking anything substantial in her questions.

    She\’s hiding some discomfort rather successfully, but it leaks out in her posture and rapid sipping of caffeine that seems to make her fingers tap faster on the counter. Her perfectly cut, highlighted, and straightened hair falls neatly on her back, with a single quarter inch braid gathered from each side to stop at the middle to join the straight strands held only by a thin almost invisible hairband, shows none of the discomfort.

    She looks at her iPhone and types away as soon as barista walks away to help another customer. Perhaps she has the upper hand now?

  82. Tonight our family went out to dinner with my mom who is visiting from Arizona. We live in the San Francisco Bay Area so for her the weather is much cooler than she has become accustomed. As we sat in the restaurant I took notes in my journal while watching a family being served their dinner. Two little girls, one approximately a year or so older than the other with a much younger little boy and a mom. The girls fascinated me. The younger girl wore an unhappy expression and watched her family out of the corners of her eyes. Mostly she kept her dark brown eyes hooded and down. She used her brown hair as a veil of separation. She maintained a posture of other until the waiter came with her food. He clearly offered her cheese on her pasta. She became animated immediately with her response. She gave him a smile.

    The older girl never stopped talking. Her blond hair was pulled up into a pony tail. Her bright blue eyes were smiling along with her mouth. She had the mom’s attention the entire time. She was confident in her movement as she ate pizza only pausing from time to time to take another bite of her food.

    The little boy sat crouched with his blue jacket zipped up and hood pulled over his head. When his bowl of pasta arrived he yanked off his hood. His expression remained neutral. His mom had to do something with the contents of his bowl before he could begin to eat.

    I wondered about this little family. What was the story behind the two little girls? Were they sisters? Had they had a spat on the way to dinner? Did the older one simply shrug off conflict while the younger one held on? Did the younger girl feel the mom favored her older sister? And what about the little brother? Was he a pain?

    Ultimately, I get to keep these observations and make my own story. Cool.

  83. This is a great idea, and I will definitely use this with my students in the fall.
    I am late in reading this prompt, but coincidentally I was people watching in a Panera earlier today and texted the following to my friend:
    “It’s national bikini day. Some old guy (sadly, he’s probably my age) just awkwardly announced this to the much younger girl he was talking to on his phone.”
    I made so many observations and assumptions about this man just a few minutes. How did I know he was talking to a girl? He stood up and paced for this phone call; he had been sitting for all the other calls he made. His voice changed (got lower and flirtier). At the point when the conversation started to get more personal, he walked outside and continued talking for 15 minutes in 90 degree, humid heat. And he was wearing a hooded sweatshirt over a slightly longer t-shirt, with basketball shorts (worn low) and sneakers. When he walked back into Panera, he wiped a little sweat off of his forehead. And how did I know she was much younger? He was dressed to impress a younger crowd. Also he seemed nervous while talking with her which made me think the relationship was new and that he might not think he was on an equal footing with her.

  84. Tuna fished finger, wiped clean on her black apron, up anddownupanddown. A quick glance our way, patrolling our mouths and eyes, you okay? Yes. She palms the cell.phone, hoping we need nothing, want nothing, but her privacy.

  85. I decided to visit the library, the children’s section specifically, to watch my favorite type of people.

    A small boy, about five or six years old, was slowly wandering the whole of the library. He was dressed very nicely, in long, red plaid shorts and a navy blue T-shirt. As he meandered through the rows of shelves, he drug a tote behind him. It swooshed back and forth on the carpet loudly. Presumably, the bag was loaded with books, though I couldn’t really tell. The tote itself, was about a third his size in length and it clearly was too heavy or cumbersome for him to carry on his shoulder.

    He started by circling the entire perimeter of the children’s section, which is fairly large. Then, he methodically zig-zagged through the shelves. It was in the juvenile nonfiction section where I first really noticed him. He didn’t smile, yet he didn’t look particularly sad. I saw no adult watching him from a comfy chair as most parents do. Even still, he didn’t seem to be lost. He just ambled his way around the library, never stopping to peruse the shelves; never taking a moment to visually locate a misplaced mother or a stray sibling.

    1. This is a great image created of a man with a mission. Even though it appears he has no sense of purpose, his confidence is there.

  86. Tuesday Quick Write – People Watch prompt

    Summerfest the evening of July 3, 2015 Milwaukee, WI

    We walked two and a half miles with Sadie, seven year old yellow lab and Zoe, five year old husky lab to Summerfest to meet our daughter who was working this evening. In addition to Summerfest, Milwaukee also held the annual Milwaukee Lakefront Fireworks at Veteran’s Park, another mile north of the Summerfest grounds, and the Milwaukee County buses were still on strike. We walked from Bay View north on Kinnickinnic Avenue to the bike path that follows the train tracks to Washington Street and then east to Water Street. The cars and people were backed up three deep facing north. Many drivers parked in the bike lane, put on their hazard lights to watch the spectacular fireworks display while other driver’s were trying to drive as close as they could to Summerfest only to find out that there was no available parking and when they got to the end of Water Street where it intersects with North Young Street they were forced to turn around and drive south on Water Street back through the lines of cars. Law enforcement were not allowing cars through this area with all the additional traffic. One driver in a Ford SUV towing a peddle tavern was swearing to the young woman steering the pedal tavern about other drivers and the congested traffic where cars were sitting to watch fireworks only to cause a bottleneck situation. She reminded me of characters in Jo Knowles book, Between the Lines. This is only one situation where we watched in amazement how people assume things about other people. The young women, obviously were working for the pedal tavern company, but did not consider the events happening and the best route to drive. I find it interesting when people swear at other people to try to release their own frustration and stupidity. I understand this isn’t a character sketch as much as a setting description, perhaps but watching people during Summerfest is quite fascinating!

