In Marion Tucker-Honeycutt’s column on Nov. 15, she observed what is common practice in our Maine communities. That is, people wave and say hello while walking or driving by, whether you know them or not, as “Mainers are a friendly lot.”
As an outsider she might refer to as a “flat-lander” (though standard pronunciation might suggest a different spelling, as in “flat-landuh”), I would agree. I have seen this kind of behavior through my own eyes and learned from the natives.
On my daily walk through various neighborhoods here in Belfast, I smile and nod to anyone passing by. Almost all smile and nod in return, acknowledging my presence. Some say hello, ask how I’m doing or look up to the sky and query “Isn’t this a beautiful day!” Still I’m always counting my steps, so I dare not respond or risk losing count. I keep my mouth shut, yet with a friendly smile nonetheless, still wondering whether I should say hello (though I always welcome others’ hellos to me).
There are, to be sure, a few exceptions. Some individuals deliberately keep to themselves, not wishing to make eye contact. Some couples or friends may be talking with each other, unwilling to interrupt their conversation or attention with a nod acknowledging mine. That’s okay. I guess I can live with that.
Meanwhile let’s not underestimate or take for granted our community culture of passersby – even flat-landuhs in our midst – being friendly to each other. How lucky we are.
Not so where I lived for many years down in New York, New York: Manhattan, Upper West Side ("Seinfeld" territory). Most New Yorkers have to walk here and there every day. But you need to walk on sort-of safe streets in sort-of safe neighborhoods you know between 8 a.m. and midnight (10 p.m. Sundays). I knew my neighborhood (sort of), midtown, Greenwich Village and the upper Lower East Side (though many years ago I once worked in Hell’s Kitchen, then Harlem). Everywhere else was forbidden territory for me (probably a good thing).
Even in a safe neighborhood, you did not look at anyone you walked past. Not a glance. Any inadvertent peek at someone approaching would instantly be interpreted as: “What’re you lookin’ at me for?! You want a piece o’ me?!” As if you were mindlessly inviting disaster.
Of course, that was years ago, and times have changed. After Superstorm Sandy left New York City shaken and at times totally powerless, street crimes threatened to become more prevalent and dangerous to humankind. Now a new set of rules is being written and employed in an effort to alleviate criminal behavior against innocent streetwalkers (so to speak).
Years ago I wrote two novels published in England based on the first prime-time dramatic series on the BBC known as the “Specials.” These Specials were citizens who volunteered to police the streets in London – what we in New York City referred to as Auxiliary Police.
These Auxiliary Police in NYC will soon be empowered to look at every single person walking the sidewalk eye-to-eye. No friendly nods or hellos. And if someone just happens to glimpse the voluntary cop’s direct surveillance, all hell will break loose.
The civilian cop will stop you in your tracks, then proceed through a list of demands. You must produce a photo I.D. You must also carry and produce a valid birth certificate (from somewhere in this country). You will also need to carry hair samples in small envelopes pasted shut that can then be opened and used as DNA samples (to convict you of murder or some such).
In addition, you will be required to provide a DVD of your high school and college records. If applicable, hard-copy versions of your arrest records and prison records must also be transferred from your possession to the volunteer cop’s.
You will need to carry your own set of (cushioned and comfortable) handcuffs should you need to be placed under arrest. The unlicensed amateur police officer will then be authorized to apply a taser in order to prompt a quick confession out on the street before dragging you to be placed behind bars for an all-too-often uncertain period of perhaps undeserved punishment.
To avoid any such problematic results, you will have to train yourself even more rigorously to completely avoid looking at anyone and everyone you may pass by while walking anywhere on the streets of New York. Smiling and saying hello to any human being – even a close friend or family member – will be illegal and punishable by indefinite incarceration.
Okay, it is different here in Midcoast Maine, and we must keep it so, whatever the risk. Do not look away from someone walking directly toward you. Nod politely, smile and perhaps offer a pleasant hello.
Don’t wave me off!
Fritz Lyon is a writer and professional public relations pundit residing in Belfast.