Friday, June 15, 2012

The Wave

I can remember vividly the interior of my uncles tow truck.  The dingy saddle blanket seat cover embedded with dirt and cigaret smoke.  The quarter inch of dust and smoke layered on the dash, CB and miscellaneous paperwork that wouldn't get touched for months.  I can still remember getting woken up at 5am by my uncles low cool voice and slow demeanor.  A mixing bowl of Frosted Flakes in my lap as I tried desperately to keep up with him at breakfast.

The cab of the truck afforded a great view of the north-east tip of the Olympic Peninsula.  Most of it was viewed with my head out the window gasping for air as my uncle filled the cab with cigarette smoke regularly.

"You smoke yet?" he'd ask every summer when I came to visit.  It was almost ritual.
"Nope," I'd reply.
"Good, don't start, it's a nasty habit." Of course his way with words is hard to recreate in type.  The low voice and almost kung-fu like pace of speaking somehow put extra weight on things.  The irony of him telling me not to smoke as he habitually tapped the pack of cigarettes on the steering wheel and lit another wasn't lost on me, even in my teens.  He should have died of emphysema, not 25 bullets.

Conversations with my uncle were usually short, sweet and to the point.  Much of them fundamental in driving or a great life lesson.  It's amazing how much you learn from a person who doesn't say much.  The company he kept always intrigued me with its wide variety of characters from all walks of life.  He was a man's man but the way he looked out for those around him showed deep compassion.  He seemed to always have an eye out for the future, how his actions now might best affect the world around him later.

My head's out the window, it's mid-afternoon and we're passing Jefferson County International Airport.  As a 15 year old kid I'm watching everything, soaking it all in.  I notice my uncles hand raise up off the steering wheel in an almost obligatory wave.  The truck going the other direction returns the sign.

"He must know that guy," I thought to myself.  A few more cars pass and another pickup truck passes, the hand goes up but this time...no response.

Odd, he's only waving at specific people but not all of them return the wave.  I keep silent and start to monitor this pattern, wondering if I can build the courage to ask about it.  I start to figure it out.  He waves when it's a truck but not at cars or vans.  But then, just as I think I've got it, a couple Harley Davidsons pass and he waves.  Amazingly enough, they return the sign.

Now I've gotta know.  What's with this wave thing.  I finally muster up the courage to ask late in the afternoon.

"Why do you wave at oncoming trucks?"
"I want them to notice the tow truck so I wave," he replies.
"But you only wave at certain vehicles?"
"Most of our customers are local and drive pick-up trucks, plus now that we can tow motorcycles, I wave at bikes too."

How often do you see people waving from the drivers seat?  The friendly gesture intrigued me but disappeared from my memory as life barreled forward.  It was a genius way to drum up a report with the locals and caught potential customers off guard when they received a friendly gesture.

Half a lifetime later I found myself waving just like my uncle used to, but for different reasons.  Now I own a Jeep Rubicon and a Scooter.  Both vehicles build a population of drivers who wave at one another when you pass. It's not about building a customer base but encouraging a community.  The obligatory wave is a recognition of another human in a similar situation.  You might not know them, you might never actually see them again but the wave does something to the soul.  It's hard to be emotional distressed when your riding around with the top off and another Jeeper waves at you.  It's a gentle reminder how good life is and that there are people out there always willing to wave back.

I don't think I got into riding motorcycles or jeeps just to wave at other people but the ever constant reminder of my uncle every time I gesture at a passing rig is a welcomed God-wink.  I'd like to believe that action is paying it forward just a little bit.  Heaven forbid we reach-out to others, even when it's just a simple wave.

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