By Lauren Grove
When you’re alone in a public place, what is the first thing you do? If you didn’t just reply “pull out my phone,” you’re lying. It’s a typical habit — one that I, myself, have fallen victim to as well. However, a few weeks ago, my creative writing teacher gave our class a daily assignment: go into a public place and record your observations. Don’t plug your ears with AirPods or glue your gaze to a screen. So, every day since the beginning of winter quarter, I have spent about an hour in Coupa Café outside of Green Library, at a table with a perfect view of all the incoming and outgoing patrons. My observations have created a growing collection of interesting café customers, a group that I like to call the Characters of Coupa. Here is a selection of some of the curious, fascinating customers that I have either had the pleasure of meeting or witnessing:
The French Rapper
“You know what that book reminds me of?”
A man with light orange facial hair and glasses at the table next to me was leaning over the armrest of his chair, pointing at my book. I looked at the book on my table. It didn’t elicit anything other than a reminder that I had to read 200 pages of it by Friday.
I shook my head, no.
A wide smile appeared on his face as if he was excited to share. “The title reminds me of a rap. By this French dude.”
I nodded. How cool, I said. I hadn’t ever heard a French rap before. It must sound interesting.
His already wide smile stretched even further. He subtly cleared his throat, as if preparing himself for a speech. Then, for the next 30 seconds or so, he began to rap aggressively in French, as I sat there as his captive audience, listening and providing the necessary facial expressions. When he finished, I gave him light applause, and he performed a mock bow. He turned back to his computer and didn’t say another word to me until he left an hour later.
The High Hare Spotter
A young guy was sitting with his friend. He was telling her how, every time he ingests a hallucinogenic substance on campus, he sees a hare (he described them specifically as “one of those huge bunnies with weirdly long legs”). His friend responded, quite logically, that Stanford has a lot of hares and that she sees them all the time, so she wasn’t sure if his experiences had anything to do with his compromised mental state. He refuted her claim, positing that maybe she was “high whenever [she] saw them, too, and didn’t even know it.”
One day, when I was sitting at Coupa, it began to rain. I moved my belongings inside of Green Library until the rain ceased, and then I went back to Coupa to grab a coffee. I noticed that a man I had been sitting near before the rain started was still sitting in the exact same spot. His hair was matted to his head. His jeans had turned a dark, damp blue. He was wiping the water off of his table and his hands. He hadn’t moved when the rain started. He had sat there, getting wet and cold. He caught my gaze as I passed him, shrugged his shoulders and said, “I hadn’t showered yet today.”
The Sleep Talker
A girl was reading a novel next to me, holding a bright pink pen. While her head was bent over her book, a tiny bird climbed onto her table and began to peck at her scone. The bird was completely destroying her snack, pieces of blueberry flying onto the ground. I leaned over the table, waving my hand at the bird so it flew away. I didn’t want the girl to think I was some weirdo trying to snag her pastry, so I started telling her what the bird had done — that I was protecting her scone as a good Samaritan. Her head was still bent over her book, taking no notice of me. I added that I could buy her a new scone because I was about to purchase a coffee. She still didn’t acknowledge my presence. I stopped talking. I had thought she was reading, but now I noticed that her eyes were completely closed. The pink pen in her hand was lying limply on the table and her lips were slightly parted. She was asleep. Someone shouted to their friend across the café and her neck snapped up. She rubbed her eyes, looked confusedly at her mutilated scone, packed up her stuff and left, unaware that I had been talking to her for two or three minutes.
My observations in Coupa Café have surprised, amused and puzzled me — sometimes simultaneously. In a few weeks, I heard a French rap, found out that hares and hallucinogens are connected, experienced a man showering in the rain and had a conversation with a girl who will probably never know we ever interacted. However, I have also learned from my observations. When we are focused on our individual worlds, we neglect to notice the weird, fascinating world that we all share. Just look up once in a while. It’s amazing what you can see when you just pay attention.
Contact Lauren Grove at lgrove ‘at’ stanford.edu.