ERIC WOKE UP EARLY THIS MORNING. Maybe it was the dawn light in his eyes or the heat in his bedroom or just the fact that he was thirsty, but the 27-year-old pro online gambler couldn’t get back to sleep. So he threw on some shorts and his Rip Curl sunglasses and decided to take his hike in Griffith Park with the city’s other early risers. At 6:45 a.m. he drove up to the barricades along the newly remodeled Griffith Observatory, parked his car, put on his backpack and headed to the lookout.

Now, seated in the shade on a green bench near the end of the trail, Eric describes how he greeted everyone he saw. “I must have said ‘Good morning!’ at least a hundred times,” he figures. Except for six people, everyone answered in kind.

Eric likes the whole “Good morning with strangers” thing that happens on the trails. It makes him feel a lot more connected to the human race. When he started hiking here this past May, he noticed right away that people say “Good morning” a lot more when they pass each other in the park than they do on city streets. Eric’s theory is that the trails are more conducive to friendly exchanges because when you’re hiking alone and someone says “Hi” or “Good morning,” you can feel pretty confident that they’re talking to you.

Also, it’s logistically difficult to say “Good morning!” to everyone on a city block: “If there are a hundred people,” Eric points out, “you might not have the energy and wherewithal to say ‘Good morning!’ to all of them. You would have to say, ‘Good morning,’ ‘Good morning,’ ‘Good morning,’ ‘Good morning’ .?.?. After that you would probably have a dry mouth and be pretty thirsty.”

Eric reaches for the sip tube attached to his CamelBak pack and takes a drink. It’s the kind of day he likes: dry and hot.

“There are all these old Asian men up here,” he continues. “They have this certain fashion: khakis and polo shirts; but they’re the most friendly, and I think that’s really cool.”

Eric grew up in Dana Point and was raised a Catholic, but considers himself an atheist. Lately, though, he thinks he might be having some sort of “transformation.” He’s been reading Ram Dass’ 1971 Aquarian-age classic Be Here Now, and actually repeated that phrase to himself a few times on his hike — “Be here now, be here now” — because he wants to be less preoccupied with the future and instead more “chill,” as he calls it.

As for the people who don’t say “Good morning” back, Eric notices it can be a little awkward, but he’s not a hater.

“You see their shoulders tense up, and it’s a little peculiar. I feel kind of bad for them that they’re that introverted. I think they want to be alone.”

Do you think their reaction is a statement about the times?

“Possibly. I think it’s more a personality thing. I think that they are the type of people who have been harmed or abused when they are that closed and don’t want to reach out to people. You know, it can also be someone who works in the city and is always talking to people and wants to come out here and be alone and doesn’t want to socialize. That person is like, ‘I need my nature time.’ I think we can all relate to that.”

There’s one more thing Eric has observed on his hikes: People don’t actually say “Good morning.” They just say “Morning.”

What do you think that means?

“Well, I think it’s interesting ’cause you’re taking the ‘good’ out of the statement and just saying ‘Morning!’ No adjective.”

Um, but what does that mean?

“I don’t think it’s making any profound statement, it’s just how things have evolved. We always abbreviate things.”

But where does the “good” go?

“I think it goes on inside the person’s head. They just don’t actually say it out loud. I say that too, ‘Morning!’?”

Do you think the “good” in the head is still having a positive vibrational effect inside people’s brains, like a mantra?

“I don’t know.”

Are you bothered by the abbreviation?

“No. I’m not pissed off that they didn’t say ‘good.’ I think people just get lazy; I don’t think it’s a devolution of culture or something. It’s just something I observed — instead of ‘Top of the morning to you, sir.’ It can be a lot longer.”

What if you want to connect to people in the city — to greet all of them, what can you do? Just get on the roof of your car and scream “Good morning” or “Morning”?

Eric looks toward the beautiful yet smoggy downtown skyline and says, “You can just, like, wear it on your face with a smile.”

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