October 3, 2005


It is easier to get people in neighboring automobiles to return a smile on local roads than on the interstate.

I've done the research. All scientific and whatnot. Charts, graphs, and carefully created timelines in full living color bound neatly in a notebook await your perusal should you doubt my methodology.

I'll smile at anyone. Usually because I feel like smiling but sometimes to get myself back to that place where I feel like smiling.

It all starts with eye contact. While sitting at a local red light or ignoring the speed limit while cruising down the freeway; smiles can be traded during any and all phases of stop-and-go or stomp-and-go road travel. Without eye contact, however, there can be no returned smile. It's rather like that whole hearing the sound-of-a-falling-tree-in-the-forest thing.

My smile got a workout on the highway this weekend on our way home. I was already in the place where I felt like smiling so it was practically effortless. I smiled at innumerable unknown faces, a variety of ages, colors and sizes driving or riding in a plethora of vehicle types, colors and sizes. Not quite a grinning idiot was I, but close.

Of all the folks I smiled at on the interstate, I only got acknowledgement from one. This fellow was riding in the open bed of a beat-up white work truck. On I-95. Doing about 70. He sat, his back to the cab, hunched in a lawn chair. Somehow I caught his eye as we passed him. In that brief moment I flashed him one of my most sparkling smiles. In return I received an acknowledging lift of his chin. His wispy long hair whipped wildly across his face and he quickly dropped his chin back to his chest.

Not long ago while stopped at a traffic light at the intersection of Lockheed Boulevard and Richmond Highway, the deep bass and rap beat emanating from the car in the lane to my right caught my attention. It was a beat-up Chevy Nova occupied by a quartet of young black men. The fellow in the front passenger seat was bopping his head rhythmically to the music. A white bandana was tied around his head, a lit cigarette dangled from his lips.

He looked at me looking at him, and I smiled. He rewarded me with an open grin, lots of teeth and good humor.

"So what?" you may think.
So go smile at a stranger.
I highly recommend it.



Career Guy said...

What fun! We took three year old grandson Max to the zoo a couple of weeks ago, expecting to have the place to ourselves and found the parking lots jammed. I asked a young woman walking in what the event was, and learned it was the Juvenile Diabetes Walk. Max noticed my action and remarked, "I didn't know you could talk to her." I said, "You can talk to anyone if your mom or dad is with you." So he gave it try, smiling and saying "Hi" to a couple of older African American women coming out of the zoo. He was rewarded with smiles and Hi's back. Another person ignored him, so hey, you never know till you try.

Ken said...

Don't people think you're flirting with them sometimes when you smile at them? Not that that's a bad thing.

whispers said...

I think its a good thing.
We get back what we give more often than not. I would rather live in a world where we smile at each other than one where we are sullen and get sullen back, or fearful and get fear back.
Keep on smiling :)

Anonymous said...

How fun, I smile at people all the time, too. They rarely smile back. When we moved here to the KC area I thought the people would be more friendly, or at least polite, but I haven't found that to be the case yet.

But I've always believed that a simple smile can change someone's day for the better.


Eyes for Lies said...

I am usually the instigator of said actions of myself. I can't help it. I'm friendly and trusting in casual encoutners. I have nothing to worry about then -- it's when people are least likely to lie :)

weese said...

I am all for smiling..but i have to say, when i am driving at highway speeds i am not often looking around at other drivers.

SassyFemme said...

You know, this is going to sound horrible, but I don't think I've ever just smiled at a stranger in another car. Part of it is, in this neck of the south, complete with legal concealed handguns, I'm always afraid someone will shoot me if I look at them wrong! I think nothing of smiling at strangers in stores and such, but just not on the road. Hmmm, have to do some thinking on that.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Mother Teresa.

Sassyfemme...c'mon now. How many times have you actually heard of someone getting shot out of the blue, just for a look? I've lived in Houston for many years. I've never heard of it happening.

I think yer a brainwashed, transplanted Yankee.


A said...

I agree.. it's good fun. I'm not sure what it is, but I get such a thrill from sharing a smile with a complete stranger. They don't always smile back, but when they do, it's pure beauty. I haven't ever had someone misconstrue it, but these tend to be brief moments while passing each other on the sidewalk or in the halls.

ellipsis said...

without thinking, I smiled at the guy next to me at a red light last week. Want to know what he did? You really don't, but I will tell anyway. He placed two fingers to his lips and poked his tongue through. Barf. Need I say more?

Suzanne said...

Hey ellipse, how did you react when he did that? Stick your tongue out at him? Scowl? Smile? Quickly turn your head forward?

I was trying to imagine what I would do. I probably would have grinned like the idiot I am. :)