Small Town Etiquette (May 28, 2003)

It is a singularly small town talent, and one I lack: The ability to recognize oncoming cars soon enough to decide whether or not to wave.

I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to all of you who have waved to me as we met at 120 miles-per-hour. I didn't mean to snub you. My intentions were good. In fact, I probably waved after we passed and then spent the next couple of minutes hoping your feelings weren't hurt.

But all cars look the same to me, particularly when whizzing my way. To recognize an oncoming vehicle soon enough to issue a convincing wave seems to me a skill on par with hitting a Nolan Ryan fastball. I am just not that good.

I could wave to everybody, I suppose, but that seems promiscuous. Instead, I have divided area highways into waving roads and non-waving roads.

Waving roads are side roads near home. On these roads, the odds are so high that I will know the person in the oncoming car that I just go ahead and wave at everyone. I know that this means I might wave at a strange car every now and then, but that is a risk I'll have to take.

It goes without saying that all gravel roads are waving roads, even those so narrow and frostboiled that you would be wiser to keep both hands gripping the wheel as you meet. Not waving to a neighbor on a bad gravel road is a snub that could start a long-running feud. Wave on gravel, even if it means risking a head-on crash.

However, I consider major trunk highways and any highway more than 20 miles from home to be non-waving highways. If you meet me on a non-waving highway, don't expect much, and please don't think I am stuck up.

The talent for recognizing oncoming cars knows no gender distinction, and it is not genetic. Both my mother and sister have the talent of recognizing cars, but somehow I missed out.

Small towns are filled with experts on recognizing oncoming cars, so much so that I fully expect the Department of Homeland Security to tap small town people to help with the fight against car bombers and other forms of terror.

In fact, I feel like these people are spies already.

Who needs the FBI when you have locals who can say with confidence, "What were you doing down by Barnesville last Thursday? I met you on Highway 9." I feel like asking, do you have my phone bugged, too?

I am just lucky to find my vehicle in the West Acres parking lot without first sticking my key in the locks of several other pickups vaguely similar to my own. And those vehicles aren't moving.

Once, while visiting a relative in California, I borrowed a car to go to Barnes and Noble -- and forgot what the car I borrowed looked like. I stuck my key in the locks of so many cars that I was sure security would pull me in for questioning.

I can tell a pickup from a car. That much I understand. But the difference between a Buick and a Mercury eludes me. And all of these monster SUVs look like tanks. Not a one of them stands out.

It is clear that I suffer from VRDD (Vehicle Recognition Deficit Disorder). As a victim of VRDD, I ask you to be understanding of my sometimes erratic behavior in highway waving situations. I am powerless over the situation, and am trying to find help.

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