The art of people watching

An alternative to Facebook creeping

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

People watching is an art form.

After living in New York for most of my life, people watching has not only become a hobby but an art. There are too many people in the city to miss imagining their lifestyles and guessing the music they’re listening to based on their style. It’s not a power trip to judge random people; it’s just fascinating. Children do it all the time so why not engage ourselves in the innocent activity we’re all nostalgic for?

Over the break, I took time to re-engage in this popular activity. A few friends and I would head to downtown Toronto (a perfect spot for ultimate people watching) choose a bench and watch the passersby.

You don’t just watch people, though " you point out their mannerisms, guess their ambitions, even look at the way they walk their dogs. Sometimes you catch yourself prolonging your gaze at a hipster’s neon shades or wondering how someone can walk so casually in gold stilettos in the snow.

Real people watching is harder than it looks. There’s a fine line between perverted staring and the simple observation of pedestrians. One must let go of their stalker tendencies and people-watch simply for personal enjoyment.

It’s about combining subtlety and timing in order to maximize one’s people watching experience. Add your knowledge of pop culture references and the perfect locale and you can make a day of it.

For example, scoping out doppelgangers (a “double” or look-alike) is a more rewarding sub-category of people watching, especially for the pop culture-savvy.

While in Toronto, a friend and I stationed ourselves at a retro-style diner called Shanghai Cowgirl in the über-hip Queen Street West district. For peak people watching, we ate by large windows, maintaining a lookout for doppelgangers. The final results were satisfying. We saw “Desmond” from Lost in a green cargo jacket, a Dwight look-alike from The Office (although not as tall), and our favourite find, a David Caruso doppelganger, sunglasses and all.

But don’t make the mistake of calling out a doppelganger " he or she may be the actual person. Embarrassingly, I’ve sat next to a Dallas Green doppelganger at a restaurant and talked to a Sean Lennon look-alike after a concert, only to find out it was actually Dallas Green and Sean Lennon after the fact. Nevertheless, debating the resemblance of a doppelganger with friends is always fun, whether he or she is or isn’t the real deal.

You don’t have to be in a big city to enjoy this wondrous sport. Concrete Beach is the downtown Toronto of Western in terms of people watching. On sunny days, students line the benches in front of the UCC and watch students pass by through their massive shades. You’d be surprised how many people you begin to recognize " there’s the crush you had in Saugeen three years ago, the cocky bastard you met at The Frog and the extremely tall girl in your class.

Other topnotch people watching places nearby include the family-friendly Victoria Park, Prince Albert’s Diner at the corner of Richmond and Albert streets and any Starbucks with large windows.

So take some time out of your frantic schedules to just sit back and watch your fellow human beings. It beats going on Facebook.

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