A few weeks ago I discovered for myself what some people have been enjoying for all of their lives. Simply watching people proved itself a fun exercise, not to mock or belittle anyone within the recesses of my mind as they crossed my field of vision, but to observe and appreciate the variety of humanity out there as they go about their business. There’s really no deeper answer to why watching people can be a pleasurable experience if you’re so inclined; if in the right frame of mind, it just is.
And before you get the wrong idea, I’m not advocating peeping or other forms of voyeurism here. Just taking in the everyday movement in the world wherever people gather, from shopping malls to bean dinners. Watching can be just downright fascinating.
Being naturally curious, I believe I started scoping out individuals in school or at public places when I was quite young. That is, until too many hostile reactions along the lines of “What are you (fill in the expletive) lookin’ at?!” made me more cautious or a believer in minding my own business. After awhile I’d use situations where I’d be waiting on an appointment or getting the car repaired to catch up on my reading. I wasn’t bothering anyone and no one was bothered by me.
But recently having had a couple of hours to kill between procedures at an area medical complex put me in a position to follow my usual routine and scan whatever book I was into at the time. However, the life and literary output of Louis Bromfield didn’t appeal to me at the moment, and since the site had a large reception area equipped with fairly comfortable chairs, I opted to get a coffee from the cafe down the corridor and plant myself near the entrance to enjoy the comings and goings.
I then found that watching folks was a distraction I’d missed out on for a long time. Again, I wasn’t looking to make fun of anyone or what they were doing, not even the older gentleman down the hallway who seemed to be mounting a filibuster for the benefit of friends and family surrounding him. On the whole it was a relaxed atmosphere and the activity of some folks was rather charming to behold.
The time I had to wait even allowed for some personal interaction. At one point, a lady in a wheelchair was pushed into the lobby near where I sat by what appeared to be a grandson of the pre-teen variety. The lady had a few items in shopping bags in her lap, among them a box of glazed donuts. She asked the boy if he wanted one and he declined; she turned to me, told me she loved glazed donuts and I agreed before we moved on to lesser small talk (she didn’t offer me a donut, but that was okay). The boy’s parents then came in and they all moved on to the medical office where she had an appointment.
A man later put himself in the chair next to mine and greeted me as if we’d known each other forever. But as soon as he finished tying the laces on his tennis shoes, he was gone. That was all right too because I wasn’t looking to make any new friendships that day. But then it was delightful to meet up with a couple I do know and had not seen for some time. So here’s a shout out to Mr. and Mrs. Clay Baker of Patriot, and my thanks for their stopping to talk to me.
Before I knew it, the two hours had passed and I returned to the cardiologist’s quarters to complete a chemical stress test. But I took away from that break a new appreciation of people. It may have had a lot to do with the fact I don’t get out of the house much anymore and my visits to public places have become the exception rather than the rule, as it once was back in the day.
A few years ago I noted on Facebook that my wife Beth and I had run a series of errands that took us to Gallipolis, Cheshire and Middleport all in one morning. One of my Facebook friends said he remembered when I did so every day as a reporter for Ohio Valley Publishing — a bit of an exaggeration, but on those busy occasions when duty called, the statement wasn’t too far from the truth.
These days you won’t find me sitting on a bench near the checkout lanes at Wal-Mart soaking up atmosphere and observing humanity as it passes by. There are too many things at home to keep me occupied, like finishing that book on Louis Bromfield, but the rare instance I have described above made me realize something. That as much as we sometimes crave getting away from everyone and everything, there’s an equally powerful need to have some contact with the world around us, at least for me. And that’s why you see folks sitting at Wal-Mart watching other people, or it’s at least a big reason why.
The experience also left me with the belief there is no harm in watching our fellow humans as long as it doesn’t bug them, and if a situation arises when you can be a help to somebody in the crowd, then all the better.
Erin Perkins’ article on the response to continuing the mission of the Point Pleasant River Museum (“Brushing Off the Ashes,” Sunday Times-Sentinel, July 8) offers an idea of how important the facility is to Mason County, not only as a tourist attraction but as a memorial to the experience of many local families who for some time have made a living from the Ohio and Kanawha rivers.
When I worked at Point Pleasant in 2003-2004, I became aware of a connection to the river life that seemed stronger than in any of the surrounding counties bordered by inland waterways. The creation of the River Museum recognized that link and the heritage shared by generations of people who worked and continue to work on “the boats,” to use the local term for employment on the river. Under the guidance of a knowledgeable staff, the museum offers an education to the uninitiated about riverboats, commerce and other aspects of a culture that took its life from the waters of the Ohio and Kanawha.
That’s why it was so disheartening to see the building housing the museum damaged by fire on July 1. But it’s also encouraging that the community has rallied to support the museum, helping the staff move rescued exhibits to a new location and raising funds to meet other needs.
If you care about the museum and what it does, make a donation to the River Museum Rebuild Fund at Ohio Valley Bank’s Point Pleasant branch, or on Facebook at https://www.gofundme.com/river-museum-fire-recovery-fund. Donations can be made directly to the museum by phone (304-674-0144 or 304-674-9898) if it’s a card payment, or by mail to P.O. Box 412, Point Pleasant, W.Va. 25550.
By doing so, you’ll help preserve an important part of local history we cannot afford to lose.
Kevin Kelly, who was affiliated with Ohio Valley Publishing for 21 years, resides in Vinton, Ohio.