How wonderful imagination

20:23, Oct 07 2012

The man was sitting at a cluster of tables outside the restaurant.

He sat at the head of the tables, drawn together to fit the five other men sitting with him.

Most of them were in their 60s and well fed, except for the man at the opposite end of the tables. He was only in his 20s, slightly heavier and with a distinctive Mr T haircut (head shaved except for a wide strip down the centre of his head).

His manner said "best take me seriously".

We watched the group from our table in the front window of the particularly good Italian restaurant about halfway up Bourke St in central Melbourne, where we have been on holiday for a few days.

They were clearly a group of friends discussing something of mutual interest - business, politics, sport, who knows?


Mr T would take a phone call every four or five minutes and leave the group to walk a little way up the street to talk privately.

The man at the head of the table was clearly the boss of them all. He had that relaxed, confident manner of someone in control. He smoked a cigar the size of the South Island.

At one stage, a young man approached him to talk briefly and his phone was handed along the table to Mr T, who took a picture of the pair together.

Did they know each other? It wasn't clear but the young man looked quite pleased with himself when he walked off looking at the picture on his phone. He had something to brag about, and pictorial proof for his mates.

Eventually a waiter from the restaurant took out a large carry bag for the man. He and two of the others got into a magnificent black car parked beside them and drove off. It may have been a Rolls or a Daimler - it had a little statue on the front, but it was too dark to see it clearly. The rear passenger doors opened towards the back, and the door handles lit up when the man flicked the key remote. It was a magnificent machine.

Two of his friends got into a smaller model parked behind him and Mr T walked off somewhere.

Why do I mention all this? Because watching people, thinking about who they are and what brings them together is a hobby. I imagine good fiction writers do it all the time.

These men were obviously Italian. Perhaps the man was the local mafia boss, or perhaps he owned the restaurant, or perhaps they were just picking up takeaways for their weekly card session. So many possibilities for these men.

It was the same this morning as we sat eating brunch at a table on the footpath, watching office workers, construction workers and students walking by.

Exactly what work did they do and where were they off to? And why where the group of three men at the next table taking so long over coffee? They didn't appear to be talking business, although they did seem to work together and walked off together about 11.30am.

Perhaps they left the office to avoid the boss for a bit.

People watching, when you've got time, is fascinating.

I could go on forever about the people we've seen. Like the two young guys working as valets at a parking lot (read empty section between tall buildings waiting to be developed) in central Chinatown. They crammed in as many cars as possible, and at times had to move two or three other vehicles to get one out when the owner arrived back.

The drop-offs were remarkably quick - no mountain of papers to sign, as there would be here.

The cars ranged from Volvos and Mercedes to Porsches and little convertibles I didn't recognise. The valets seemed to know every vehicle.

What was their story?

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