Category Archives: People-Watching

Duracell or Energizer

When you set out on a trip, you just never know who the Lord is going to place in your path. I’ve flown next to silent businessmen, focused on their newspapers or laptops, elderly women who chat about their grandchildren, college students heading home on break, moms with little ones, and everything in between.

I have never, and I mean, NEVER sat beside a fellow traveller who stores his AA batteries IN his ear!!

smile, you're on candid camera

Duracell in one ear and Energizer in the other.Yikes!

This young man celebrated his 21st birthday yesterday and was flying home to visit friends and family in New Hampshire. He slept most of the flight (Tim said I couldn’t sneak up and take pictures without his permission) but we had a lovely chat during the landing. He had suffered from a collapsed lung six months ago and still had a bad cough. I told him I had five children and they would NOT believe me if I didn’t have a picture of his ear, um, shall we call it, art.

Do not look at this picture if you are squeamish.
I’m serious. It kind of freaks me out a bit.

Okay, but I warned you.
pinkie action

“What will your Mom say?” I had to ask my body pierced companion. “Has she seen your ears yet?”

“No,” he laughed. “She’ll be surprised.”

Ah, yes indeed. A very interesting young man, far more intriguing than the beautiful young woman sitting across the aisle on the next flight. I found it amusing to pair them up in my mind; what a couple they would make, I fancied briefly.

My next thought was sobering. God looks at our heart and not on our outside appearance. He cares about our soul, not our adornments. We look at a person’s hair, clothing, and accessories and we arrive at judgments and conclusions. If she does not know the Lord, the woman in expensive boots, cream sweater and gold jewelry is just as lost as the lip, nose and ear pierced, “residentially challenged” traveler from the first flight.

Jesus was born in the rudest of accommodations, and died while men gambled for his clothes (which were, apparently, His only possessions). Yet He is the Prince of Peace, the King of Glory. Surely we must learn to see like God with the eyes of our hearts, rather than looking on outward appearances as the world does.

Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to who you belong? James 2:5-7

Lord, help me to recognize the lost and be bold in bringing Your light into their lives. Give me wisdom to know how to reach out in love and truth.

Project 365 – Day 298

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A New Look

I just noticed a man across the aisle from me, sporting a Mohawk haircut … I can’t remember the last time I saw someone making that definitive personal statement. It is frequently interesting to see the different ways that people express their individuality. Most people nail down who they are by the time they are in their 30s, though … this guy looks to be in his late 40s. He is wearing a T-shirt from the Seattle Children’s Theater … perhaps the cut is a part of a role he is playing.

When I was in college, a friend decided to shave his head for his 20th birthday. I walked down to the barber shop with him for a good laugh. The barber, an older man well-versed in the ways of college students, gave my friend lots of chances to back out, removing his hair in uniform layers until only an eighth of an inch stubble remained. Somehow I found myself in the chair, with a grinning barber asking, “Are you sure you want to do this?”

“Sure!” squeaked a voice that I still can’t believe was mine. No baby-step approach for me … in a single swoop, he cut a reverse Mohawk from the front of my head to the base of my neck. I walked out of the shop looking like a skinhead, and (I hope) a little wiser.

Would you buy a used car from this man? (This picture was actually taken much later, when I had quite the ‘head of hair’ in comparison to the original near-billiard shave.)

We had been enjoying a prolonged Indian Summer, with temperatures in the low 70′s. The next day (November 2, 1984) we skipped right past Fall and into Winter, with temperatures below freezing at night. My friend and I bought matching pea-green coats and walked around town like a couple of idiots, shivering miserably. I never realized just how much heat can be lost from the top of the head, when denuded of hair.

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The other day, one of our neighbors came by to show off her new hair color … she is starting high school in a few weeks and wants to change her look as much as she can. Hard to imagine anyone choosing to go brown when they are naturally blond, but she seems to have selected an attractive shade … it looks good. I think that I am going to need to be very flexible as my children move into the teen years … most parents really seem to struggle with their reaction to matters of aesthetics and in differentiating those from moral principles. It is also hard to see your child as a potential grown-up, when you remember (seems like yesterday!) changing their diapers and snuggling them in your arms.

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One of my favorite scenes from “Father of the Bride” is when Steve Martin’s character’s daughter announces her intention to get married. In the film, they swap out the daughter in mid-conversation and replace her with a six-year-old girl in pigtails, who announces in a little-girl voice, “Daddy, I met a boy and I’m going to get married!” Then Martin shakes his head, his vision clears, and he sees his 20-year-old daughter again, looking at him strangely. I suspect parents go through that kind of thing frequently.

