Saturday, January 5, 2008

Crossing

On a recent breezy day we were stopped at a red light in Thousands Oaks. He crossed the street in front of us, a slight scowl upon his face. No reason for the dull glare, I guessed, except out of habit, perhaps a little mental self-defense to keep the chill at bay. An anti-grin to show he was unapproachable, closed.

So I waved to him.

It was a soccer-mom wave. A goofy, quirky, unexpected wave attached to my big, toothy grin, and it caught him by surprise. It caught me by surprise. The corners of his mouth curved up a bit as he moved on. Warmed.

Coming from a small town, I'm used to making eye contact with passersby. Only we didn't call them that. We called them neighbors. Everyone knew everyone, perhaps because we acknowledged each other. Weird how we had more physical space around each other, yet we were closer.

When I ventured off to college in New York City, I continued my country 'howdy' ways, frightening quite a few people. City style was the do-not-disturb, look-away look. Black clothes, dark glare. With my menacing smile, they probably thought I was part of a marauding new gang of bad little white girls. Make eye contact with me and I will steal your wallet AND your soul.

I tried to change my ways, but I was too far gone. I didn't mean to scare anyone, it was just a natural thing to look, nod, and say 'hi.' My friends warned me, tried to get me to stop. But it was impossible.

Then the unthinkable happened - my look caught on. Competing bands of 'howdy' gangs soon appeared, each striving to be friendlier than the last. A particularly vicious turf war broke out when members of the "Smilin' Grins" invited the "Hey-How-Are-You's" over for coffee and danish. Everyone was hugging and laughing. It was horrible.

For a while, I led the "Hi Street Hello's." We were known for our impeccable personal hygiene and 'Happy Face' tattoos. But that wasn't good enough for us. We branched out, helping find lost pets, planting flowers, and taking the trash out for the elderly even if they begged us not to. Other gangs copied us, but we didn't care. We loved them anyway.

Hey, it could happen.

"You're different, Mom," my son said as the light turned green. "But in a good way."

I was warmed.

8 comments:

ScottMGS said...

Ha! When I spent my teenage summers in Iowa it was considered rude to not at least nod or wave a finger (index finger!) at anyone along the road. I always like that and did it a bit out of habit here in su.su.ca though it never caught on with the rest of the population.

Keywstdame said...

I wish I'd met someone like you when I lived in southern California. Being born and bred in the South, I was very lonely in Los Angles. The old saying, "If you say hello to a stranger in California, he automatically places his hand over his wallet", is true. LOL I'm back home now and I like the fact that I take after my Dad and I never meet strangers. I talk to everyone - and they talk back! Y'all come back now - ya hear?

Mad Scientist said...

I completely understand what keywstdame is saying. It was very hard to transition form the south east to socal. I still hate the attitudes here on some days.

Siouxie said...

I still freak people out by smiling and saying "Hello" when I get on an elevator.

Oh well! Great one, Annie!!!

telecomdropout said...

Hey, I was born and bred here, and I usually smile and nod at folks. I guess it just depends on where in SoCal you are from ...

Janet said...

Hi there Annie! "Big smile and wave." Throughout the years I've taught my kids to greet our neighbors. On our drives to school we'd always leave the neighborhood with lots of waves. For a long time there was one woman who who would not return a smile and a wave. My kids worked on her for weeks.....the day she finally waved they cheered!! Fun times...
BTW I used to blog on DB but now I just blurk;live in Ventura; congrats on selling your stories to The Star!

Annie said...

Thanks, everybody. telecomdropout is right - not everyone is like that. But many city folk are. And it only takes a moment to rattle their cage. They either warm up, or as Siouxie said, freak out. Either way, we've shaken it up a bit, no?

insomniac said...

*checks box next to 'freak out' *