You know you’ve reached the country when oncoming vehicles go by and a complete stranger behind the wheel greets you with a wave as the two windshields pass. The wave, of course, is the simple hand gesture usually meant to convey “Hey buddy,” “How ya doing?” or “Howdy.”
My first experience with the driving wave came about by necessity, not due to country life. I was living in Houston at the time and driving a 1963 Chevy II four-door. My car had a faulty horn that would honk at indiscriminate times which presented somewhat of a problem. People thought I was honking out of anger or impatience. My solution was, every time the horn would honk, I’d wave. I’d wave at passing cars, pedestrians on the street, dogs, buildings, whatever presented itself at the time. It looked to everyone like I honked on purpose and not out of anger. And most times, people waved back!
I have noticed the further out you get from the city and towards a smaller town, the more likely you are to encounter the “country wave.” For my horn-honking ways, that fits perfectly.
The country wave manifests itself in several different ways. I’m fond of using a one-handed stationary right hand up, about ear height with palm facing forward as if you are high fiving the other car. I like this method because there is no mistaking it. It is a wave through and through. Plus, it will last the entire duration of the pass which, I believe is more apt to catch the attention of the other driver. You know, it’s really about acknowledging that other person!
But there are other popular methods out there that I’ve witnessed. There is, for instance, the half-a-hand lift just slightly off the steering wheel. This small effort seems to be a bit non-committal as if to say “hello” but without taking much risk in case the wave is not returned.
Then there is the windshield wiper wave. This one single, brief and shorthand movement usually occurs from left to right. It mimics the way a wiper blade moves. This is my second favorite country wave due to its resemblance to the “wax on” motion from The Karate Kid.
This is not to say there aren’t similar hand gestures in other parts of the country. There surely are. But in my experience, they mean something different than “howdy.”
Take New York City, for instance. If someone is holding up one hand while driving, that is usually a sign that they are in the midst of a carjacking. Still, it is polite to wave back. Then you should immediately call 9-1-1.
In Los Angeles, a one-handed gesture is likely a signal that the driver is experiencing a bit of road rage and would like for you to pull over to the side of the road to discuss things further. Incidentally, there is no duty to respond with a wave of your own. A nod will work. If it turns out he was indeed just waving hello, then the polite thing would be to offer to buy him a latte.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, take your pick with your own favorite version of the country wave. There is nothing to brighten your day like that return wave. Don’t leave me hanging.
Johnny McNally is Grimes County’s Best Dressed Businessman advocating for Grimes County and writes a bi-weekly column for the Navasota Examiner.