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Chutzpah — an Unsolved Mystery

Riding the ferry and rubbing elbows with a large sampling of commuters, I have the opportunity to see all kinds of people and many varieties of behavior. One characteristic which recently came to my attention is chutzpah, that special aggressive edge of indifference to societal pressures that some people seem to have. It is difficult to define, but it seems to include an habitual “me first” orientation and a sense of individual freedom in the absence of personal accountability. Chutzpah seems to contain a thread of entitlement and a “I’m going to get my share” mentality that (at least in some) overrides the constraints of politeness and fairness.

As you wait to board the ferry at the Bainbridge Island terminal, the passenger ramp is divided into two lanes by a series of cones connected by orange tape. The convention seems to be that the southern lane is for passengers boarding the ferry, while the northern lane is for those exiting the ferry. Nearly everyone follows this tradition, perhaps to avoid being trampled by the disembarking passengers; by the time I get to the terminal, there are usually upwards of 100 people waiting in the right-hand lane like cattle at a slaughterhouse (minus the manure and mooing).

There is a woman, perhaps Samoan or Filipino, who somehow manages to arrive at the terminal at pretty much the same time as me every morning. She habitually wears shorts and white or grey colors, and always carries a small backpack. Instead of waiting in line with the other cattle, er, passengers, she strides down the exit lane and places herself at the front of the line. Somehow she avoids being trampled, and she is among the first to board the ferry. The resentful stares of the other passengers seem to make no impression on her, she appears entirely unabashed and seems to accept the empty exit lane as her appropriate due.

We all would like to do this. How many times have you wanted to ride the shoulder and jump ahead of merging traffic? Many of us suspect that all the rest of the people on the planet were simply put there to provide a backdrop for the center of all creation, which is me (or you, depending on perspective). But we are hampered by our own socialization, the inculcated sense of the rights and prerogatives of others … ultimately we care more about social opinion than we do about squeezing maximum advantage out of life.

The funny thing is, we are all arriving at Seattle at pretty much the same time. Unless she is willing to stand at the front of the ferry for the entire trip, it will be much more difficult for her to be among the first to disembark. While there are certain seats that are preferred, there is a lot of room on the ferry and little difference between those who board first and those who board one hundred and first.


I couldn’t stand it. I had to discover the dire purpose that drove this woman to disregard all social mores and push herself forward in this way. I walked to the front of the boat and found the woman (pictured here) sitting among the forward seats. Sure enough, as we approached Seattle, she positioned herself so as to be among the first of passengers to disembark. But she could be the last to board the ferry and still be among the first to disembark, since people don’t gather outside until a few minutes before we arrive in Seattle. A more casual investigator would have concluded that she was “just one of those ferry wackos”, but I am made of sterner, curiouser, stuff.

I followed her in my best Inspector Clouseau manner to see if she hurried to catch a bus or some other form of transport, but she proceeded at a slow pace and took the foot ramp across Alaskan Way into downtown Seattle. I can only conclude that she is one of those who hates to be behind other people. Maybe one day I’ll dare to ask her why she does it … although I’m not sure I really want to confront someone with that much chutzpah. Until then, it is an unsolved mystery.

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Ferry Violinist

As I settled into my usual table-booth this morning, I was surprised to hear a violin being tuned behind me, near the door of the men’s bathroom. There stood a woman in black slacks and a flowery blouse, playing a rather melancholy air in a minor key, the effect only slightly ruined by the running shoes peeping from beneath her pant-legs.

May 2004 Pictures 095.jpg
This is a random photo of the inside of the ferry on another day — not a very good picture, I’m afraid.

I am not a big fan of violin music … it takes a very good musician to make that instrument produce sounds that my ears approve; my tastes run to simple melodies rather than complex classical compositions. But I am well-acquainted with the genre; my parents enjoy classical music and such sounds were common (at least in the background) throughout my childhood.

Most of the ferry passengers ignored the musician with stony indifference … this is, after all, Seattle. Several in the immediate vicinity were visibly annoyed, packed up their laptops and moved to another part of the ferry, darting grumpy looks at the violinist. Strangely, no one was sufficiently disturbed to speak against the noise, nor did any ferry official intervene during the 35-minute voyage.

For my part, I sat and endured it … using a laptop as I do, I am most comfortable with a table; once the ferry has loaded, all the tables are taken by others with similar preferences. Eventually the violinist moved to a more cheerful tune; her skill was sufficient to limit my discomfort … it was merely annoying rather than painful. She clearly needed the practice, so perhaps I should not begrudge her any opportunity.

I wonder what would happen if I brought in a boom box and played some of my preferred music at a comparable volume. Do the passengers withhold reproof from this woman out of respect for a musician, a desire to appear cultured, or a genuine appreciation for the music? For my part, I was not sufficiently annoyed to take the risk of a confrontation with this woman. If I were to rebuke her for disturbing my peace, I would fear a hostile reaction from her as well as public censure (in the event that my fellow passengers sided with her against me). I am not sure enough of the rules of the ferry, whether explicit or social, to make a judgment; is it morally right (or permissible) for her to play in a public but enclosed place? Is it appropriate for me to assert my “right” to peace and quiet (if such a right exists) over her “right” to express herself musically? Or is this simply a case where grace should be given … neither of these “rights” need be asserted over the other since the stakes are so low (limited duration, mild annoyance).

