People Watching #6

I’m sitting next to the three of them because I wanted tacos, and instead of waiting until 8 to eat, I went at 7.

I wanted to eat at 8 because 7 is still peak dinnertime, and I was on a schedule. I wanted to read one more chapter of Little Failure and finish aimlessly scribbling in my journal. There was still one more cover letter to write for a job posted over a month ago, and I am so sure that a day could make all the difference between a missed opportunity and the perfect amount of good luck.

But I was sitting in the courtyard at the National Gallery, and on this day, it didn’t want its visitors to forget that it was once an outdoor space. I was so cold that goosebumps grazed the arms of my long-sleeved shirt. I wondered why I’d left my coziest sweaters in a basement in suburban New Jersey and why I still wasn’t convinced that temperatures dipped below the forties below the Mason-Dixon line. I was unsure how the clean lines of the courtyard’s wavy glassy ceiling and the smooth gray tiles, which felt soothing in the summertime, were now too sleek and spare. How sixty minutes were suddenly too long to spend in the company of its trees, too green and wispy from their cultivated lives indoors.

Because it is a weekday and the sidewalks around the Metro Center are empty, I think that 7 will work just fine, but when I walk into District Taco, there are too many people and too many taco combinations, and it takes me ten minutes to figure out what to even order. When the cashier asks me whether I want my food to go, I tell her that I rather stay because I am too distracted, still trying to remember whether barbacoa is made with beef or pork. And when I realize my mistake, the next person in line is already nudging me out of the way, and there’s nothing else I can do but wait for my food and squeeze into the one empty chair next to these three strangers.

The trio are smartly dressed, their outfits perfect for a workplace where dark-rinse jeans are reserved for Friday. Person A wears a blazer over a lace embossed dress while Person B has draped a cardigan over a chiffon blouse. Person C arrives late in a green sweater and khakis.

They never say their names as they eat, but A and B tell C how they are going to the ballet and how they’re so glad that he could stop by for dinner. And C apologizes for being late because he had to help clean up the holiday party he had work today. How was it? It was great! The first one that they had in their new building, but they had to pay out of their own pockets. Was there an open bar? Everyone had really strong gin and tonics. Did he make anything? Pulled pork!

It’s Christmas next week, and C still hasn’t finished shopping. His plan is to make a list, cross-check it with the other relatives, and shop while he is in New Mexico. A and B are intrigued, and C explains that his family lives there. He’ll upgrade his flight to first class, because he can. He also has TSA clearance and double knots his shoelaces.

A complains that she has to work right after the holiday weekend, but it doesn’t matter because no one else will be in the office, which means she’ll probably do nothing. But there’s been exciting things happening because of Cuba. C tells the group that he’ll probably be flying there soon. A nods. Of course, Cuba is so interesting because there’s a lot of potential for both private investment in its health care, especially in the primary care sector.

B says that the last time she traveled was to go to a wedding in Italy. A complains that one of her friends from college is getting married on New Year’s Eve, but she’ll go anyway because it’ll take place on a rooftop. She’ll stay until midnight. The couple sent e-vites.

What is everyone doing for New Year’s?, C wonders. There are friends who are worried about the neighbors and will kick everyone out right at midnight, champagne barely emptied from their glasses. Where do they live? Columbia Heights, and A is excited to hear that because Columbia Heights is “the port to Washington DC.” What a great location!

I finish my second taco when it’s time for the trio to see their ballet. The three gather their trash and leave while A explains to the group how she makes her own preserves and would be happy to send some jars over. As I discover that barbacoa is made from beef, I think how fun it would be to work at a health care company that sends its employees to travel-restricted countries. Or can fruit at the peak of its ripeness. Or believe that a single stop on the Green/Yellow line is enough to convince you that you have an entire city at your disposal.

But I think cooked fruit is more comforting in a pie crust than a mason jar. A grandma sweater is just as fashionable as a structured blazer. I’d choose Prague in economy class over Havana with TSA privileges. I’d rather live somewhere that I can’t fold up and put in my pocket because it will always keep me on my toes.

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