I come from a family of wavers. We wave at each other (brothers, aunts, sisters in law), acquaintances (neighbors, businessfolk, fishermen), and strangers (you know who you are). I also come from a town of wavers. Pittsfield, though geographically located in Massachusetts, shares more personality traits with Fort Wayne than it does with Boston. Waving, then, is not only in my blood, it’s in my brain as well.
But I no longer live in Pittsfield. I live here, where I write, on Chappaquiddick. And though Chappy is rich in many things (tradition, ticks, Lincoln Navigators), it is relatively poor in the waving of hands. Thus my inner-Pittsfield must reconcile itself to the unrequited wave, or grow bitterly hardened like unwrapped cheese in the fridge. Reconciling yourself with reality is not however the same as giving up, so I’ve continued to smile and flop my raised hand to neighbors and strangers alike. Not unlike the retriever with an old tennis ball, I hold out hope that maybe the next person will be the one to take me up on my humble offering. After all, there is very little in the way of commitment in extending a wave. A wave does not mean “I love you.” A wave does not behold the giver or receiver to a contract of reciprocal fidelity. A wave is actually only a brief recognition of each other’s existence in that particular place and time in the universe.
Yet maybe that is the problem. Maybe people would prefer not to cede ownership of their small territory. A wave invades their world, forcing them to acknowledge those beyond and within their borders. And if their borders happen to be the steel exterior of their sport utility vehicle, then the possibility of infringing on their privacy leaps to a certainty. Chappy’s narrow dirt roads dictate that people may, from time to time, need to pull their vehicle to the side to allow the safe passage of opposing traffic. To me, this is a situation where waving is less of an option than an imperative. “Hello,” a wave says. “Thank you for allowing me to travel safely and relatively scratch free in my vehicle on this charming country road.” Conversely, the non-waving 50-yard stare says, “I wish that you were not in the space that I occupy, and in so wishing I choose to ignore you and your awful, just awful, 1987 Izuzu Trooper.”
Pedestrians are only slightly better, and bikers are worse. I jog frequently, and am fairly serious in my pursuit of cardiovascular health. But I am not so engaged in my effort as to be unable to extend my hand to a passing walker/jogger or biker. Not so for my couterparts on the road. By the time I have approached a 10-yard radius of their aura, they have suddenly become intent on some point on the horizon. You needn’t return a wave if you never see the wave in the first place, seems to be the prevailing sentiment here. And to be clear, I am not a 300-pound former lineman, fresh from my latest steroid injection barreling down the road in Under Armor, but a rather unimposing pigeon-toed 150-pound former two-miler out for a breath of fresh air. So no need to worry; I will barely ripple the wind with my passing wave. I guess I’d accept only a nod from bikers though — both hands on the wheel as it were.
Of course not everyone on Chappy is cut from the crotchety cloth. There are plenty of friendly natives and tourists who are more than happy to return or offer a wave (some will even stop their cars on the center line and get out to talk, allowing traffic to flow around them like brook water past a boulder). We all know who we are though, so I trust that those of pure heart will not feel incriminated by my complaint. The rest of you however, the non-waving crowd, should consider the laws of karma, lest you find yourselves stuck in an elevator in Minneapolis with the 2007 Mime Touring Company of Up With People.
Brad Woodger lives on Chappaquiddick and contributes regularly to the Gazette.