Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Traffic Wave - Country Style

Full Hand - Off Steering Wheel
In the city and surrounding suburban areas they have what is known as the "traffic wave". It's a little gesture that means "your turn" or "go ahead". It's like the person who came to the stop sign before you is performing "noblesse oblige" to allow you to move forward before they do. I think the traffic wave evolved because people began to not know what to do when they came to junctures in the road. The understanding that the person on the right side had the right of way got lost and reasonable people didn't know what to do. I say reasonable because there are a lot of unreasonable people out there who do whatever they can get away with and they don't care even if they know the correct procedure. They're the ones who are driving zombie -like and droning "Must get ahead. Must go fast." 

Out here in the country we have a different "traffic wave". It's not a matter of noblesse oblige. It's a matter of friendliness or acknowledgement. You see it when two trucks or pick-ups approach each other as they speed down the road toward each other. At a precise moment not adequately described but somewhat intuitive each driver raises their fingers from the steering wheel and acknowledges the other driver. As in "Hey buddy nice day howya doin'". Pick up drivers, truck drivers, especially drivers hauling stock trailers are seen to do this. 

It's not just an outback California thing. I come from Iowa which is a rural area as everyone knows. We did this traffic wave out there and when I came to suburban Kensington I did this wave. Especially when I was meeting a person coming down a narrow road and they would give way for me. But after a while I quit. No one would ever wave back.  It's most definitely a country thing. I thought "man these people sure are unfriendly". But it wasn't that. It just wasn't the custom.
But out here it's the custom. Now if I am deep in thought and forget to wave I feel bad. I don't want them to think I'm snooty or that I don't like them. Well, I usually don't even know them so it's not a matter of like. It's just a matter of doing what's friendly and customary. And I'm new. I've only been here 3 years. Most of the other people driving have been here for years or maybe even grew up here so they do know the other driver. 

The other thing I notice is that it's definitely a truck thing. Waving to a passenger car is optional. As a matter of fact it's rare that a pick-up driver waves at a passenger car or vice versa. I think it's matter of understanding that truck or pick-up drivers are most assuredly in The Club. It's the rancher or farmer club. It's a special existence that people in passenger cars might not necessarily understand.

Drivers in The Club will sometimes discuss the different personalities as evidenced by how the other person waves. You have the whole hand wave lifted off the steering wheel. (very friendly. You know them.) You have the four fingers lifted up still grasping the wheel. (a little less friendly or you're balancing a cuppa coffee in the other hand and you can't let go.) You have the two fingers and the one lone finger. (Decreasing levels of friendly engagement or higher levels of distraction).  And on the one lone finger I don't mean the middle finger. This is G rated blog after all. And besides only city people (commuters especially) do that. (sorry, but it's the truth).

Marty demonstrates the various waves. (Editor's Note: In the interest of safety we did not perform this demo while driving. It would not have been beneficial to this writer to be standing in front of a speeding F250 in order to capture a wave in real time. We artificially set this up in the driveway. It still accurately depicts "The Wave".)

Full Hand - Resting on Steering Wheel
Four Fingers - Resting on Steering Wheel
One (polite) Finger - Resting on Steering Wheel


  1. Well, as I'm from the country, I do the full hand most of the time, or the two finger, to the folks going to and fro in our neighborhood. I don't think it is limited to city, suburbs, or country. I live in a mid-sized town and all my neighbors do it. Definitely do it though, in the country. Most all do it back. The one finger wave is not just for polite strangers either. We alternate, depending on the mood.

  2. I think this country wave is found rurally nationwide. I haven't been everywhere but I'd bet it is. I really like it.