When I leave work to go home I almost always have to stop at the same left turn light in town. It’s not fate or bad luck or anything; it’s just how the light is timed. For some reason I’m almost always the first car in line, so I have a completely clear view of the intersection as I wait for all the lights to cycle.
Just before my light turns green, the people on my right get to make their left turn. It’s a parade of cars going right past my windshield, each driver lost in their own story. This one’s angry. This one’s singing along to the radio. This one’s using their cell phone (which is against the law here, but that doesn’t stop people.) This one’s yawning. This one’s picking their nose. Each one is in a separate world going through separate things. As each car passes it’s one unguarded second in their lives into which some guy – me – gets a glimpse.
And then I turn left, and the person in that lane gets to look into my life for one unguarded second as I pass them. And then they see the next driver. Then the next. Then the next.
I’m sure there are times when they can’t figure out what my story is. The days I’m stretching my jaw hard enough to crack. Am I yawning? Yelling? The days I’m punching myself in the face. Am I mad at myself? Swatting a mosquito with my fist? The days my head jerks to one side. Did I see something I had to look at? Am I dancing to the music?
I try to catch their eye to see if I can figure out what they think I’m doing. Only rarely have I had another driver make eye contact. Most of the time I just see another driver staring at their own light, wondering when it’ll be their turn to go.
There are times when observation turns to judgement. Earlier today I read an article by Emily Cromwell in which she related just such an incident. But on the whole I get the feeling that people are too wrapped up in their own lives to do more than stare, once in a while, at something that doesn’t make any sense to them. They might go home and tell their family or their friends what they saw. They might not. They might be like me and just wonder how the rest of the story goes.