On December 1, I declared an intention to take Burl Ives' advice. I would walk around downtown Spokane and “Say hello to friends you know and everyone you meet.”
And, with the help of volunteer assistant Jeanie Buchanan, that's what I did during the noon hour today.
Our finding? People are a bit wary of strangers.
Stop the presses!
Only a small percentage of our targets flat-out ignored us or seemed truly pained to be dealing with unsolicited attention, though. And quite a few of the dozens of people we fleetingly engaged turned out to be sincerely upbeat, returning my “hello” with an enthusiastic greeting of their own.
Maybe it's the season. But it struck me that some of us probably crave a little good cheer, even something as small as a smile glimpsed in passing.
Now, of course, this was a stunt. It was not serious social inquiry.
And it should be noted that Jeanie, 62, has a welcoming face. I'm sure her presence helped soften the disposition of some of the strangers we encountered.
Moreover, it would be misleading to imply that we didn't get a few looks suggesting that people wondered if we were evangelists or salesmen of some other sort. What else would you expect?
A couple of people acted as if they thought it was insane that I took the liberty of making eye contact. A few women regarded me as I imagine they would a sign-wearing sexual predator. One or two young guys were too busy acting tough to acknowledge my greeting. And a couple with an infant seemed on the brink of genuine alarm.
“They're after the baby! Aiiiiiieeeeee.”
They did not actually say that. But I know when I'm not wanted.
Like I said, though, a lot of people were pretty darned holly jolly.
I don't mind telling you that, in recent nights, I had a couple of those eyes-suddenly-wide-open-at-2 a.m. moments upon remembering that I had signed up to do this.
But early in our walk around downtown — both outside and on the skywalks — I started to enjoy the experiment.
A lot of people here really are friendly. Maybe you've noticed.