Anderson: More than a wave? Friendly gestures on the road are affirming.

Dennis Anderson, Star Tribune
·4 min read

The other day I was on a back road not necessarily going anywhere. I was in the truck, with two dogs in the back seat, shedding, and a newsman playing on the radio. The guy had little good to say. Trouble in Yemen, he intoned, also along the Texas border and everywhere, it seemed, in between.

I was about to punch up some music when another truck pulled onto the two-lane gravel from a driveway just ahead. I always notice vehicle makes and models and wonder as I do just what the driver in question was thinking when he or she peeled off a fistful of greenbacks and signed on the dotted line.

Anything Toyota made in a Land Cruiser circa 1960 to 1980 gets my attention, as do the new Corvettes and especially the '65 GTO, a model I owned a lot of years ago, 389 cubes and 390 horses, dual quads and a full racing cam.

Anyway, the guy pulling into the opposite lane had himself a newer model Ford, a half-ton job with big-but-not-monster tires and a slightly dented right-front quarter panel. Propping up the truck's chassis was a backbreaker lift kit he probably regretted except when he was with his similarly rigged buddies, assuming, given his age — mid-40s, I'd say — and its requisite family and financial obligations, he had time for buddies.

Now this fellow was fully angled onto the gravel and headed in my direction. He wore a ball cap, I could see, with the brim to the front as intended, from which I inferred he was doing his best to make a go of things, which probably included holding down a job.

I doubted he was a news guy, perhaps more of a Springsteen-on-the-satellite-radio type guy. Either way he could be forgiven if above all, he, like me, was spellbound by the morning sun, which angled low to the eastern horizon, and could be forgiven as well if he wondered, as I also often do, what lay in the gauzy distance, had another life path been chosen.

Which is when, a hundred feet or so from me and gaining speed, the guy raised a few fingers of his left hand, maybe three, perhaps four, displaying the digits above his truck's steering wheel, not so much in a wave because a wave is something altogether different, and more hurried, but signaling instead a gesture more akin to an acknowledgment, and an understated one at that.

But an acknowledgment of what?

My belief has long been that the meaning of this casual-but-nevertheless-intentional raising of the fingers or entire hand above a steering wheel is something along the lines of, "I'm going this way and you're going that way, maybe to work or maybe only to kill time. Either way, careening through space as we all are on this hot rock, your deal, whatever it is, is valid, as is mine, or as valid as they need to be."

Therefore, keep moving.

The same acknowledgment oftentimes occurs among motorcyclists and also bicyclists, and between riders of those conveyances and car- and pickup drivers. Also anglers motoring onto a lake similarly greet anglers headed for shore, as do canoeists paddling in opposite directions.

A little wave. A momentary clenching of a fist. Enough said.

Among motorists and their passengers, two-lane travel is of course required for this type of communication. Also, gravel or dirt is better than pavement, because it slows drivers down. Freeway travel by contrast is soul-suckingly lonely and ultimately incapable of incubating the goodwill the gesture requires.

It's also true, counterintuitively, that neither sidewalks nor any other type of public spaces lend themselves to the intimacy the fingers-above-the-steering-wheel signal suggests. Fare-thee-well is the message, and its sincerity travels well, through one windshield and another.

My newfound friend in the F-150 soon faded into the rear-view. Before he did, I raised a few fingers above my truck's steering wheel in response to his welcome gesture.

Then I reached back and petted the dogs.

And kept moving.

dennis.anderson@startribune.com