Respect for others’ rights takes precedence, in my opinion, over any personal “right”. I would not permit my children to sing loudly or play an instrument in a public place unless the people in that place were specifically gathered to hear them. There seems a default condition of silence which is morally superior to any non-silent expression, with a possible exception given to the public reading of scripture. Paul wrote, in his letter to Timothy and the church at Ephesus:

“Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.” I Timothy 4:13

Strangely, reading scripture aloud is something I really like to do. One of my favorite things to do in church, or especially in a wedding, is to read the scripture. There is something really profound about participating in the public proclamation of God’s Word. While I was still serving as a Deacon at our former church, I was frequently asked to read scripture from the pulpit — it was probably the best part of that job, and something I really missed once I was no longer asked.

Maybe I should start reading from the Bible out loud on the ferry … I’ll bet THAT would generate more than stony indifference.

Or maybe I should emulate this Tai Chi man, who seeks to “foster a calm and tranquil mind” (or something) through a series of intricate slow-motion forms, or movements.

May 2004 Pictures 092.jpg

As I watched him, I could barely restrain myself from shouting, in memory of the ungainly stork pose in the 80′s movie, The Karate Kid: “If properly done, no can defend!”

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A strange thing happened to me last week, as I traveled between my home in the Duckabush and my office in Seattle.

I brought my camera along that day, and I decided to take a few pictures, including one of the commuters as they exited the ferry terminal, shown below.

April 2004 Pictures 099.jpg

I noticed a Hispanic woman traveling with a small girl … I remember wondering if she had chosen a day-care facility in Seattle so that she and her daughter could spend the commute together. By chance, I captured the daughter in the bottom right corner of the picture I took of the commuting horde.

That evening, as I boarded the homeward ferry, I noticed the unusual duo again. I was intrigued by the appearance of the little girl, who reminded me of my own little sister, adopted from an orphanage in Vietnam some 32 years ago.

I left the ferry and boarded the bus, taking a seat in the back. As always, I checked with the driver to ensure I had selected the correct #90 bus (there are three, and they vary their destinations and departure times from hour to hour in maddening confusion). Toward the end of the ride, I moved forward to the seats usually reserved for the elderly and handicapped … it is always a good idea to remind the driver that I am still there, since my stop is the last on the line.

I noticed the woman and her daughter still on the bus, about the same time as the driver. He asked her where she was going.

“I need to connect with the bus to Port Townsend,” she told him in a thick Central American accent.

“Oh,” he answered. “You wanted the 90 express bus that connects with Jefferson Transit.” After a little more discussion they established that the bus to Port Townsend had already left, and that it was the last bus of the evening heading in that direction. It was already late, and I was very tired. Port Townsend, while in the same general direction as my destination, would take me at least 30 minutes out of my path each way. I struggled with my conscience and lost.

“Where, exactly, are you going?” I asked her.

It transpired that she was going to Port Hadlock … a mere 15 minutes off my usual route. Since I had already lost a fight with my conscience over losing an hour, I knew better than to attempt a “best 2 out of 3″ for a mere half-hour. I presented some identification to her and to the bus driver, leaving a witness behind in case I turned out to be an axe murderer or something sinister.

It turned out that she had been closing up an apartment in Bellevue (cleaning & such); she and her husband & daughter were moving to Port Hadlock to help a relative run a new Mexican Restaurant there. Her daughter had wet through her clothes (leaving a large wet mark on her mother’s lap) and had to be changed in the parking lot beside my car. From all accounts, this was icing on the cake of a horrible day.

We began somehow to talk about spiritual things … she was raised in an unlikely cross between a Baptist and a Jehovah’s Witness, adding Pentacostalism to the mix as an adult. I had a chance to tell her a little about what Jesus meant to me and how He had made a difference in my life. I was glad that I had offered to take her home … I don’t think she had any transportation alternatives and would likely have ended up paying $40 for a cab.

So was it a coincidence that I saw her in the morning, out of all those people? I think probably not. Sometimes an opportunity to help comes along so quickly that I miss it out of indecision. I think that God knew I would need some time for my compassion to build and so he planted this lady in my path in the morning, for His purposes. Funny to think of God planning this whole event 8 hours before she took the wrong bus. You or I, if we were God, would probably just take the simplest approach of ensuring that she chose the correct bus … but God doesn’t do things the way we expect. And maybe the point was not only helping her, but God changing me.

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