Great American Novel Guy

Do you ever try to imagine the hidden lives of strangers?

I can’t help but look at people in airports, at a coffee shop, or on the street and create possible circumstances and struggles and priorities for them in my mind.

There’s a man who works in one of my college’s dining halls. He’s hardworking and has great customer service skills, but is otherwise fairly ordinary. Objectively, nothing about his appearance or demeanor really stands out.

Subjectively, though, he’s one of my favorite people to observe and imagine beyond the role I see him in.

IMG_4905

“Great American Novel Guy” by Tori Sabba.

Last summer one of my friends went gorge jumping and saw him working as a park ranger at the waterfall. He said hello (she used to work at the dining hall), so we know it was definitely him and not some otherwise-fairly-ordinary man.

It was like seeing a kid seeing her teacher at the grocery store–you forget that people you only see in one place have lives outside of that–and we started wondering about his life. Why was he working as a park ranger? Is that his passion, or just a job to pay the bills while the college students are on summer break?

And then we saw him driving a taxi. 

This time it could’ve been someone else, I’ll admit. It was nighttime, and he was in a van while my friends and I were on the sidewalk. But each of us did a double-take, and as he turned the corner three of us turned to each other quizzically and asked, “Is that…the guy from the dining hall?”

Let the theory-making begin.

We tossed around a couple ideas, but I insisted that there was really only one option: he must be writing the Great American Novel. 

Think about it. If you’re looking for character inspiration, you should be around people as much as possible. Especially when you can overhear snippets of conversations to write into your novel.

A dining hall is a great location to do that. A state park also provides good material. And a taxi? Probably the best place to hear uninhibited conversations about ridiculous topics.

I’ll never ask him to validate my theory, but from now on he will always be Great American Novel Guy to me.


The drawing above was done by the incredible Vittoria Sabba (more of her art is here). I sent her a last-minute text saying I needed an image for this post, giving her only his three jobs and his hair color. Despite her busy schedule and my bizarre demands she created a piece of art that is both gorgeous and looks surprisingly similar to the real Great American Novel Guy. You’re truly the best, Tori <3  

This post is part of my April A to Z Challenge. For more All Things College posts, click here 

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24 thoughts on “Great American Novel Guy

  1. I figured this post would be about “That guy in every English class who insists it’s all beneath him because he’s going to write the Great American Novel,” but this is much better and more adorable.

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    • When I used to teach reading I had one of my students trick-or-treat at my house and she asked if she knew me because I looked familiar. It’s amazing how context-based our perceptions of people are.

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  2. When I was people watching in airports on my recent trip, I was conjuring back stories for everyone around me. Snippets of overheard conversations can stimulate an over-active imagination without too much difficulty!

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    • Definitely! One of my favorite overheard-conversation stories was coming back from Spain this summer, where there were two teenage boys (one Spanish, one American) sitting in front of me chatting in mostly Spanish and some English. They were just saying the most HILARIOUS things and I was dying laughing. My mom couldn’t understand them, so I was trying to quietly explain without the boys hearing me. It was too good.

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  3. I admire the guy for trying lots of different things and being willing to work. As a teacher who lived in the school district where I taught. I liked seeing my kids outside school and with their parents. Sounds like fun to speculate about that mystery guy.

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  4. I love imagining what people do… it was one of my favorite things to do while working at Starbucks. Of course, sometimes the truth is better in fiction! (Carlos Santana coming into our shop and calling himself Frank, Neil from Journey, and the guy who films all the Porsche commercials… to name a few). My first LGBT short story was actually based on theories from a people watching episode on a subway. :)

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  5. Near my college theres a food vendor.
    One day we asked him about his life. Turns out he sells food in morning from 9-12. Then he drives a taxi from afternoon and in the evening he sells food at another location. And wakes up everyday at 4 to repeat this.
    Though unlike your post guy, this guy’s story we knew.

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  6. Pingback: On The #AtoZChallenge | Victim to Charm

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