From early in my time as an adult, I’ve said hi to and smiled at strangers on the street. In a large percentage of cases, I’ve gotten friendly smiles or nods back. That interaction with people has been a big part of my life for almost 50 years.

Unfortunately, when Covid and the lockdowns and masking came along, that changed dramatically. I continued to say hi or smile and I don’t know if the people I said hi to were smiling because I couldn’t see their faces. But they often lacked any other response also. They didn’t nod or say hi back and they walked a little faster past me. Remember that this was outdoors and that by about September 2020 it was pretty clear to those of us who looked at studies that transmission of the coronavirus outdoors, especially to people passing and at all times at least 2 or 3 feet away, was minimal.

In my area, I still see a lot of people wearing masks outdoors but I would say that it’s down to about 15%. I never gave up saying hi to and smiling at people. Now I’m getting something back.

Last Wednesday a friend and I were walking in Monterey and a young woman jaywalked to where she would get within a few feet of us. While she was still on the road, she must have seen me looking to make sure no car was coming that would hit her. (There wasn’t, and presumably she checked that out in advance, but my little caution cost virtually nothing.) When she looked at me, she smiled and I smiled back. Then she broke into a big smile and said, “Hi” with a lot of positive energy. I said “hi” and smiled bigger.

My friend, observing this, said, “Do you know her?” “No,” I replied.

I think it’s important to do things liked this. People’s fear about Covid-19 and the lockdowns, which were particularly harsh in coastal California, damaged society. Russ Roberts once said in testimony before Congress: “I want my country back.”

I want my society back.