I Wave at StrangersPosted: December 11, 2012
I drove towards our home along the main street of our new-to-us, rural town. It was the street where all of the local businesses–churches, flea markets, and bars–centered themselves; the street with all the action. It was quaint, I thought. It was rustic and authentic compared to the big city suburbs that we had always called home. I had always imagined living in a small country town like this, raising our family on God and gravel roads and home-grown produce.
As I turned the car away from the main road towards our new home, we passed another car. My husband picked up his hand in a “hi-how-ya-doin?” sort of way. The stranger in the car did the same.
“Who was that?” I asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Does he know you?”
“I don’t think so.”
I processed the non-information and then asked, “Well then why did you wave to him?”
“It’s what people do out here.”
“Oh. That’s weird.”
“It’s not weird. It’s just how people are in the country. They’re friendly.”
“It’s still weird.”
“And you always wave to the cops,” he said.
“Because everyone does.”
“What, are they going to pull me over if I don’t?”
“I don’t know. Maybe.”
The only time I had ever waved at someone I didn’t know–except for those awkward moments when I waved to someone thinking I knew them, when embarrassingly it turned out that, no, I did not–was when I accidentally cut them off. I would be driving and singing away with the radio, until I realized at the last moment that I needed to be in the other lane. And then I would do the obligatory “Whoops! Didn’t see you there!” half-wave that probably just pissed off the other driver as I slipped our car in front of theirs. There was certainly no time in the mad dash on highway 70 between home and work to gawk around and wave to people that I would likely never meet. And given said bad habit of cutting people off, calling the cops to my attention just seemed like asking for trouble.
As it turns out, my husband was right. People who live in the country will wave to you, for seemingly no reason at all and whether they know you or not. Especially the old guys in trucks. Especially the folks who drive by and spot you reading a book in the peace and quiet of your front porch. It felt like such a heavy, uncomfortable effort to lift my hand and wave in return. But I did.
I’m not sure when it happened, but at some point, I started initiating the wave. Lifting my hand a few inches off the steering wheel and aiming an open palm at a stranger passing by just felt like the natural thing to do. Sometimes the other person waves back. Sometimes they don’t. And if they don’t, I always hope that eventually the local hospitality rubs off on them too.
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