by bj max

In the days of Billy the Kid and Jesse James, waving at folks had a different meaning than it does today and if you didn’t return a friendly wave there could be deadly consequences. Back then people had a tendency to shoot first and ask questions later and waving wasn’t just a simple greeting. Waving was a way to let strangers know that you’re gun hand was empty and that you bore them no ill will. But that’s all changed now and it’s a good thing too or our highways would be littered with the bodies of snooty motorcyclist, shot dead for refusing to return a friendly wave.

You can say a lot with a simple wave of the hand. You can say hello or, by using the very same signal, you can say goodbye. The former is usually cheerful and happy unless, of course, you’re greeting pesky in-laws that drop in unannounced. The latter is usually sad except, of course, when you’re saying goodbye to those in-laws who are finally going home.

The movies make good use of the wave and have manipulated audience emotions with this simple gesture for years. Remember Bogie, standing in the fog puffing on that ubiquitous cigarette, waving bye-bye to Ingrid Bergman as she boards that DC-3 in “Casablanca’? And who could ever forget Shane waving so long to the little farm boy as he rides off into the sunset to die with dignity. And in the Warner Brothers film, “The Spirit of St. Louis” a motorcyclist stops and waves his hat at Linberg as he fly’s off into history. I think it’s remarkable that a simple wave of the hand can send our emotions spinning off in so many directions.

When I was a boy, family dinners at our house would be turned upside down by an over flying airplane. At the sound of approaching engines my Dad, along with my brothers and I, would pause with our spoons wavering somewhere between our mouth and the dinner plate. Cocking an ear toward the ceiling we locked eyes momentarily as a mental signal flashed between us. Then, following Dad’s lead, we jumped from the table, and with the commotion of scraping chairs and galloping feet echoing behind us, we scrambled out into the back yard and waved like idiots at the silver speck streaking overhead at ten thousand feet. My poor Mama, deserted at the table, stared blankly out the window wondering what the future could possibly hold, if anything, for her half-witted household.

Waving comes natural for my wife and I. We were born and raised in rural Tennessee, the wave capital of the world, where everybody waves at anything that moves. Neighbors, strangers, hitchhikers, police officers. Makes no difference, everybody waves at everybody. As you drive along country roads, farmers plowing their fields will take time to wave from the seat of their tractor. Flagmen wave at every last vehicle that passes through a road construction site. Postmen smile and wave as they deliver your mail. State troopers will give you a friendly wave, make a U-turn, pull you over, give you a friendly ticket, then wave again as they race off in search of another victim. A Yankee friend of mine who migrated south once commented that on his first day in West Tennessee he almost fractured his wrist waving back at all the buffoons he met on the road, grinning and flapping their hands at him like lunatics on a field trip. Having just left the less friendly environs of Chicago made him wary of these amicable strangers and shortly after moving here he started totin’ a pistol, just in case.

The world of motorcycling is and has been for a number of years embroiled in a “Wave” controversy with political implications that threaten to split this country apart. Some claim that since the end of the cold war, the Russians are becoming more open and friendly every day and that there could possibly be a “wave gap” developing. Politicians, who have always been big on waving, are in an uproar demanding that something be done before our national claim on hospitality, especially in the case of motorcyclist, is compromised. Congress, in cooperation with the AMA, is supposedly looking into the matter.

Meanwhile, here in America, the form of wave an individual motorcyclist chooses seems to be directly linked to the type motorcycle he rides. Touring riders are the most enthusiastic. They wave like crazy, sometimes with both arms high in the air. The “Look Ma, no hands” wave. In comparison, the sport bike crowd barley lift a finger off the bars as they concentrate on just staying alive aboard those two wheeled Indy Cars. Cruiser riders are the least likely to return your wave. Now if they are riding alone they will. But if they’re riding with a gang of their peers they frown and stare straight ahead, not wanting to divulge to their compadres that in reality, they are simply adorable and loveable people. Their bad boy image is everything and to them waving does more damage to that image than being caught on their knees at a Billy Graham Crusade.

I don’t wave. I salute. I got the idea from fighter pilots as they give a crisp, sharp and way cool salute to the deck officer just before being blasted into the sky from an aircraft carrier. Some people might not feel comfortable saluting but I’m an old soldier and it comes quite natural for me. Now my wife, she waves. After raising three boys and a husband, she uses a circular, scrubbing motion that comes quite natural for her.

Big rallies. Now there’s a function that can be a pain in the neck for motorcyclist. Their were an estimated 500,000 bikes at Daytona this year. Five hundred thousand. That’s a half million motorcycles in a town with a population of sixty thousand. Lets just say half of ’em are riding two up. That’s potentially 700,000 waving motorcyclist and every last one of ’em expects you to wave back. But as much as you would like to, it’s just not practical. Continuous waving would eventually force you back to your hotel to ice down your swollen wrists, causing you to miss the cole slaw wrestling matches and ruining your whole Bike Week experience.

Personally I think this whole wave thing has been blown way out of proportion. For example, when I’m driving my pickup truck I don’t get my drawers all wadded up just ’cause some guy in another pickup doesn’t return my wave. I don’t give a hoot whether he waves at me or not. So why should I get upset if another motorcyclist way across the median doesn’t wave back at me on my motorcycle? After all, I don’t even know the guy. He’s a total stranger and I have no idea what kinda’ day he’s had or what kinda’ strain he’s under. He might be on a long trip with his mind on a relaxing shower and a nice dinner or he might be an escaped convict on a hot bike with his mind on his pursuers. There are any number of reasons why some people refuse to wave. So try and maintain an even strain good people, keep your pistol holstered and concentrate on all those friendly folks who did wave. Chances are, there’s a lot more of them than the ones who didn’t.

Y’all thank’ about it.


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