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Minding the Gap

Location: The Mount Pleasant Towne Centre Shopping Mall. Date: Saturday 16th September 2006 Time: Between 7.10 and 7.25pm – as the sun is setting.

Audrey Hepburn
Six encounters:
I’m sat on a concrete window ledge, outside the Gap store. It’s one of the those ledges where as you turn to sit your bum on it, you think “Is it deep enough for it to be comfortable?” and for someone with a skinny arse like me, it is – just.

Leigh is in another shop. A girly shop. Doing girly things. So I’m taking the opportunity to sit and watch the world go by, people watching, all the under the watchful eye of the character in Gaps latest commercial, who towers above me in their fixed window display.

There’s an old guy in his fifties about 5 metres away from me sitting in his car, smoking a cigaratte and wearing a cap. He catches me looking at him and nods a ‘hello’, but doesn’t speak.

To my right, a girl – about 16? – walks down with a younger kid – her brother? – in tow. He’s carrying a camera. He holds the camera up and takes a picture of the cars in the lot. Or the lamp post perhaps? No … actually … I think it’s me.

“Excuse me … do you mind if we take your picture?” asks the girl. “Not at all!” I say. “What’s it for?”.

Her name is Chloe, it’s for school project she’s working on – a photo montage of some description. I try to get her to chat more and ask about her camera but she gets a bit shy, and doesn’t enagage in further conversation.

A woman pushing her child in a pram (stroller) comes from my left to right. The kid is cute. She catches me looking, and I smile. “Hello” she says. “Good evening” I offer back.

To my right – some noise. Three black girls, being loud – but nice loud, just being all girly and having some fun amongst themselves, being jocular and taking the piss – except for a boy – with them, but again – perhaps a younger brother who looks embarassed because they’re being so noisy. He too catches me looking, and he gives me a dispairing shrug and raised eyebrows as if to say “I don’t want to be hanging out with them, please save me”, and I chuckle slightly, give him a supportive grin, and they wander by.

There are quite a lot of school kids everywhere … it’s a Saturday night and like me they’ve probably been shopping all afternoon, have gotten something to eat, and are perhaps heading for the Palmetto Grand cinema (movie theatre). Saturday night at the movies – ace.

I quite like this period of the day – the twilight zone, the no mans land inbetween the hectic shopping of daytime, and the vivacious activity of the evening and nighttime.

The light is still fading – pleasantly, and it’s still warm. I check to the shop to the right for Leigh, and she’s still in there. I’m enjoying just being perched here.

Two skater dudes stroll past, boards under arms. One of them is smoking. The other is wearing a t-shirt that has seen better days, but it’s probably his favourite t-shirt in the whole world. He’s got various piercings in his face, he catches me staring. “Hey man” he says nodding. “Hey man”, I say, nodding back. Like you do. They walk past.

“So who are you waiting for?” says a voice. Who’s that? Oh – it’s the guy in the big black SUV parked just across from me, still wearing his cap, and this time he’s made eye contact and is talking to me.

“Girlfriend” I say, smiling – nodding towards the shop that Leigh is in. “You?”. “Wife” he says, nodding towards the same shop. Figures.

To my left, Chloe and her younger brother appear in my peripheral vision. They get closer. And are about to walk past me again. So this time, I stop them, ask about her camera – get her to show me a couple of pictures she’s taken already and ask what school she goes to. But she’s still shy, and that’s all I can get out of her. “Have a good night”, I say. She smiles. Her brother looks blanky at me, and they wander off again.

Leigh comes out of the shop, bag in hand – clutching her items.

We walk off – towards the cinema – to go and see The Last Kiss. And we leave the guarding of the Gap in the hands of Audrey instead.

And thus another fifteen minutes of my life in America is passed.

23 responses to “Minding the Gap”

  1. Pam says:

    What a nice story – really, perhaps every 15 minutes of our life is another story?

  2. Chris says:

    Nice – the world can be such a pleasing place.

  3. David - Lightwater says:

    I like the fact that everyone say hello to strangers there. It’s a thing that I think has died out in England because of the yob culture.

  4. Amy says:

    So how do you find Americans compared to Brit’s? Friendlier or not? What do you find very different about the cultures in that regard?

    Just curious, I hear all the time that Canadians are considered very friendly and helpful and wonder how Americans stack up from your British viewpoint…

  5. Amy says:

    Another comment if you will allow..

    The photo taking kids have probably been taught since birth not to talk to ‘strangers’ and you fit the mold. That is perhaps why they were so wary of socializing with you. Not to take it personally 🙂

  6. geofftech says:

    I think that’s why I made the post. All I did was sit outside a shop and ended up saying ‘hello’ in some sort of way to complete strangers. I really liked it – superficial friendliness or not.

    Especially as that would rarely happen in England.

  7. Anthony says:

    I think that if you do an activity that a lot of other like-minded people do, they’re likely to say “hello” while doing it.

