When I was a small child, dad got a promotion to head up sales for his company’s southern territory. This included Dallas and Atlanta and when he went to one of those two cities he would be gone for several weeks at a time.
He had returned from one of these trips and the following Saturday we decided to go see two old Abbott & Costello movies which were playing at the RKO Theater on 86th Street. As we were walking, I asked dad what it was like in Dallas.
He told me that people in the south were a lot friendlier than people in New York. He said you would walk down the street and a total stranger would greet you with a “Hi, how are ya today – glad to see you,” as though you were his long lost best friend.
That was certainly a contrast to my limited experience in dealing with my fellow New Yorkers. I noticed that most people I passed on the street tended to keep their eyes pointed to the street – avoiding any possibility of eye contact – and there was seldom if ever any greeting offered.
I wondered how it could be that people who all lived in the same country could behave so very differently. And I told dad as much.
Dad set out to prove the truth of his statement about the difference between people in Dallas and New York. He told me, “I’m going to say “Hi” in a very friendly manner to the next person who comes towards us. I’ll bet you that they are going to turn around, trying to figure out who I am. They’re going to think that they must know me – or why would I have greeted them?”
So, about a minute later we encountered a middle-aged man. Dad did as he said he would, “Hi – how are you today? Glad to see you.” He delivered this in an extremely enthusiastic manner – and the man who was the subject of our test mumbled, “Uh, er, fine thanks,” and he quickly walked down the street.
Dad and I turned around. Sure as shooting this man looked over his shoulder trying to figure out who this was who had greeted him. Dad just waved at him and we continued on to the movies. I knew that I was the child of a genius.
I remember getting on the elevator to go to my office one morning. I was last to get on the elevator which was filled to capacity. I had my attache case in my right hand and because the elevator was crowded, it would have been difficult turning around to face the front of the elevator without knocking it into the passengers who were directly in front of me.
Well, there I was in an elevator with twenty other people facing me so I said, “Hi, everyone – how are you all today?” From the reaction I received, you would have thought I was a notorious serial killer in search of a new victim. Total silence.
I mean, I was dressed in appropriate business attire, looked fairly normal (at least I thought so) and saw the forty eyes of my fellow passengers stare at the elevator roof, at the shoulder of the passenger in front of them – anywhere but at me. This simple act of greeting and standing facing them rather than turning to the front was so disquieting to them that I couldn’t help think of the discomfort that rats taken out of their comfort zone experience.
As a result of the elevator experience I have ever since made a point when I’m out of saying, “Hi” to at least one if not more than one stranger. I figure that, if I get lucky, I might start a movement. But I wish that dad were here to help me.
Dad was a lot of fun.