Unfashionable Nonsense: Spring Quarter and the Science of People-Watching

Opinion by and
April 12, 2010, 12:34 a.m.

Unfashionable Nonsense: Spring Quarter and the Science of People-WatchingSpring quarter, as everyone knows, is the best quarter at Stanford. It doesn’t take long to realize this.
Why exactly it is the best quarter, like why the sky is blue and why time is relative and why baby otters are adorable, is more elusive. Somehow, right at the end of the year, there is a quarter packed with new beginnings, as seniors plan their next move and freshmen sort into their first draw groups. After hibernating behind stacks of books in Bender, it seems even the most reclusive students trade in pens, paper and course readers for sun, napping, and lighthearted chatter on every lawn across the campus.

Most importantly, I think, is the conscious decision that we no longer resent procrastination, but embrace it. The warmth invites us to willfully abandon work; burdens give way to sun-kissed leisure.

After all, the cosmic order of the world is once again balanced with Moonbean’s, also known as Coupa, reopening. There are plenty of other coffee places on and off campus, but only this location has the prime seating for people watching, a favorite pastime of degenerates like myself. While in winter it could have served its nominal function as a caffeine distribution point, only in the lazy days of spring quarter can the real competitive people watching begin.

The art of people watching–and an art it is–begins with selecting a good vantage point. While White Plaza has the advantage of being the venue of choice for publicity stunts, it’s actually not that great for people watching. To the expert palate, these attention grabbing, bourgeoisie exercises lack the necessary nuance. So, bears are the number one threat to Americans and some guy can walk on a tightrope. These are meant to be noticed, and people watching is more about the accidental and peculiar than the obvious and overt. Also, most of the people loitering around that area are tourists and/or random couples with children, since evidently either Tresidder doubles as a playtime facility or the salads at the CoHo are really the height of Bay Area cuisine.

Sometimes, though, its worth watching what exactly tourists consider picture worthy. Most of the time, they take pictures of silly, ordinary buildings, hardly aesthetically remarkable or historically prominent, but sometimes they take pictures of the silly, ordinary buildings that I only think of as pedestrian because I happen to have the good fortune to see them each and every day.

Nonetheless, for sheer amusement per minute, the benches by Meyer cannot be beat. If you have a sadistic bent, during the de facto passing period a few accidents are guaranteed around some of the turns here. But these transient bikers are not the real focus of the best people watching. Instead, the people on the lawn by the fountain, especially those sleeping with copies of books split open over their eyes, are priceless. Awkward couples also abound, and will loiter around the table area. The overly educated also debut their quirky sense of fashion here; but, if you can overhear them, you might get in on some gossip about the latest research-funding quarrel. As it turns out, real people and students complain in just about the same way, and the best is when an especially infuriated speaker paints a vivid picture of just how psychotically deranged their boss/husband/wife/yoga instructor really is.

Also, seeing as this is the Silicon Valley, there are always a few dozen people loitering around with their eyes cast down to their iPhone. These technologically savvy souls resist people watching, for they reject all the strangers and even strangeness around them in favor the familiar and their friends. The people watcher, instead, is all about the unfamiliar.

And perhaps the unfamiliar is very much what spring quarter is all about. New beginnings are both exciting and unpredictable, or perhaps exciting because they are unpredictable. As it warms up, we can certainly all cheer for new beginnings over a cup of Moonbeans…er, Coupa.

Send questions, comments and snide remarks to Emily at [email protected].

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