In small towns, simple gesture speaks volumes

Over spring break, I returned to Delaware County, where my hamlet has one traffic light and the closest town has two or three. Taking advantage of beautiful weather and a suddenly very-open schedule, I decided to take a walk down my gravel road. It was nearly 60 degrees outside, so it would have been a shame to let the weather go to waste. On my walk past many farms and, if it were the summer, millions of cows, I saw a truck driving from the opposite direction. Cars on this road are few and far between, so he grabbed my attention the minute I first heard an engine roaring around the bend. As he drove by, he gave me a three-finger wave; his other two fingers still planted on the steering wheel. This man was not a friend of mine or even someone I knew, just a man driving by, yet it still garners a wave. I immediately flash the same wave; my thumb, index and middle finger fully extended, while my ring and pinky finger are bent slightly down.

It is not a conscious reaction, but rather something instilled in my blood. It is something we refer to as the Delaware County wave, a greeting one makes to those driving by, or pedestrians walking down the road. While the wave is certainly popular in town, the sheer amount of hand lifting often limits it to only people you know. However, when you leave town, since there are fewer people, there are no regulations on who you wave at. When one is driving down a narrow road and in order for both cars to pass, both cars must drive on the shoulder, a wave is in order. By me, you must always be aware of the other drivers and the moment you make eye contact, a wave is required.

However, the wave is too often taken to extreme levels. Many traffic jams have been started due to a person stopping in the middle of the road to talk to a friend who just so happened to be walking by, catching up on news, talking about family, wondering why traffic is so bad today and so on. Even worse is when two cars on either side of the road stop to have a leisurely conversation. This version blocks up both lanes of traffic, wrecking havoc for those behind them.

Occasionally, I catch myself using this hometown wave in other places. While crossing a street in New York City, I flash the three-finger wave at a speeding cabbie, hoping that what works at home will work in one of the biggest cities in the world. Fortunately, the cab driver did not stop to have a conversation, or else the traffic backup would have spanned miles.

While I do not support such traffic-stopping habits, I am strongly in favor of the Delaware County wave. Though it is fleeting, it lingers. Often done from behind the steering wheel, the gesture is reassuring, both because it is friendly and because it confirms that the driver does know that you are there while he drives his two-ton truck only a few feet away from you.

Being away from home for so long, I had almost forgotten the power of the wave. Here in Oswego, I see little of what I recognize as the Delaware County wave. Sometimes I think it is only a small-town thing, but there have been many times when I passed someone on a side street in Oswego not so different than the streets I drive back home. When walking down a dark side street late at night in the cold of winter, a simple wave is nice to see. It is non-committal and safe to do to anyone; there are no age restrictions on a simple act of kindness. Actually, it would be socially unacceptable to not wave at a driver passing by.

So for all us in Oswego, let’s be nice to our fellow drivers and pedestrians. While waving at everybody you see on Bridge Street may be a bit excessive, a simple greeting to a man or woman walking by on a side street is an easy way to be polite. Granted, Oswego is much bigger than my hometown, but I don’t think the small-town friendliness ought to be restricted to towns with more cows than people, like my own. If you see someone walking by and he or she sees you, flash them a simple wave. The road can be a lonely place out there after all.