Saturday, July 16, 2011

Rural Courtesy: The Four-way Stop and The Wave

When I moved here from the city, I brought my city driving with me – the impatience, the quickness to largely unwarranted anger, the belief that everyone else was a bad driver.  But city driving doesn't belong here.  Going at or over the speed limit is plain bad form (unless you're under 25), the solid yellow line is just a suggestion and driving on the wrong side of the road - forgivable.  But there’s another difference here.  Time slows at four-way stops.  There’s some kind of wrinkle that occurs when four stop signs are pounded into place next to two roads crossing each other.  The effort it takes to overcome the inertia of a car at rest becomes monumental.  Here’s how it plays out: you come to a four-way stop and maybe there’s one other car or two other cars to your right, left or across from you. Clearly they arrived at the intersection first and in fact, it looks as if they’ve been there for some time.  You wonder whether or not they are even looking at the road, wonder if they are aware that they’ve even left their driveway.  

That’s when time begins to shudder to a standstill.  Your fellow driver leans back in the seat, scooching down in to get a little more comfortable, hands resting patiently at 10-and-2 on the steering wheel, eyes staring off into the distance, into some memory about which you’ll never know; mentally writing a shopping list, a poem, a novel - or lost in a song playing on the radio.  Then they nod at you, real slow-like.  Raise their hand up through the molasses of their own lethargy and sweep it in front of them, giving you the go-ahead.  You find yourself a bit dazed and with great effort you press on a gas pedal gone spongy and haul yourself and the car through the intersection; as you look in the rearview you see your friend, a courteous stranger, still sitting, idling next to his stop sign.  

This move is closely related to the wave.  Drive down any road around here and pass another car and you are almost guaranteed to get some kind of acknowledgement.  It might be the full wave - hand completely off of the steering wheel, big and friendly and open as the sky above; or it might be the non-committal four-fingered wave, thumb still wrapped firmly around the wheel or finally, the passive one-fingered wave for those harboring some suspicions about you or maybe they’re just conserving as much energy as possible for sitting at the upcoming four-way stop.  Often this last wave is so hard to notice that you have no time to respond with your own wave and you end up gesturing to the empty road in front of you.  It leaves you feeling a little bit guilty, a little bit like an unfriendly neighbor.

After four years on these roads, my driving is toned down, countrified.  I still have moments of frustration with my fellow drivers, but it sure is nice to see some courtesy offered to a stranger, a wave between us as we pass, a nod at a four-way stop letting me know I can just go on ahead, there’s no hurry.

1 comment:

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