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road sage

I'm not a particularly generous or kind person but, when it comes to driving, I'm inclined to be helpful.

If another motorist is trying to merge or nose into traffic and I can let them, I do. It helps traffic move and it doesn't hurt anyone. In exchange, all I ask is a little acknowledgment in the form of a wave, the back-and-forth movement of a hand in an amiable manner, a tangible recognition that a kindness has been performed.

I don't think it's too much to expect.

I am wrong.

Today, on our dystopian highways, the wave – which was once a default nicety – has mutated like so much genetically modified food.

The most obvious transgressors are the folks who don't bother to display their gratitude at all. To be fair, at least they're being honest. They don't see being allowed to scoot in front of you as a courtesy. They see it as a divine right. When I allow someone in, and they don't give me the wave, I am overcome by fury. Many times, I've wanted to scream out my window, "By all means! After you, your highness!"

Sometimes I make excuses for them. Perhaps they're just in a rush or so focused on being an attentive driver that even the slightest distraction, such as a cordial split-second wave, is too much. These excuses never stick. I always end up with the same conclusion – that driver, who just denied me a wave, is the worst person ever to crawl the face of this earth.

Some people's idea of a perfect day is winning the lottery or spending time with friends and family. My idea of a perfect day is someone doesn't give me the wave and then later, I see them standing by the side of the road beside their broken-down vehicle. As I drive past, I make eye contact and give them a wave.

Of course, that's just old-fashioned road rudeness. Lately, I've encountered new 2018 varieties. They're peculiar and, in many respects, very 21st-century strains. I'll use some recent examples to illustrate.

A few weeks ago, I let a gentleman in a Kia merge in front of me during morning rush hour. He gave me the wave. So far, so good, but then this guy proceeded to aggressively block anyone else who tried to merge. Scant seconds before, he was just where they were – desperately trying to catch a break and get into traffic. Someone (me) had shown him a generosity of spirit. Rather than pass it on, however, he took the opposite tact and willfully tried to block everyone. He wasn't paying it forward. He was sticking it backward.

The worst kind of wave avoiders are the drivers who beg and plead to be let in and then motor off with nary a backward glance. I recently encountered this behaviour on Toronto's Highway 401. As usual, it was a parking lot and a man implored me to let him cut in. I waited for the "wave" and I've been waiting ever since. I'd been the recipient of the ultimate snub: the "Beg and Run." This involves a driver pouring on the crocodile tears, and genuflecting before you and then, once you've done them a favour, they burn rubber. It would almost be better if these drivers gave you the middle finger. At least then there would be some recognition that a courtesy (although not appreciated) was provided.

Petty problems, you might say, in a world beset by so much misery. Perhaps. But I would refer you to the words of 1970s television private investigator Jim Rockford, a man who made living in a trailer by the beach at Malibu look awesome, "There's no such thing as a small injustice."

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