One of the things I like about living in the south-central Missouri Ozarks is the driving conditions.
I much prefer cruising along on one of the two-lane highways in this region to entering into the all-out battles that take place on the overcrowded freeways and surface streets in urban areas. Being surrounded by fields or forest and not passing more than a handful of other vehicles when going from place to place sure beats the city alternative.
Even traveling on “the four lane” is peaceful by comparison and doesn’t require becoming a daredevil while you’re on it.
But one of the other things I enjoy about driving in these parts is the way some of the drivers in the few vehicles you do pass sometimes kindly acknowledge you. And not only do I mean I appreciate them actually bothering to acknowledge the existence of a passing person, I literally mean I like way they do it.
These acknowledgements come in several forms, none of which I would call a “wave.” They’re less defined gestures than that.
They’re really just minor – but strategic and definitely noticeable – movements of the hand, fingers or finger. You could call them “low-impact” salutes.
Although driver acknowledgement is not exclusively a man thing, women don’t seem to do it as often (that’s not some kind of sexist remark, just a realistic observation). But gender issues notwithstanding, I believe the differing varieties of salutations represent the personal style of the man behind the wheel.
• “The Palm.”
This one requires that the entire hand be completely or at least mostly removed from the steering wheel. One way it’s sometimes executed is by sliding the wrist up the wheel such that the palm is fully visible to the passer-by. This technique allows the user to deliver a significant display while still maintaining contact with the steering wheel surface.
It can also be executed through brief removal of hand from wheel using a concise up and down motion accompanied by a fanning of the fingers.
I believe a Palm man is confident and willing to share with others. He’s not afraid to show some openness and isn’t concerned with what others think of him.
• “The Multi-Finger.”
A technique similar to The Palm, but with slightly less display, as only two or three fingers are involved.
The man utilizing this salute is somewhat more reserved, but still confident, willing and open.
• “The Point.”
Again usually incorporating two or three fingers, the hand is lifted slightly from the steering wheel and motioned toward the oncoming driver, while at least some attempt at eye contact is also made.
This technique denotes simultaneous senses of respect and humor.
Like, “you’re the man, man.”
• “The Single.”
Definitely my favorite to be on the receiving end of, and one that requires a bit of practice to be correctly executed.
All that is required is the up and down movement of an index finger, but timing is crucial; it must be done at precisely the right moment to achieve its desired impact.
This is a great technique for users who are tired, preoccupied, or just cool.
If Clint Eastwood’s “The Man with No Name” character ever drove by, this is probably the salute he would deliver – if any.
It’s ultra-efficient, but effective – compact but defined.
It’s a classic example of an Ozarks man in action. No need for show, just get the job done.
• “The Double.”
Add a simple, singular nod of the head to any of the above.
It’s a sign that a man’s general attitude is that of gratitude. Whether it’s his permanent state of being or otherwise, he is at that moment thankful and pays it forward to his cohort in the opposite lane.
Seeing any form of salute, a visiting city dweller might think he was being mistaken for someone else – someone the deliverer knows. He’s likely much more familiar with being honked at by other drivers and seeing more hostile forms of gestures.
But Ozarkers don’t reserve their friendly driving gestures for acquaintances; it’s all about overall hospitality.
On the way to work this morning, a guy gave me The Palm as I fired off a Multi-Finger.
A little closer to town I exchanged Singles with a fellow driver.
Not to say that made my whole day, but it surely put me on my way.
Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Email: email@example.com.