Observing Human Nature

I’ve written before about the differences in riding the bus on my trips vs. driving. When you drive, you’re in the driver’s seat. You control when you leave, when you stop to eat and how long, and as long as nothing breaks down, you control when you arrive. Not so when riding the bus. You leave when they say you do, and wait until they tell you it is ok to board.

When I travel, I think I’m a little obsessive about wanting to be early. When I visit my parents in Lansing, I arrive at the Lansing station, which also happens to be the hub for the Capital Area Transportation Authority (CATA) city buses. From there I can jump on a city bus that takes me to within a few miles of their home, so they don’t need to pick me up downtown. Likewise, on the homeward leg of my journey, I ride the CATA bus to the station, where I wait for the Indian Trails bus to take me home. I’m often at the bus station an hour or more early, as was the case on this recent trip.

In my normal life, I seem to spend very little time watching people interact. I think this is because I’m usually busy interacting myself, since I know most of the people I associate with. At the bus station, though, I’m an anonymous lump, able to read my book with my radar dish spinning nonstop.

I sat in the waiting room one seat away from an attractive young woman who, as it turned out, was waiting for the bus to Detroit. She was busy with her phone or whatever else she was privately doing, while I was busy reading my book. A nice looking young man approached her and started making small talk. This young fellow was pretty good at ice breaking and getting “in” with her. After a few minutes of standing and chatting her up, he sat down next to her, which also put him next to me.

I remember from my anthropology class how various cultures use courtship rituals to ensure each potential partner will be a viable mate in the difficult and complicated enterprise of building a home and raising a family. I’d not thought about the things people say in these circumstances, and how they relate to this assurance that, “I will be a good mate.”

Some of the things I heard were:

“I work out of the area doing road maintenance. I am a flagman.”

translation: I work hard and would be a good provider

When some of his buddies walked over and teased him:

“I’m popular here.”

translation: I can effectively navigate the social waters to the benefit of our family.

“I want to tell you so you don’t think I’m hiding something. I have a child with a woman here in Lansing, and I make these trips to visit her. I come several times a year and bring presents.”

translation: I’m fertile. I take responsibility for my actions.

This young woman didn’t seem particularly concerned about this young man’s attention (perhaps she was used to situations like it.) She didn’t seem to encourage or discourage him; answering his questions but not offering much else but answers. At one point after he had been gone for a while, he sat down between us and said, “What are you thinking about?”

“Nothing.”

“You are always thinking about something, so what are you thinking about right now?”

This seemed to me like an attempt to test whether he was making any progress with her. If he asked her something a little intimate, and she balked at answering, he applied the tiniest bit of pressure to see how she’d react. She offered him nothing, and he let it drop.

When her bus came, she got on it without looking back or saying a word. A few minutes later I observed him in the back of the station laughing and jiving with his friends. If he was disappointed, he sure didn’t show it. My guess is if you put out lots of these feelers, it costs not much effort, but the rewards can be great. So you do it, learn from it, and get better and better at it. The ones that are successful at it are the ones that pass their genes along.

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