When I first began to spend time under the golden dome, I noticed a disconcerting phenomenon: conversations, both casual and purposeful, involve little or no eye contact. People tend to stare over your shoulder, or even let their eyes roam around, while talking to you. Or listening.
At least I was pretty sure they were listening.
Well, having begun to spend considerable time myself in those hallowed halls of democracy, dealmaking, and self-regard, I have to confess that I do it too.
It’s the Statehouse Stare: the constant scanning of one’s surroundings to see who else is in sight and who they’re talking to. You get used to it. They’re paying attention to your words, they’re just not looking at you.
This is especially true in the communal watering hole of our savannah, the Statehouse cafeteria. It’s the place where people tend to go when they’re hoping to be seen or to find somebody. Earlier this week, I had a perfectly pleasant chat with another reporter, and all the while both of us were constantly scanning the room.
Well, for reporters there’s a professional necessity involved. At any given time, there are usually three or four lawmakers/advocates we’re hoping to snag. Those people are usually so busy that your best shot at grabbing a few minutes of their time is via casual encounter. Phone calls or text messages are hit-or-miss.
On that particular occasion, our placement paid off: House Speaker Shap Smith, whose office conveniently abuts the cafeteria, wandered across the room, sat down at our table, and proceeded to share his perspectives on the action of the day. Nothing scandalous, merely useful.
I guess it’s part of my adaptation to a new environment. There are times I worry about turning into a different species, but it’s part of the deal. People accustomed to the Statehouse Stare don’t even notice, let alone take offense.
And so far, it hasn’t infected my behavior outside the Statehouse. Lord willing, it never will.