Winter Garden Wardens

This week’s assignment for Strangers was similar to the last one. However, we were to pair with another student, and see if we observed any of Goffman’s concepts in action. Catherine and I met in Battery Park City and decided to observe people in and around the Winter Garden. I had remembered that Mike Kelberman had observed the Winter Garden for an assignment for Service Design, and I hadn’t been there before so I was excited about seeing something new. 

I am directionally challenged, so Catherine came outside and met me on the waterfront. I was cold by the time that I got there, since I walked from around City Hall past the WTC to get there. The amount of tourists there seemed much lower than usual, and I was able to pass through unscathed in my hurry. Nothing much to report there, but it looked like something had been actually built higher than street level. Go Team America. 

Back to the task at hand though. Catherine found me outside, and we marveled at the waterfront for a moment, and then went inside to sit in the Winter Garden. We were surrounded my mommies and nannies. Catherine told me that prior to 9/11 there were lots of yuppie suits that gathered there, but afterwards, it became a cool spot to bring your kids and vegetate. Mid-sentence, she spotted a woman with a pair of sexy Louboutins. We laughed, and composed ourselves and promised not to judge our subjects by their shoes so to speak. Aside from the woman with the fancy shoes, there was not much going on there in the way of stranger interactions. People were in their own little worlds. A grandmother, her daughter, and grandkid passed us by though, and the small boy fell flat on his face. Both of our mouths opened to say something, but mom managed to rush in time before the tears streamed down his face. So much for us interacting with our strangers, lol. 

We were then compelled to find a spot to sit and watch people pass by the waterfront, since that seemed more fascinating than nanny land. Southwest Bar provided us with drinks and a prime spot to watch the action outside. My long island was as great as our view of the water. 

There weren’t that many people inside the bar, aside from a small family with two babies. I didn’t really think that was acceptable, but apparently they served food there too. Outside though, there were plenty of people walking in and around the waterfront. However, as we noticed throughout our stay, the place is not set up for traditional interaction, and is set up more for space sharing in a sense. There were no benches for people to sit on where we overlooked, and though there was a wide plaza, nothing was there to keep people around except for the view, unless they had business inside the financial center. 

A man came and asked a security guard by our window for directions. The guard was more than happy to help, and was pleased with his knowledge of the city. The man’s wife was very stand-offish and hardly acknowledged the guard. She stood aside and stared into the distance through her gaudy shades. She clutched her purse and bag from Macy’s and carried on without a word. Blah!

Later, the same guard decided to press his face against the glass of our window to check the score for some game that was going on on the bar TV. I wasn’t sure if he could see us sitting in front of him, because of the brilliant sunset’s glare, or if he didn’t care if his nose was smooshed against the glass for us to see. Another stranger ignored the sign next to the door by us, and let in the cold windy air and knocked our notes all over the place. Gee thanks!

Catherine deduced that even though there were lots of people passing by, they were hardly interacting with each other. She noted that there were lots of people that passed by the waterfront, but that they kept to themselves. Every so often, there would be a person who dodged a kid on roller blades or a runner who bobbed and weaved through wandering slow people, but nothing too fascinating was going on. We concentrated on cataloguing different kinds of passerby instead and imagined their paths after they left our view. Some “health nuts” looked like they were in search of Voss water and hummus from Whole Foods. There were dog moms, who looked like they walked their pooches as if they were their children, and a few men slowly walking past in suits who reminded me of Japanese salarymen. 

We figured that since we were out on a holiday, that the dynamic that would have otherwise been present in this place was vastly different, and that since it was a Monday that people had off, that they were treating it as if it were a Sunday. You know what that means….sleeping in late, and doing as much from bed as possible. In the end, not much of Goffman’s phenomena were visible to us, since the Winter Garden and waterfront turned out to be such impersonal places. Next time, we will pick a more lively spot. Check out the pictures from the walk back to the train as the sun set.

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