I’m a simple man with simple dreams. I don’t generally think the universe owes me much, and I have no demands to make. And because I think my wishes are small, there’s no need for them to not come true. I’m the kind of guy who’s happy to have just enough milk in the carton for his cappuccino, just enough sunshine to ride my bike into town (and then sit outside for a while), and a decent WiFi connection.
Oh, and the hand.
I do want to see the hand.
You know the hand, it’s the one you see in the car in front you when they’ve passed you on a highway, and the hand you see in your rearview mirror when you’ve passed another car on a highway. The hand that waves at you when you meet a car on a narrow dirt road in the bush, and you let the other car pass first.
This may be just my mind playing tricks on me, or a weird feeling of nostalgia, but when I was younger, I remember people talking about how in Sweden, the Volvos and the Saabs always yield to the shoulder of the highway, and let faster cars pass them safely on their own lane.
And then thank them by waving the hand, to which you could either give the hand, or just flash your lights for acknowledgement.
Not very hard to do. But I don’t see it as often as I used to, or would like to. Well, I’d like to see it every time another car passes me by.
“I’d better let the King pass me,” I’ll tell Wife.
The King is not a reference to any old king of the road but to a decade-old story about the King of Sweden driving fast through the country. I have no idea what really happened, how fast he was going, or how long his drive was, but I remember the headline: “The King’s mad journey through Sweden.”
And I’ll steer our Volvo to the side of the road, and watch as the other Volvo passes us. And all the while I’ll talk to myself, and a little bit to Wife.
“OK, let’s see it now, come on, come on … let’s see the hand,” I’ll say, while keeping my hawkeye on the other car’s back window.
If I see it, I wave back – casually, of course – and I smile and sit up a little straighter. And if I don’t, well, I shake my head and lose a little bit of my faith in humanity.
“It’s not that hard, you know, everybody can lift their hand and wave,” I’ll tell Wife, and these days she won’t say anything, so I keep on yapping about it. “Right? I mean, it’s just common courtesy, I get out of their way, they thank me, we’re all good. Am I right?”
“I like to see the hand,” Wife will say, and I’m a little happier again.
When I was in my teens, the bus I took to school had a red LED display right behind the driver, with ads and important information scrolling from right to left. I always wanted to get one of those onto my car so I could communicate with other drivers.
I was thinking of installing it on the back window of my light blue Beetle, with pre-programmed messages like:
Your scarf is stuck in your door, and
As I wrote that, I realized what a great idea it was, and is. It may be even better today that it was then simply because people do love gadgets, and using a gadget may be more exciting than, well, raising your hand. Maybe, if we had electronic communication devices (ECD) in our cars, the threshold to communicate with our fellow drivers and other people we meet in traffic would be lower.
On the other hand, nothing beats the hand.
Yesterday, I was riding my bike from the mall and just before the last turn toward our house, a big van was blocking the entire bike path. I saw it well before I got to it, so I slowed down, but eventually had to stop and wait for the driver to park the van.
He was doing what I call an “Austin Powers”; he was trying turn the van in a tight space, so he backed up 10 centimeters, went forward another ten, then backed up five, forward five. I stood there, leaning on my bike, and when I saw he had another half a meter between his van and the car next to it, I showed him that with my hands. When he backed up another 30 centimeters, I gave him the universal “it’s good, just turn the steering wheel all the way” sign by doing circles in the air with my index finger.
He did back up all the way, and parked his car. As I got on my bike, I saw him give me the hand.
I gave him the thumbs-up.