Thursday, July 1, 2010

The wave

I had a former partner who would, on our various car trips years ago, joke about writing a book some day called "Smells of the Road." There are some pretty distinctive aromas out there on the roadside. Wild onions, paper mills, manure, rotting carrion. I could perhaps write the Introduction to that book. Today, however, I was playing around with something a little different. I'm thinking "The Wave" -- a brief journal article examining the different in-automobile greeting patterns in various parts of the country. A intra-cultural anthropological study, if you will.

Yes, I've made my way almost entirely around the country now and I am convinced that each region has a distinct driver greeting pattern. You may think this a bit far-fetched or informal of a study. Maybe so. But the way drivers acknowledge others on the road can tell you a lot about the culture of the area.

I know you must be on pins and needles by now, wondering how your part of the country might be analyzed so incisively by so seemingly small a gesture. Well, here's a little preview....

The New England head nod: keeping both hands on the wheel to maintain control of the vehicle at all times indicative of the entrenched fear of poor road conditions (snow, freezing rain, potholes). Also, hesitancy to raise hand suggests lingering suspicion of strangers.

The Midwestern left arm leaning out the window open hand wave: shows confidence that s/he can maneuver a giant pickup truck with one hand (and if not can plow into nearby cornfield). General sense of confidence and openness to newcomers.

The West Coast upright, fully open hand out the window: suggests motorists are used to cyclists on the road and, aside from logging trucks along Highway 1, are considerate and happy to see others engaged in outdoorsy activity. Oddly, these same subjects are often friendlier as drivers than pedestrians in social situations. (Variation: my first "thumbs up" out the window as a car passed me occurred along the Mendocino coastline. Clear influence of surf culture.)

The Southwestern/Texan four-finger lift from the wheel: persistent steering wheel contact points to a desire to keep from running gigantic trucks into a cactus or runaway herd of cattle (while wondering why on earth that crazy person is on a bicycle on these roads). Friendlier out of their trucks.

The Southern one-finger wave: a slow-motion gesture that starts often as I am nearly passing and is present from Louisiana all the way through the Carolinas (with the notable exception of Alabama where the truckers are more concerned with running bicyclists off the road). Slower, relaxed pace of life, excepting rush hour.

The Virginia "rock on": I got my first one this afternoon mere moments after crossing the border from Tennessee. Virginia, I've missed you!

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry


  1. One state away! Are you going to do any of skyline drive or other mountain routes? Beautiful but grueling, I bet. See you soon!

  2. Hey Ibti, nice blog. Enjoyed chatting with you in Damascus (We walked up to Sundog looking for info about hostels in Abingdon.) Did you find what you were looking for? Thanks again for beautifying my day :)

    Jim B.

  3. Would you believe my dad is obsessed with this very topic? (Okay, not so hard to believe, knowing my dad...) Whenever in Minnesota he loves to tell visitors about the one-fingered "Avon wave" as he calls it, and then proudly lifts a finger as the next car passes. I think he made it up, but whatever makes an old man happy, right? ;)


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