Not Evangelism

Monday, May 12, 2014

Nodding (and Waving) at Strangers

There's a pleasant camaraderie in cycling; in the nod or the wave to a like minded stranger, heading in a different direction.

Some friends have a VW camper van, and I delight in the quaintly tribal ritual they enact whenever they see another such vehicle on the road. It's almost masonic in its performance, in their cheerful adherence to the peculiar process, in the ritual.

In short, they wave at other drivers. Yes, there's a particular gesture - a secret handshake, if you like - a configuration of fingers and thumb known only to those in on the secret. But fundamentally it's a wave, a salute, a greeting.

That this seems rare and unusual and exotic is a sad reflection on the daily horrors of driving that we collectively endure. Why shouldn't we wave at other drivers? Why shouldn't we connect with the strangers we pass by every day (more likely to recognise the registration plate than the person behind the wheel)? Rather than the begrudging little raise of the finger that we offer when someone has offered us the right of way (although they have stopped we, after all, deserve it) why shouldn't we raise our entire hand in greeting and welcome and thanks?

A strange, sweet camaraderie, then, that camper van owners enjoy.

Sweeter still is that experienced by cyclists, themselves tribal creatures with their team colours and club jerseys, on the brief and fleeting moments when we pass one another on those twilight roads in the commuting hours.

It's a small gesture, usually - there is no need for an extravagant salute at the cyclist's speed. And it is tailored to the conditions. When the weather is better, the light brighter, the eye contact longer, then a raise of the fingers from the hoods will suffice, particularly from those tucked into an aerodynamic position, when lifting the hand off the aerobars is as welcoming as a kiss.

On the grey days, the cold dark foggy days, then something more is needed; a deeper connection, a more strident acknowledgement of a fellow. On on those days a nod or a even a cheerfully-shouted Morning! is required.

And even that small connection is enough.

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