    For example, on the canal. ALL boaters say “hello” to each other, even if one of the boats in question is a 70ft narrowboat and the other a small canoe. Walkers don’t say “hello” so often but some of them do, which is nice, and less than half of fishermen say it.


    PS. I’m alive!

  8. I think it wouldn’t happen in London, but it does happen in the countryside.

  9. Moley says:

    To fit with what Anthony was saying – recently I have noticed that some Jubilee line drivers are taking great delight in waving at the platform staff.

  10. geofftech says:

    #7 – So you are! We were about to send out a search team …

  11. #8 – Yes indeed! I became a Jubilee Line driver myself just last week (though I still have an instructor sitting with me at present).

    If staff are on the platform in their orange hi-visibility vests, then they and the driver will be working together to “manage” the dwell time — that’s the length of time the train is stationary. Minimizing dwell-times is crucial to the efficient running of a metro service at its maximum capacity.

    If the driver and platform-staff acknowledge each other, not only is this (in my view) a right & proper bit of standard camraderie, it also sets us up for the little but important bit of teamwork we’ll be carrying out in the following 30-40 seconds.

    It’s even more important if the train is terminating short of the final station (e.g. at Willesden Green, Wembley Park or West Ham), as there the driver is relying on the member of staff to empty the back half of the train and close its doors.

    Hey Geoff: sorry to see that your record got eclipsed. But hey – see I made it here in the end! 🙂


  12. Paul Webb says:

    We say hello to strangers here, but is this just a Clitheroe thing, a Lancashire thing,or a Northern thing?

  13. TowerBlock Tina says:

    We go out walking every week-end, and nearly everybody says hello in Surrey (UK),especially in
    National Trust gardens and parks. You meet a nicer class of people out walking I guess!

  14. geofftech says:

    Is there a ‘GAP’ in Clitheroe high street Paul? Maybe you could go and sit out on the wall for fifteen minutes and see what happens…

  15. Brent says:

    I love doing things like that…sitting around busy areas and just watching people to see which ones say “hello” or recognize that you’re watching them. Socialogical experiments are some of the most fun 🙂

    I almost went to see The Last Kiss last night, but watched Idlewild instead. How was The Last Kiss? Would you recommend?

  16. TowerBlock Tina says:

    I think the ‘Towne Shopping Centre’ looks a good place to shop, is it Art Deco by the way?
    Looks very clean and upmarket, although I don’t know why it needs an extra ‘e’ on the end.

  17. scottb says:

    Geoff, your life is starting to read like a Norman Rockwell painting. How quaint of you.

    I find while walking/hiking that most people say hello as you pass on the trail, but not so much with Japanese or Europeans. Americans, Brits and locals are more receptive to greetings. My theory is that people in a country whose language they don’t understand keep mum, but that doesn’t explain why they don’t nod or smile.

    But saying hello to strangers at the mall? Little girls even? Freak.

  18. Paul Webb says:

    A GAP in Clitheroe!? We have only just had a branch of John Colliers open.

  19. geofftech says:

    John Colliers! my that’s upmarket. you’ll be telling me you’ve got a Woolworths next…

  20. Slightly OT perhaps, but with the recurring theme of Americanisms (especially those not known to Brits)…
    do you have “fountain beverages” in your State, Geoff?

    I stumbled upon the term while verifying the spelling of “saccharine” (to describe one of the “top ten” songs you might play at a wedding); Google led to Wikipedia, led to sachharin, led to aspartame, led to “fountain beverages” (basically soft drinks as served on tap in a pub/restaurant). It never occurred to me that aspartame had a relatively short shelf-life, nor that it’s not used in baking as it decomposed (and looses its sweetness) at 86’C. You never know where writing a short 1-line email will lead!

  21. Brent says:

    Well now I’m very intrigued by something. Not to answer the question and be rebuffed with the following question of “Is your name Geoff? no? then why are you answering?” but, (William) Andrew, are you saying that there aren’t fountain drinks(/beverages/sodas) in England? Soda Fountains (as they’re more affectionately known in the US) are pretty much in every food establishment, gas(/petrol) station, and/or convienence store in the US. So yes, they are definitely in Geoff’s, and my, state of South Carolina.

    For some fun reading, here’s a Wikipedia article on Soda Shops. Basically, these are the reason for the US idea of soda fountains…they were huge in the 1950’s/60’s for HS kids to hang out in. Many towns in America still have one or two around just sort of for nostalgia. 🙂 Check out Pleasantville or Back to the Future for some good movie representation of the 50’s soda shop 🙂

  22. No, Brent. We only drink tea and beer, and thus have no need for a bar that sells only fizzy drinks. Shops sell fizzy things in bottles or cans, mainly.

  23. Well we do have fizzy drinks on tap in the UK (normally behind the counter, except in cinemas where you might DIY) in pubs and restaurants, McDonalds etc… but they’re never called “fountain” anything!

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