Built in 1729, the Old South Meeting House continues to serve Bostonians as a gathering place. It blends into the background, though, adjacent to a subway station and surrounded by Boston’s cosmopolitan Downtown Crossing district.
Yesterday, while sitting on a bench in front of the behemoth Borders bookstore on the corner of Washington and School Streets, I observed two young women about to meet friends. One of the women suddenly looked up and across the street, exclaiming, “I didn’t know the Orange Line stopped there!” Indeed. If you are not looking for something, you’ll never find it.
A bench in a park or on an urban plaza is the perfect setting for people watching. It allows one to blend into the background and be a passive observer of social interaction.
As the bell tolled 5:00 and workers stormed out of their offices and headed to shop, eat, and commute home, I watched three college students, donning red Save the Children collared t-shirts, trying to hawk passers-by to sign-up and donate money for the international cause. The three kids, two boys and a girl, casually strolled next to the walking workers and tried to shake their hands and engage the workers in chit-chat. Nine times out of ten, the street fundraising warriors were ignored or politely told “No thanks,” or “I’m busy,” or “Not now.”
Oddly, I was not approached sitting on the bench despite being in eyesight of all three hawkers. Two middle-aged men sitting next to me observed the same phenomenon. Bench warmers are not marked targets. The kids were looking for people to give money, but I blended into the background.