I was assaulted twice in the past week. Yup. On two separate occasions.
First time. I was driving along minding my own business and came to a stop at a red light. I happened to look to the right and noticed the driver of the car staring at me. He flashed a giant smile and waved. I scowled, gripped the steering wheel, and stared straight ahead using all of my jedi mind powers to make the light turn green. A full awkward 75 seconds later, I shot through the intersection and made my escape while nervously checking my mirrors to make sure I wasn’t being followed.
Second time. I was driving along minding my own business and came to a stop at a red light. I happened to look to the right and noticed the driver of the car staring at me. She flashed a giant smile and waved. Yup AGAIN. Same bullshit! I scowled and shook my head in bewilderment at her audacity. I actively avoided making further eye contact and eventually drove away without any further affronts. I felt relieved but shaken.
In the aftermath of these blatant daytime acts of aggression that occurred in full view of vancouver’s rush hour traffic public, I have wondered if there was something I did to invite the attacks. On both occasions, the sun was shining bright and the day was blissfully warm. I had my windows and sunroof wide open. Both incidents occurred at about 630 PM so I can only assume that, like me, my assailants were making their way home at the end of a work day. I had my favourite tunes blasting and was singing along. I was smiling. I looked … happy.
My obvious happiness made two other people smile on two separate occasions. The fact that I had found happiness while stuck in gridlock traffic was miraculous enough that it infected a couple of people with whom I was sharing the road on those evenings. It made them smile too.
That part now makes sense.
What still doesn’t make sense is my reaction. I would like to say my response was unusual … for me and for the others who live in this city of mine. Sadly it’s not. In all seriousness, I have been thinking about those incidents and wondering why I didn’t just smile back and wondering why I found their smiles confusing, irritating, odd, and a bit aggressive. I don’t know if this is true in other cities but it’s like vancouverites have been trained for coolness (not the tragically hip kind of cool but in the kind of cool that makes us avoid connection with others). Vancouver is routinely described as an unfriendly place and I know many people who have arrived here with hope in their hearts only to leave a few months later because they found it too hard to find a social niche, too difficult to locate true community, and too damn lonely. This smiling at strangers thing almost never happens which I guess is why it threw me off. We don’t make eye contact with others, we don’t make friendly conversation with people in line-ups or at cafes, and we definitely do not smile at one another.
Honestly? I think that’s one of the main reasons I like to travel. Three of my fave destinations? My home town of St John’s Newfoundland, Venice Beach / Santa Monica California, and Burning Man @ Black Rock City Nevada. Why? Because people in all of these places are so friendly!!! Not in a weird aggressive in your space kind of way but in a genuine liking of humanity kind of way. I feel welcomed and accepted and part of the community … even if I’m just dropping into the groove for a few days.
As for my two smilers … I doubt they are locals. Certainly not locals who have lived here for any length of time.
I feel like I need to sign up for some sort of retraining program or trauma reentry therapy. I need to learn to accept the smiles of strangers. I need to learn to effortlessly, gracefully, sincerely, warmly initiate and receive them. (I need to reclaim my smile … even if it’s the awkward “I’m in training to smile” version I was trying on in my grade 4 picture above.)
Vancouver … I love you but … we’ve gotta warm this place up a bit.
#smilesformiles #smilingtherevolution #smilesatstrangers
Let’s do this.