Walking on Sixth Avenue near Balboa Park, I met a class of sightless children moving slowly along the sidewalk. A light manila rope snaked at waist level from hand to hand.
That was their touch with the friendly world. At each end of the rope, they knew, stood a guardian with eyes that saw. One girl, wore a bright blue dress that she'd never seen. The boy on the rope behind her was off in his own world, listening to the sound of an air hammer, and marveling out loud.
On another day in a supermarket, I watched a man in a home-ironed white shirt and an old but spotless tie. He held a newspaper food ad, comparing its prices with shelf prices. Maybe he had more time than money. But he looked happy. He made me happy. We smiled at each other and talked.
In San Diego, we don't walk enough to practice being friendly to strangers. We don't walk to get somewhere. We stride along in the early morning for exercise, then change clothes and drive to work.
The happiest employees of any company are the ones with guaranteed parking. I know. I got conned once into accepting a dreaded management job because it came with underground parking.
Yet, there are still some of us who go walking and look at each other as we meet, and say, "Good morning" to strangers, or just smile and nod. Maybe it's a perfect San Diego morning, and we want to share our pleasure. Of course, it works best along a beach.
I was taught sidewalk manners as a kid in North Carolina, where we all liked to assume that we all knew each other.
Revisiting the Duke University campus there, I met William J. Bennett, a Bostonian whose remarks came at me like machine gun fire. He had gone South on a three-month foundation grant. I asked him how in the world he communicated with the drawling Tar Heels.
"At first, they really puzzled me,? he said. "They are so solicitous, even in supermarket lines. But I think figured them out. They get a lot of work done. They must work all night, because they spend all day saying pleasant things to each other.?
Sometimes when I try to do that, it can seem to annoy a passing stranger. So I just imagine that stranger is still suffering shock, coming maybe from New York or some other blighted city where eye contact is considered an intrusion.
We can practice neighborliness along any sidewalk. With City Hall on razor's edge, it's a good time to practice our own civility. Our San Diego should never seem too large or too busy for human kindness.