Walking to work at Solimar, I pass through downtown Ventura from my hillside apartment to the office on "The Avenue," a locally historic, blue-collar street on the west edge of downtown. Sure, I could drive, but it seems that just in the last few years downtown has been reinvigorated and is a pleasant place stroll.

My "commute" takes me past turn-of-the-century craftsman homes and bungalows, the toaster-oven-like modernist library wearing a hospital gown shade of blue-green, the pseudo-art deco movie theater built during the '90s, the historic mission, pocket parks and window-shopping opportunities.

In the mornings, Main Street is mostly barren. Drivers use alternate, faster streets and there are only a handful of breakfast joints and cafes, half of which are on the shady side of the street in the morning. There isn't much going on, and I don't have those chance encounters with fellow citizens commonly attributed to walking and smart growth design. But today's walk was unprecedented — two people said "hi."

Southern California isn't known for congeniality, and it's hard to say "hi" to someone pushing 80 mph on the freeways, but even pedestrian encounters can be fraught with awkwardness. Usually it's the eye contact with the person who doesn't want to say "hi" that's awkward, or when no one is on the street except for you and one other person whose timing coincidentally puts them walking right next to you or right on your tail. Passing slower walkers without rushing can be an art form on all but the widest of sidewalks.

Perhaps California is too crowded and busy for "hi." You certainly wouldn't be able to greet everyone on the Santa Monica Pier on a Sunday afternoon. If you tried, well, you'd be like the guy with dreadlocks playing his banjo while rollerblading to and fro. Maybe the density of California's urban areas, played out in walkable environments, predicates interaction to the extent that there's usually so many people around we don't know how to act when there are only a few.

I think the really surprising thing was that both people who offered greetings were young guys like me, whose masculinity and vestigial territoriality usually makes for awkward passing. But I guess it was a nice summer morning in downtown Ventura and the world was at ease.

- Aaron Engstrom