This morning I was walking to my car when I passed a man on a bus bench. The bench is located just outside what looks to be a retirement home for old-timers, or maybe an assisted living facility. The type of people who live there, who appear to walk in and out daily, are older folks: women with walkers who smoke and cough and hack up phlegm, old men who are half-blind and angry and bitter, cursing anyone who drives by in a car that’s any color other than black.
This morning, on the bench, there sat an older man who still maintained a smooth flow of black hair with a black mustache. He resembled Edward James Olmos without the weathered facial skin. His eyes were sad as he looked up and down the street. His cardigan was maroon, draped over a blue button-down shirt with brown pants. He looked up at me briefly before returning his gaze across the street at nothing in particular.
This man didn’t appear to be waiting for a bus, or a friend, or a specific event. He wasn’t smoking or reading a book. Perhaps he was just taking a rest before returning to his room, or maybe he was just watching the cars go by, wishing he still had his license. Whatever the case, I muttered “Good morning” as I passed him.
He hesitated, then blurted out, “mornin'” and that was that. A brief interaction, no shocker there.
Except the surprise was in the way he said it. “Mornin’!” Add the exclamation point, a surprised tone. Not loud, not shocked, not offended. Just surprised.
And the surprise in his voice grew in pitch and meaning as the second syllable came out of his mouth, like he was shocked he could speak at all. In my mind, the man was responding to an unexpected greeting and, what’s more, it’d been so long since he’s interacted with anyone else that he was surprised to hear his own voice.
Or maybe that’s just the way I heard it this morning because I, too, was surprised that I would just offer a perfect stranger such a simple greeting. Living in Los Angeles, you sometimes forget to say a simple Hello, or Good Morning, or Good Evening.
Say any one of the above to a stranger sometime soon, like tomorrow, like tomorrow morning, someone other than a loved one or a co-worker or anyone in your normal vicinity.
You might be surprised.