Sunday, November 4, 2012

People Watching = Future Characters

Yesterday I worked a craft fair booth in a nearby town. Sue and I arranged four tables in an L-shape and displayed my soup, seasoning and bread mixes, and jams. The doors opened at 9, and we started sampling: taster cups of Cream of Wild Rice Soup and Wild Rice Salad dressed with poppyseed dressing. Containers of salsa, dips and cheeseballs, made from mixes we make at work, and small bowls of jalapeno jams poured over cream cheese were flanked by baskets of crackers and stick pretzles, for dipping and spreading.

We went to sell product, and sampling is the way to do that. It is also a great opportunity to people watch.

Little old ladies eat like we are a post-depression buffet. Like seventh grade boys, they look up after each bite to see if we are "on" to them, trying to eat as much as they can before time runs out. They sidestep down the line, taste everything, then say they aren't sure and will need to taste everything again before they can decide whether to buy. A variation is they move on after the first round, then return a half hour later and say they need to refresh their memory. The ones with small shreds of conscience will buy a three dollar dip mix.

Parents fall into categories. Some scoop up handfuls of pretzles and hand them to youngsters in strollers. Others invite their offspring to sample only to decide summarily which goodie will be liked, never giving the offspring a chance to try for themselves. Others remind their children not to double dip, and to move away after a respectable number of tastes. Still others (the ones I dislike the most) will hand their kid a pretzle dipped in habanero hot sauce and hoot with laughter when the kid starts to cry.

The best (IMO) customers rush up, say we are why they came to the craft show, and buy $100 worth of soup mixes to restock their cupboards. Others shop for gifts. Hell's Kitchen Hot Sauce is invariably a stocking stuffer for a son-in-law. It's nice to hear shoppers comment to other shoppers that our mixes are the best.

So... characters and clothes. I saw an older middle-aged woman in bell bottoms and a peasant blouse. Women with rings on every nail-polished finger. Lots of knee-high boots, including a pair that were a cross between leopard and paisley. (My calves are too big for high skinny boots, so I was almost jealous.) No dresses. Slacks or jeans were everywhere, granted this is Minnesota, but it was in only the low 40's and we have no snow. (I wore black jeans. I was working.)

1% of men attending craft shows come to shop. 93.3% of the men don't want to be there. You can tell by their faces. They stand patiently behind their wives, open their mouths when told to (for a sample), then say, "It's up to you, dear." The remaining 5.7% are either working a booth or there with their girlfriends. The latter hold hands, overtly happy to be close together in public.

Faces and body shapes become a blur after eight hours, but embedded in my mental montage is a host of characters. Just waiting for their turn in my spotlight.


  1. I love people watching, but I don't think I've actually used any in my stories - my characters tend to come from inside my head somehow! !

  2. I worked a bake sale at church yesterday, too! I can totally relate to some of these moments.

    I love to people watch. It's the only reason I on occasion venture out to a baseball game.

  3. Funny, Debra!
    Ross came from a comment someone made in Egypt, right? You changed him to be non-bald and tubby, right?

  4. Only the hero's name came from someone called Ross who confirmed it was possible to vault over the rails. I'd already pictured 'my' hero doing his leap across!