Sometimes, it only takes a few words or a simple gesture from a stranger (or a friend) to change your entire mood on a given day.
Once, when I was going to school back in the frozen North, I slipped on the icy stairs on my way out of a building and landed five feet lower on the sidewalk below. I was, amazingly, uninjured but most sincerely enraged.
I stood up and began brushing myself off, muttering about the damn school's damn lack of a damn budget to salt the damn sidewalks. A woman who was walking by (and saw me fall), paused and told me "It hurts less when you laugh," then walked on.
Six words defused the entire situation, and I did laugh.
This morning, as I merged on to the freeway, I got stuck in a bad place, and had several cars zoom by me on my right, then brake hard and pull in front of me. I finally got into the next lane, and wanted to get the rest of the way to the HOV lane (which is where I play "Leather-clad Rocketeer" most mornings). Some dude in an SUV decided that he REALLY needed to not let me in, and accelerated so I couldn't get over.
So, I kept my turn signal on, and kept an eye on him. Most times, people realize I'm only passing through their lane on my way to the HOV lane, so they back off. This guy, however, didn't get it. Every time I looked back to change lanes, he'd speed up so there was no way I could get over.
I got a little frustrated.
I checked my mirrors, and noticed that no one was close behind me, so I flashed my brake lights a few times and slowed down until SUV-Dingus was past me. I zipped behind him and got into the far left lane, then accelerated again. I was going to give him a bird-flipping the likes of which have never been seen!
In the half second between his bumper and driver-side window, I reconsidered.
When I got up there, he was looking at me, and I looked right back at him. I gave him a cheery wave ("So long!"), then moved to the HOV lane and grabbed a good handful of throttle. 3 seconds later, I was doing 70 mph and in a remarkably good mood.
I have no idea what his reaction was, but I know that I went from being somewhat ticked off to totally relaxed in a split second. My hope is that an unexpected gesture shocked him out of his little SUV-commuter-funk, if only for a couple minutes.
I've heard that zen masters will walk behind their meditating students, and smack them upside the head occasionally, in the hope of shocking them into enlightenment. We've all experienced a shocking moment where, at least for a couple seconds, we live entirely in the moment and the world becomes vibrant in a whole new way.
I think that a few jolly pranksters, surprising people stuck in gridlocked traffic with an unexpected gesture of kindness, could get the boulders moving around again in the heads of a lot of corporatized, consumer drones. We've all seen the person going the other way in bumper to bumper traffic, staring out the window of their car waiting for life to happen again. Why not give them a wave, or an exaggerated wink? Make them laugh! Keep some large note cards handy with funny pictures, or a saccharine sweet message to flash at them. I guarantee that the funny biker will make their day.
Yesterday I saw a recently married couple on the sidewalk near where I live (there's a reception hall nearby). I beeped twice and waved at them and they, of course, cheerily waved back. I probably gave them another story for their wedding book (did any bikers wave at YOU when you got married?).
Have you noticed how kids will stare with unabashed curiosity at you when you're on a bike? I think a lot of grown-ups probably feel the same way, only they're too polite/afraid to stare. At the same time, bikers tend to worry about looking cool.
The thing is, when we're on our bikes, we're on stage. We can do almost anything and - so long as it doesn't endanger anyone - we're automatically cool. So take advantage of it, and see if you can't make some one's day.
It's worth a shot.