It's a moment familiar to most of us. Saturday afternoon in a busy Costco parking lot, two SUVs coming from opposite directions approach the same parking space. I witnessed this situation today, but instead of the hostile maneuvering, ugly glares and words that usually accompany this situation, both drivers are waving the other into the space. Finally, one moves forward and shouts, "thanks!" to the other.
It's a surreal moment for me until I remember I’m not in Los Angeles anymore. I’m in San Luis Obispo, considered to be the “Happiest City in America” and featured on “The Oprah Show” last year because of it.
It's true, people really are more polite in the smaller towns and communities of the Central Coast where I spend many relaxing days; certainly nicer than in Los Angeles where I've spent my life.
When I come up the coast, I have to shed my big-city ways and adopt the more pleasant easy-going social behaviors of my part-time neighbors. I don't honk at slow drivers. I smile and say hi to strangers passing by. I even chat with the folks in the grocery store line, and even let people get in front of me! It's the new nicer me. It's not hard. In fact, it's a pleasure.
So what turns me or anyone into an urban ogre? Is it survival? habit? crowds? Check out this theory about why cities are meaner.
UPDATE: A few hours after the above incident, I was in downtown San Luis Obispo cruising a municipal parking lot, looking for a space. I spotted the only empty one and the meter was blinking green. How much time is left? I wondered as I whipped the car into the space. I got out of the car and peered into the meter's little window, but it was blank. Suddenly, a man in a blue uniform approached. He had a gold patch on his chest indicating some position of authority. "Is that your meter, ma'am?" he asked. Oh, no, I thought. You're probably not allowed to use up what's left of someone else's time. "I'm taking care of your parking today," he said as he swiped a card hanging from a cord around his neck.
When's the last time that happened to you?