Dave Simpson: The Wonder Is That It Still Exists

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By Dave Simpson, columnist

It’s a little gesture that could be misunderstood in most parts of the country.

It could be mistaken for a gang sign in some neighborhoods of Chicago, not far from where I was born, and could get you shot. Or a sign that you’re a guy with some screws loose, a Dudley Do-Right.

Or it could mean you’re up to something.

And yet where I live, it is one of those encouraging traditions that has hung on, even while just about everything else around us has changed.

Out here where the buses don’t run, in the mountains, and out on the lonely prairie, the simple wave when meeting another vehicle on a remote gravel road is more than a friendly gesture. It’s kind of a social contract, a recognition that there’s probably no cell phone reception out here, we’re a long way from a mechanic if your timing belt breaks, and we won’t leave you out here if you’re in trouble.

Worst case, you might have to ride in the back of a pickup with the dog, but they’ll get you to town.

For all of my adult life, this little country gesture has existed, even as just about everything else has changed. I estimate that when out in the boondocks, about 90 percent of the drivers you meet on dirt roads give you the wave as you pass. It’s so pervasive that if you wave, and someone doesn’t wave back, you wonder, “What’s that guy’s problem?” He’d be no help if you were in some kind of trouble.

(Years ago, the auto repair guys Click and Clack said the magic words when you have a problem are, “I’m in trouble, and I need your help.” Only the worst people won’t help if you say those words. That even works in town, in many cases.)

Years ago, I was coming down out of the mountains on a rough dirt road in Carbon County, about five miles from Interstate 80, when I came upon a flat-bed 18-wheeler delivery truck from the Lowe’s home improvement store 100 miles away in Cheyenne, pulled off to the side of the road. On the other side of the road was an older couple, beside their car, which had a flat tire. The Lowe’s driver was changing their tire for them.

Couple weeks ago, we got a delivery from Lowe’s here in Cheyenne, and I told the driver about that incident out in the country, helping the couple with the flat tire.

“That was me,” he said with a smile. I told him how impressed I was, and that I’ve felt pretty good about shopping at Lowe’s ever since.

That’s what the wave is all about. That far out in the country, that driver probably had a difficult day ahead of him, with a huge truck, rough roads, and a remote destination. But he didn’t think twice about stopping to change a tire for that older couple.

The wave has its limits, though.

Years ago, I moved from Wyoming to Colorado (it was temporary), but still spent lots of time in the Wyoming mountains. I had to buy Colorado license plates, and noticed a distinct drop-off in the number of folks who greeted me with a friendly wave. I was suddenly “a Greenie” (Colorado plates are green), no doubt heading for a prime Wyoming fishing spot like the Miracle Mile, and not nearly as welcome as before. Later, when I had Illinois plates, then Nebraska plates, the reception wasn’t nearly as frosty.

There’s just something about Greenies, I guess.

Once when I was in college I bought an Austin Healey Bug-Eyed Sprite for $600. I noticed that people in other sports cars would give you the “peace” sign. But it was sort of a snooty, exclusive deal, like we were somehow better than the people driving Gremlins and Pintos.

The wave is much more than that. Clear evidence that when the chips are down, we’re better people than we often get credit for being. As Martha Stewart would say, “It’s a good thing.”

Forgive me for this Dudley Do-Right moment, but it’s one little thing to feel good about as just about everything else changes.

Dave Simpson can be contacted at davesimpson145@hotmail.com

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