Last night, after ISTE 2014 came to a close, and most of my friends had left Atlanta, I wandered up and down Peachtree street taking random pictures of architecture. Toward the end of my walk I wound up at Gladys Knight’s Chicken and Waffles, and I knew my trip to Atlanta simply would not be complete without experiencing this culinary artwork first hand.
As I sat at my booth looking through some pictures on my cell phone, catching up on Facebook, reading posts in Feedly, and checking in on FourSquare, I noticed a family of four across the aisle and slightly at an angle from me.
A father with three sons. They were African American. The dad sat next to the oldest. He talked to the two boys across the booth from him. They laughed and seemed to be genuinely having a good time.
But the oldest boy, the one sitting next to dad, wasn’t.
He sat stone faced. While his brothers were dressed with shirts tucked into their jeans and laced up sneakers, this young man sat with his hat on backwards. His sneakers were untied and gaping wide around his ankles. He was sitting on his belt, which indicated he usually walked with his capri style pants sagging to show his underwear.
He didn’t fit with the other three in any appreciable way.
His earbuds were in. He never spoke. He stared ahead. I’m not sure he ever blinked. When his brothers got tired of talking, and the dad had moved to checking his phone, the brothers started wiggling around in the seat to the rhythm of the music playing in the restaurant. Not this boy. He didn’t move.
Occasionally he would move his eyes down to look at one brother or the other, but then he would immediately look back up and stare straight ahead.
I wondered to myself what will happen when their food arrives. Will he become engaged then? Will they talk about how great the fried chicken is? Will he eat the chicken or the waffle first?
Their food came just as I was finishing mine. Three plates were set down in front of them. The dad and the two smaller boys each had a plate to eat. I convinced myself the waiter just couldn’t carry all four at once, so I sat a bit longer to see how all this would play out before going back to my hotel room.
The boy did not eat. Food did not arrive. He sat there. Stone faced still. Never moving. Sometimes glancing slightly at his brothers as they ate, and then going back to that blank-faced stare.
I wondered what had happened that made this boy disengage from his family. Is he always like this, or did he and dad have a fight about where to eat and now he’s making everyone pay with his “I don’t want to be here” attitude? Its difficult to tell from across the aisle in a crowded restaurant.
What brought him to this place is a mystery to me. It could be family related. Food choice related. Friend related. The list is endless. He looked to be about in the 7th grade. That may speak for itself as a cause.
One thing I can relate to is “checking out.” I do it all the time. Some people (yeah, my family mostly) blame my addiction to my iPhone and all the wonderful apps that can entertain me so easily. I’m sure that’s a symptom. But its not the problem.
I live in a bubble. Its a bubble of my own choosing. I understand that. But it is a bubble that my mind locks itself into from time to time. I get lost in thought. Random thoughts. I play out conversations in my head. I think about a movie I watched three years ago. I try desperately to remember the name of the book I am reading today. I wander step-by-step through the next video I need to create for work. I think about how to improve teaching and learning at my school by making things easier for both students and teachers. I think about my kids and my grandkids and my mom. I think about my dad. I wander back through two marriages that ended and wonder what I should have done differently. I run through ideas for blog posts that I will write here. I glance through phone calls I should make and emails I need to write and calendar events I must post. I replay every episode of Law and Order I’ve ever watched.
The list goes on and on.
As an introvert, these are natural occurrences for me. I recharge by crawling back inside my own shell and staying there for a bit. Isolated. Alone. People wear me out. I joke that “I don’t like people.” That’s not really true. I love people. I love my friends. I love my family. But I also love being alone.
So when I look across the aisle of a restaurant and see a young boy totally checked out from his surroundings, I can relate…sort of.