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Handsome devil, ain't he?
J.C. Milliman

The ole 2-fingered salute

   

    One of the few things here in St. Maryís County still not clear cut, concreted over and had a tire store built on it is the gentility found on a country back road.

    I live two roads from Rt. 235 -- that bustling artery feeding the commerce heart of Southern Maryland. Both of them could be classified as good ole down home back roads.

    The first one hardly even rates a sign. It doesnít take too long, though, after turning on to it to see what I mean. Folks wave to each other going down the road. Perfect strangers, even.

    Ever wave to strangers while driving down the road?

    We still do on our little back road. Guys in trucks, mostly. Older gents, driving working trucks, not younger guys in designer trucks with crew cabs toting groceries or kids to some after-school activity.

    Iíll admit, I didnít come by such overt friendliness naturally, being a Native Mainer -- we donít even talk to our families, much less to strangers. But when I moved to Alabama for college, waving to each other on back roads seemed so natural, I felt rude not to return someoneís cheery greeting. Alabamians, like most in the Deep South, have elevated sociability to a fine art. Mainers? Well, grunting more than an occasional "Ayuh" once or twice a day earns us a reputation for being gabby.

    Other places Iíve been, both in North America and abroad, have been both as friendly and as not. Some places (Ewa Beach, Oíahu, for one), merely making eye contact will get you shot.

    So imagine how nice it felt to settle here to find some semblance of the lost art of gracious living blooming amid the arid plains of our fast, wired world. Heck, even the dump trucks drivers (and there are plenty of them) wave to each other and flash their lights to warn of carriages and buggies on the road ahead.

    Why do folks still do that? Why would anyone still wave at all?

    You could come up with a few clinical reasons why people wave at each other, I suppose. To get someoneís attention, to greet a friend and to signal intent jump to mind. Out here in the "real" world, waving is done for a reason -- we want something.

    Would folks wave to strangers out on 235 for nothing other than the pure sociability of it? I doubt it. For one thing, we are far too busy yapping on our cellphones, reading newspapers, putting on makeup, checking our email, yelling at the kids.

    I exaggerate. A little.

    Perhaps itís just that weíre too preoccupied with ourselves anymore. I certainly find it easier and less stressful to just sit in my car and worry about me. Waving is out for it entails actually looking around and forcing someone else (a total stranger!) to make ... gasp ... eye contact!

    Oh my, what if the person ignores me? Then I might look like a doofus (go ahead and say it) to the other drivers who arenít looking around either but might still notice me.

    Actually, if you did look around, theyíre all reading the paper.

    Seriously, whatís wrong with us anymore that we canít be friendly to strangers for no reason?

    A good reason, perhaps, is that taking your attention from Rt. 235ís traffic and turning it to another driver for the purpose of making a friendly gesture could get you killed. Perhaps itís for the best that drivers are paying attention to driving and leaving social hour to the club. Bumper to bumper driving at 65 MPH isnít exactly the place to be Dale Carnegie. Dale Ernhardt, maybe.

    I do see a few gestures being made out there. My daughter even enlightened me lately that folks giving me the single finger salute do NOT think Iím the number one driver out there. I was crushed.

    But leave the fast and the furious to their high-speed chase of the American dream, venture onto the backwaters of Southern Marylandís meandering macadam and all that narcissm, brought on by our instinctual self preservation, fades away. And well it should.

    Apart from dodging a sonic-cruising gravel truck here and there, the gentle pace, serenity and pastoral views offered by the average back road should melt all that stuff away. It does for me, anyway.

    It doesnít take too long to start breathing again and enjoying the view.

    Should another vehicle come along, it seems rude not to offer them a little wave. Thatís if you can get the drop on Ďem, of course. Some of these folks seem to have a permanent wave going and the best you can hope for is to return the gesture.

    It doesnít take much.

    Waving like slow-motion lovers in a cheesy movie is out. My favorite is the two-finger salute, sort of like a sloppy peace sign (can you imagine how goofy I must look, sitting here at the computer practicing my driving waves so I can describe them to you? Oi, the sacrifices we writers make...) half-rotated through an arc. Got it?

    Also cool is the semi-detached and aloof one-finger-lifted-from-the-steering-wheel wave. This one seems popular with older guys driving equally ancient pick-ups. Dump truck drivers just wave with the whole hand a lot. And flash their lights to warn you if thereís a buggy ahead of you.

    They donít do that on 235.

    So people wave? So what? Itís not a big thing, I guess. But it is a nice thing. And I suppose I find a measure of happiness in the notion that people still do nice things for no other reasons than to be nice. Random acts of senseless civility, I suppose.

    Amid the swirling incivility of this 21st century, replete with litigation, road rage, soccer dad fights and reality (or garbage) television, there still exist pockets of gentility. Itís nice to know.

    The beauty of it? You donít have to look for them. Theyíll find you.

    Be sure to wave back, though.


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