Growing up in Colorado, I always used to wonder about this phrase/greeting coming out of my mom’s – or my grandfather’s – mouth. After some thought I realized it must have devolved from “How d’you do?” A la: “How d’you do?” --> “Howdy do?” --> “How ’do?” To my 80’s teenaged self saying this to various and sundry strangers as we passed seemed almost intrusive. Grandfather, come on! When you’re walking or riding to get somewhere, you’re focused on yourself and where you’re getting to – you’re not focused on whom you’re passing on the way. You don’t even know that person!
I moved to California, and then to Asia. I lived in big cities in these places and there was not a lot of greeting going on in the street.
And then, when putting together the “fortune cookies” that are in our pint glasses, I came across this good piece of advice, which apparently was part of the Code of the West as chronicled by Zane Grey:
“Never pass anyone on the trail without saying 'howdy'."
I’m thinking Fort Collins-ites’ compulsion for saying hello might be a holdover from the early roots of this city.
Like most other things in the Code of the West and Cowboy Ethics, I think this is darned good advice. This is despite the fact that I don’t follow it as much as I should. By saying “howdy” you are signaling your openness to helping out, being friendly, and getting to know your neighbor, on whom you may need to rely (or vice versa). You’re signaling that you’re either not a bank robber or cattle rustler, or that you’re a very friendly one. These days in Fort Collins, you’re probably signaling that I might see you soon in one of the great tap rooms or beer joints around town, enjoying some fresh beer and camaraderie. And you’re broadcasting that you are enjoying the journey; you’re focused not just on where you’re going, but on the experience of getting there and on those whom you might meet along the way. You’re broadcasting that you’re not wasting your moments, but being aware in them. There’s all sorts of karmic rationale bundled up in this old west tradition.
So if you say hello to a tall (and likely messy) stranger and hear a belated, “HOW ’DO?!” wafting back at you, that’ll be me. Forgive my belated greeting; I’ve spent 20 years being trained to ignore others in public passing – it’ll take a few more months of Fort Collins Friendly Training to get used to saying, “How ’do?” when we pass. I’ll get there.
[The Code of the West, by the way, is still enough of an influence around these parts that it is referenced in an article by John Clarke in our own Larimer County Code; his introduction begins with, “It is important for you to know that life in the country is different from life in the city.” Mmm hmmmm.]