  87. I think this is the perfect prompt! I love people watching and eaves dropping. 🙂 I used to make up stories about people I\’ve observed to give them a back story. This prompt will be great to revisit often this summer when I\’m on the ferry, at the beach, in NYC or just downtown. Here\’s a bit of what I wrote yesterday:

    @#$%??!! I hear from my spot in the garden. He\’s at it again. Doing what he loves, repairing cars. There is a lot of yelling and swearing over the course of a day so one questions if this is what his passion is, or just what he happens to do. One can understand the frustration involved when fixing an automobile: jacks, bolts, tires, new technology, broken or blocked lines. All can get stuck or break further. Frustrating.

    But when he\’s yelling at her…that\’s different. She doesn\’t repair, doesn\’t get paid by him. Strictly helping out. \”I said to start it NOW! NOW!\” \”No, that\’s not…AGH!\” \”DIDN\’T YOU HEAR ME?!?\” No pleases or thank-yous or never-minds at the very least.

    His choice of expletives is also intriguing. There\’s the obvious. But then there\’s the yelling as if the vehicles are not actually inanimate objects but actual living beings. All terms stereotypically reserved for women. Interesting word choice.

    And though I can not see through the hedges – thank goodness they are tall – I can picture him in my mind:
    Heavyset, white bushy hair, black eyebrows thick and furrowed while he tinkers. Tools drop and crash. Pale complexion beginning to get pink…then redder. Then I hear the huffing and puffing. And I know it\’s only a matter of minutes until I\’ll hear the loud, demonstrative cursing. Purple-faced with spittle flying.

    And she remains quiet.

  88. I ended up going to the laundromat to try this. I had fun with it, although there was something slightly odd in the watching. Here’s an excerpt of what I wrote below:

    The floor of the laundromat was slick from its last mopping. The tile had a greasy glare, a relic of a mop that’s been used too many times to count. Outside it was a rainy day that wouldn’t rain, perfectly matching the mood in the interior of the building. A few customers milled about – folding, tossing, coin inserting. They moved slowly, as if walking on ice, adding to the feeling that time was moving extra slow in this space.
    Behind the counter, the sole employee working this morning stood. She put a shirt on its hanger, covered in its protective plastic, and added it to the conveyor of dry cleaning. She had short curly red hair, and black framed glasses, and she moved with the dreamlike efficiency of one who is performing a task for the thousandth time. The lines across her forehead belied the truth – it was probably the hundred thousandth time.
    A customer approached the counter, opening his wallet. “Good morning.”
    “Good morning!” she responded, with cheer that felt out of place on this Wednesday morning. “How can I help you?”
    The man stood for a moment, a puzzled expression on his face. “Well, I was going to ask you to break a twenty for me, but I guess I already did that earlier. So, never mind!” He looked slightly embarrassed, but mostly just confused.
    The woman with the short red hair laughed. “Well, I guess you’re ahead of the game then!”
    “Guess so. Well thanks anyway.” The man trundled off, back to his business, and the woman returned to hers. Customers came and went, most without saying a word to her. Purchasing detergent was automated. Getting change (for tens or less) was automated. The laundromat was an introverts ideal situation. Finish your task without any of the small talk that normally invades your errands. Still, a few customers would come and go who needed dry cleaning. She responded with her bubbly cheer for each in turn. Some were brusque, others she had developed a rapport with. An older man with a John Deere hat’s parting words were wishing her cat a speedy recovery. She smiled at that. The little human sweetnesses that kept this dreary space from being a prison.

  89. It’s “50 and Fabulous” day at the department store. I’m neither but that doesn’t deter me; who needs a 15% discount, anyway? I try to ignore the other customers and get into the sale-shopping groove. I swear I’m not antisocial, my zen just happens to be a morning alone with some spending money on my store account. A perk of teaching is being able to hit the clearance racks on a Tuesday morning, while every one else is punching their time cards.

    As I pick and tug and judge and move on, I spot a pair of women, clothes starched and curls set, choosing clothes for one another and commenting how this pair of slacks would suit the other, or how the aqua in this blouse brings out her eyes. As their conversation chirps back and forth, they ease through the clothing racks adding flowered polos to their carts. Retirement must feel like a long summer break, but with no class of students ahead to challenge you, does it feel as exciting?

  90. Adding this so late but trying to stay true to the course. Thank you Phil – I had no idea of the power of people watching as a writing source. Here’s mine:
    Smiles and splashes and no tears today. Before there were headaches, and moping, and sitting on the side. There was feet in the water, kicking sluggishly. There were dips in and lugging back out, body heavy. And then there was “I’m going to throw up!” which subsided into “I have butterflies today, lots of butterflies”. But then a break through. I heard laughter and watched glistening droplets fly. Happiness echoed, unseen, in waves across the deck. And there was pride. Sweet, drenched pride of having gotten in, and swam the entire time.

  91. I did something like this with my third graders this year- giving them each a tiny notebook- they loved the any where, any time feeling of spying it gave them:) Today as I belatedly did the quick write I watched my young nephew and his cousin. My nephew was playing Minecraft and kept up a steady monologue, occasionally interacting with his cousin as questions were traded back and forth, as well as some tidbits of advice. I love the way it was possible to hear and see everything going on without feeling intrusive, because they did not even notice anyone else in the room.