When we first began coming to the Eastern Shore we enjoyed traveling off the main road. Yes, I said road since there is only ONE main road here. We found a wonderful book called ‘Off 13” by Kirk Mariner (who we now know personally). Kirk gave a description and short history of all sorts of places that were still here and some that had disappeared. And as we traveled we noticed that folks would wave to us. This was especially true when we were on the small back roads. At first we were not sure about this. Were they so amazed that someone would drive a car down their road? Maybe they were hermits and hadn’t seen live folks in a while or could it be our ‘outta state’ plates? Being polite and in a strange land, we started waving back, sometimes nervously.
Where we were from folks did not wave unless it was to get your attention just before the confrontation began. There were seldom any friendly gestures between drivers, and pedestrians only waved to try to keep from getting run down, which seldom worked. Some were found still waving under the assaulting vehicle.
Now even we knew that there were certain specific waves that should never be exchanged since the meaning could easily be misinterpreted, which sometimes resulted fisticuffs, and even the discharge of a small lead object in your direction. A sideways wave, with an accompanying sneer, was used to tell a driver trying to enter into traffic that you would allow them to enter this one time ‘but don’t let it happen again’. The sideways index finger wave was for the idiot who was trying to change lanes INTO yours, and since his front bumper was just inches from yours and slightly ahead of you, they could slide over ‘BUT you were not happy’. This driver is usually the one that continuously changes lanes to get ‘ahead’ of everyone and is not happy at the slow pace since they do this at 70 or 80 mph, with NO wave. This is also the same driver that cut you off a mile back but gets to the light at the same time as you.
And of course there is the one finger wave made famous by New Jersey drivers. Sometimes used to communicating with lost out of state drivers and often used to convey their feelings towards each other and all pedestrians. This wave requires the making of a fist and then extending the middle finger to an erect state. In the Garden State this wave has many nuances. It could mean ‘you did something that disturbed me’ or ‘Thank you so much for cutting in’, ‘why did you stop for nothing’, ‘go ahead and take the parking space I was waiting for’, or even ‘have a nice day’. The proper reply wave is the same physical motion but with more gusto. Sometimes this form of communication continues for many moments with increased gusto and some bravado added, and at steadily increasing vehicle speeds. On rare occasions, usually 1 out of 5, it ends with one of the communicants sending the other a sizable piece of lead at high velocity. During these communications, neither driver smiles. Grins, grimaces, sneers, or scowls are allowed, but never smiles.
So having other drivers and pedestrians wave, using their whole hand and all of their fingers, and even smile sometimes was quite amazing to us. Eventually we learned this is just an ‘Eastern Shore Thing’ and is meant as a friendly gesture. We also learned that driving slow, stopping to have a conversation in the middle of the road, parking on the front lawn were completely acceptable. Lines in parking lots, we learned, were merely suggestions of where to park, and as long as you were in a hurry, and quick about it, it was OK to use the handicap space or the fire zone. And of course you waved as you left.