Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels once told me: “You can ask for anything in the world, except to be appreciated.” It was a hot June day in Manhattan in 1996 and I was a young reporter. The advice struck me and I’ve been turning it over in my mind ever since.
Michaels’s advice is especially true of driving. Take, for instance, “The Wave,” the easy acknowledgement of gratitude from one driver to another driver. You are waiting to merge and a driver lets you in the lane in front of them, so you acknowledge their good deed. Some call it the “Thank You Wave.” That’s an overstatement as waves are, by their very nature, friendly. Whatever you call it, it’s a nice, agreeable course of action. “Gratitude,” wrote the Roman orator Cicero, “is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.”
Why, then, does it appear so difficult for so many drivers?
There are no statistics available but, judging by the conduct on Canadian roads and highways, you’ve got a fifty/fifty chance of getting “The Wave.” Are drivers that self-centred? Are they that entitled?
It’s not as if “The Wave” is an arduous manoeuvre. It’s not like rock climbing, juggling, bull riding, MMA fighting, completing a decathlon, big wave surfing or remembering a password. All that is required is for a human being to move their open palm back and forth. The wave-giver is not being asked to pull over and genuflect. They are not being asked to charter a plane to skywrite a thank-you note.
It doesn’t matter how many times it happens, I still burn when “The Wave” is not forthcoming. It’s most irksome when I have to watch someone I let merge in front of me, fail to wave thanks and then block other drivers from merging in front of them. It’s doubling down on the rudeness.
Do not confuse “The Wave” with the “Wave of Death” which some well-intentioned drivers give to pedestrians. This version can be deadly because, while you may have stopped your vehicle and waved a pedestrian through, another vehicle may be approaching oblivious to this fact. Hence the “Wave of Death” nomenclature. Don’t do this. Forgo your desire to be polite. This is one instance where generosity of spirit can prove lethal.
“The Wave” is the most common form of automotive acknowledgement, but there are other varieties.
“The Nice Car” – That’s the wave you normally give someone driving the same make and model as you. When I first got my Mini Cooper Countryman I waved at everyone I saw driving a Mini Cooper Countryman. Most did not wave back. They probably thought I was mistaking them for someone else or that I was unhinged.
“The Come On” – No, not that sort of come-on. This is the wave you give when another driver sits immobile at a four-way stop. You’re saying “come on, you’ve got the right of way. Let’s go.” You are still being nice, but it has an edge. In tone, it’s like when your dad helped you with your Grade 10 math homework, saying, “Come on, this is simple.” (Maybe that’s just me).
“The Ted Knight” – Do you remember in Caddyshack when the young hero Danny Noonan is about to putt for the club championship and Judge Smails (played by Ted Knight) says, “Well? We’re waiting….?” It’s essentially a more exasperated version of “The Come On.”
Of course, my petty preoccupation may prove to be a passing annoyance. Self-driving cars will kill the wave. There won’t be any room for acts of human kindness. Self-driving cars will automatically yield and let other vehicles merge. It’s the logical thing to do. The more generous we are as drivers, the better the traffic flows. On the highways, just as in most other facits of life, short-term selfishness carries long-term costs.
Giving up on appreciation wasn’t the only piece of advice Michaels bestowed. He also told me, “Never do business with someone you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark hallway at four in the morning.”
But that’s another story.