When I was first out on my own and began driving to work each day, there were instances where I would see the same cars periodically. One guy would see me in my car and wave each time. I dubbed him the “weird waver” and made a mental note of the license plate, make and model of his car.
Out here, there isn’t a lot of traffic except during the motorcycle rally when the population of the state doubles. Even then, it is manageable. The opportunity for eye contact while driving is much greater as a result.
One cultural difference that I noticed immediately was the wave.
I’m not talking about the mass stadium wave. I’m talking about the driving down the two lane gravel roads and meeting someone driving toward you wave. A variation of this also holds when you are walking and pass someone on the street. Everyone smiles, waves, acknowledges in some form. Everyone.
I think it is mandated somewhere. And it absolutely befuddled me at first having come from the big city. Those of us from urban areas know intrinsically that waving is the last thing you do while driving unless it is someone you have know for at least a decade and they have been properly vetted. Hell, in certain areas you don’t even make eye contact. Here you wave or get chastised publicly the next time you stop in at one of the town’s coffee shops.
“I saw you yesterday and waved and you didn’t wave back.”
If I was going to assimilate here, I recognized that I would have to come out of my little bubble on wheels. In true pioneer spirit, I learned to wave back. I learned to smile and say hello whilst perambulating in town.
There are subtle rules. If you miss waving in town, it is only a venial sin. But it is mandatory outside of town on two lane dirt roads, very few exceptions on paved roads. The wave doesn’t require your hand to leave the wheel unless you are feeling particularly enthusiastic. A mere straightening of the fingers as you waft by. The seasoned veteran can just straighten the index finger in nonchalance. The enthusiasm isn’t important. Acknowledgement is.
You know what? I have come to like this cultural anomaly. It moves to recognize each other’s humanity even if only for a second; a moment of connection. Moments count. Moments add up.
A few years ago, I went back to Chicago for my high school reunion. My daughter came along to visit her friends. She wanted to see our old neighborhood. We drove past our old house and did the loop around our little lake. The country club and the beach looked the same. The swans were still there. But we also took note of three new McMansions where lovely oaks and mere 6,000 square foot homes had been.
As we made the loop, there was a couple walking down the road enjoying each other and the panorama of fall colors.
Without thinking I waved, though I did not know them.
You could see the disconcerted look on their faces, followed quickly by a guarded glare.
“Who is that?! We don’t know her. Maybe we should note the license plate.”
I have to adjust back into my bubble whenever I travel “east river” as we say out here. But I immediately miss the connection moment.
It happened again when I took my daughter to her university on the east coast. I’m pretty sure she is the only gal from our state attending there. It is a distinction each of my kids enjoy when they experience it. As she and I walked around campus, we said hello to everyone we passed.
They would not meet our gaze or mumbled and passed quickly. I understand.
I like where I live.