Tuesday, May 15, 2012
The first use I observed, and my first attempts at waving at oncoming cars while driving, was in Texas. There are some LONG stretches of road, particularly in the western counties, that make you rejoice when you spot a car coming your way. You want to make something of the event. I suppose you want to tell your sojourner that all’s well up the road from which you came, and you expect the same reciprocal report. It becomes a sense that no matter what car you drive, or what state’s plates you sport, you feel at home in the desert and like being where you are. So, as momentous as the approaching auto is, you have to relax into a comfort zone of banality. It was a man driving the dually pickup truck opposite. He lifted a finger without taking his eyes off the road, as if a slight diversion might land him off the road in axle high sand, or allow a collision with a pronghorn to mark his radiator (and him!) for death, or cause him to misplace the road completely, even in broad daylight, becoming part of the wavy mirage he was at pains to drive through. I lifted my hand off the wheel in response. There was nothing further. That was it. I replaced my hand, feeling sort of silly at having placed so much value on this brief interlude from the desert heat and glare. With the next car I encountered, a desert-tested Chrysler, heavy on the A/C, light on the body work and paint, I was cooler, not with temperature, but with my attitude toward my environment. I was becoming more of a part of it; I was a character in this long flat drama. I hoisted just one finger, and got the same in return — a most satisfying transaction. I began to recognize new characters holding the stage with me: highway speed signs, “Last Chance for Gas” diner ads, yuccas and chollas, Caracara and buzzards, lizards and jackalopes — I saluted them all! Then a woman approached in an older Cadilac. I lifted my finger from the steering wheel — “Howdy, Ma’am”, expecting the same glibness back at me — “So long, Podner.” But instead, I got a cold steely ignoring stare, straight ahead, like in church when you’re afraid to be caught not listening to the sermon. Maybe women are different in Texas. Maybe their code of ethics forbids the acceptance of traveler equality, or perhaps they fear the accusing “Harlot of the Highway” moniker from some prairie dog that might document the tryst to the Sunday congregation, as if Interstate 10 was the only way Texas women could meet sex partners, and lifting a finger was tantamount to lifting the sheets at the Lone Star Motel I passed 50 miles back. Maybe I am NOT at home in the desert, and my mistranslation of asphalt etiquette could get me shot by a crazed husband!