After so many years of life in the big city, I woke up one day to find myself living in a small rural community on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Since my formative years were spent in large cosmopolitan areas, I frequently thought of the country as being just a short drive away.
To my surprise and pleasure, I’ve discovered that the extraordinary difference between these two unique existences is more than just a short drive from one point to another. Since public transportation on the shore is virtually unknown, my car remains my singular mode of transportation and with each trip I am introduced to the widespread differences that exist between the lifestyles.
As I attempt to categorize the cultural differences between city and country living, I find myself enthusiastically embracing rural life. For example, I no longer find it necessary to drive seventy miles per hour. Fifty is fine…forty is even better.
To speed through lovely rural America is to miss a great deal. The Eastern Shore’s vast agricultural fields are frequently taken for granted. The cultural wealth of extended families with their generational histories brings a deep appreciation of our American past that is all too often left behind in the education process, or lost in the political correctness of the moment.
But there are smaller, more poignant differences that have piqued my curiosity. In particular, there’s an event that occurs daily in the country that I don’t recall ever witnessing in the city. It’s called “the wave.”
First, it should be understood that this phenomenon belongs only to men. More specifically, it belongs to men in trucks; pickup trucks, vans, delivery trucks, or eighteen-wheelers – it doesn’t matter, as long as it’s a truck! Men young and old have mastered the art of the wave. Women may receive the wave, but they don’t give it.
It’s a simple act of highway recognition. Here’s how it happens: I’ll be driving down a two-lane highway with little or no traffic around me. It’s a beautiful, clear day, and I’m in no particular hurry to get to my destination. I see a truck approaching in the distance. We’re both traveling at a sane speed, obeying the laws of the land.
As the truck draws near, I glance out my window at the driver. We make eye contract, and then it happens. Gently, he raises the index finger on his hand – either hand, it doesn’t matter. Depending on his personal style, he might raise two or even three fingers, or perhaps the entire hand.
At no point does he risk losing control of his vehicle, only acknowledging the importance of recognition on a country road. If he’s really skilled in giving the wave, he’ll offer a nod or a smile. After all, we have made eye contact – a truly personal connection between strangers. It happens so fast I have no time to respond. I am caught like a deer in the headlights. Before I can react, he has moved on. I have not responded and I realize that he had no expectations that I would do so. I even suspect it would have been close to heresy for me to acknowledge his kindness. Yet there is a slight emptiness on my part, as though I did not hold up my end of the bargain.
As I continue on my way, I am warmed by the friendly gesture that is already repeating itself somewhere down the road. For one fleeting moment I actually consider buying a pickup truck and practicing ‘the wave ‘ – but then I realize that would be a mistake.
After all, the wave belongs to men!