At the stoplight at Glenwood Avenue and Oberlin Road, I glanced over at the car beside me.
My eyes and those of the driver met. She smiled. I smiled back.
The woman seemed vaguely familiar. But upon the second glance, I realized I didn’t know her. The light turned green. We moved on.
The incident reminded me of a friend’s experience in which he drove to work for 25 years or so with a fellow he never met.
“Every workday morning, he was there beside me on Glenwood Avenue,” he said. “At first, he drove a beat-up old car. Then he traded for a sporty convertible. Then, apparently through the mental menopause, he settled into Buicks. We smiled and nodded occasionally.”
“You should have jotted his license number and gotten to know him better,” I had suggested.
“I don’t want to know him better!” he replied, almost angrily. “Strangers make the best kind of friends. If I got to know him better, I might have felt obliged to invite him to meet me at The Players’ Retreat or somewhere for a drink.
“And then we might start visiting back and forth. I might not like his wife and he might not like mine. We might get into an argument over politics or something.
“I felt I didn’t need more enemies. I liked him where he was – in a car on Glenwood Avenue, he in his lane, me in mine.”
My wife feels much the same way. When we travel, she easily strikes up conversations with strangers. Yet she can walk away from the momentary friendships without a backward glance.
Once in the San Francisco airport, I returned from checking flight schedules to find her in the baggage department chatting amiably with another traveler who eventually departed with my wife’s pound cake recipe in her purse.
When I asked if she had gotten the woman’s address, she said, “No. Should I have?”
“Well, you might like to know if the pound cake turned out all right.”
“It usually does,” she responded. “I don’t have time to correspond with the friends I now have, without taking on new responsibilities.”
Yes, friendships are like flowers: they need the water of continuity and common interests to survive.
During our travels, I maintained mail contact only twice with other tour members, a Canadian couple and a fellow from Australia. Within a year, both friendships had foundered.
My late neighbors, Ed and Ruth Arden Green, traveled the USA and beyond in their Airstream camper.
Much to his wife’s dismay, gregarious Ed had a habit of impulsively inviting fellow travelers to come visit in Raleigh. “The door is always open,” he would say.
I was visiting the Greens one day when Ed answered the phone.
“Who did you say you are?” we heard him say.
After a brief conversation he hung up, turned to Ruth Arden and said, “Some guy who says he was at the Mexico convention with us says he and his wife are on their way to Raleigh and will spend a few days with us.”
Discerning that his wife was less than overjoyed by the news, I made a swift departure.
For the past several months, Americans have endured one of the most vitriolic presidential campaigns in American history, in many cases jeopardizing both friendships and kinships. It will take time for more than half the country to emerge from its political sulk over the election’s outcome.
The disappointed and the disillusioned have had their say in the unprecedented women’s protest marches around the world. Many of them may be asking themselves the same question that reader Stephen Wilder of Knightdale put to me in a recent e-mail: “Donald Trump was right when he said he was going to unite the country. He certainly did. They were out in the streets all over the world in protest of him and his policies. Boy, he really teed off a lot of people. But my question is, where were all those people on election day?”
Perhaps it’s time for us, when we are idling the moments away, waiting for stoplights to turn from red to green, to make a habit of smiling at the driver of the car beside us. You might be entertained as well as rewarded by the response.
In other words, folks, let’s make America smile again! OK?