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The Wave

There was a time, not too long ago, when civility and good manners were the norm rather than the exception. A time when people said please and thank you and meant it. And when they did it because they wanted to, because it was the right thing to do, not because someone was poking them in the back reminding them that good manners are not only important, but nice.

I was just learning to ride my first motorcycle in those days. My Uncle Bob was teaching me the ropes. He showed me how to do all the safe stuff first, like how to stop without falling over or running into a tree, then we got to the good stuff, like carving tight turns on narrow, twisty roads. And how to cruise down the highway looking good. I liked that part. Riding with Uncle Bob was about as good as it got.

The point to this story is coming, so pay attention.

After what seemed like forever Uncle Bob told me I was ready for my first road trip. We were going to do the mountains then drop down to the ocean and follow the road south as far as we could go in four days.

The first day was heaven. Midweek, very little traffic on the roads we were taking, just like Uncle Bob had planned it. The mountains were great: tight turns with wide open vistas all around, roads with room to let the bike run wide open before gearing down for the next set of turns, plenty of places to pull off and just enjoy the day and the open road. Things started to change around noon the next day as we came down out of the mountains and hit the narrow roads to the ocean. There were more cars and fewer places to pass but we managed, Uncle Bob and I, until we ran up behind an RV. It was going the speed limit, barely. It took up the entire lane and was impossible to see around. We trailed along behind it for what seemed like hours before it finally pulled over to let us pass. I shot past him and resisted the urge to flip him off which wasn't easy…the old a-hole was ruining my trip, getting in my way on my road and slowing me down. I focused on the road ahead and twisted the throttle to turn him into a small dot in my rear view mirror. It was only later that I realized that Uncle Bob wasn't right behind me like he usually was.

I pulled into the burger joint where we'd planned to eat lunch and waited for Uncle Bob to show up. I couldn't wait to share a laugh with him about how we'd blown that old fart in the RV off the road. He finally pulled in, shut down his machine, pulled off his helmet, but didn't grin at me like he usually did. I shrugged it off and followed him inside. He was quiet while we waited for the girl to take our order and bring us our cola's. I started to tell him about how cool it was to blow by the old geezer but the look on his face stopped me cold. I didn't get that look from him often, but when I did, it always meant I'd seriously screwed up.

"The guy in the RV," he said quietly. "You almost flipped him off didn't you?"

I shrugged.

"He was screwing up your good time wasn't he?"

I took a sip of cola, avoided his eyes and nodded my head, agreeing with him. The guy had been screwing up my trip.

"Did it ever occur to you that he might have pulled over to let you go by the first chance he got? Think about that road, how many places were wide enough for him to pull over safely? And how wide was the spot where he did pull over?"

He waited. I thought about it. The road hadn't had anyplace wide enough and the one he did pull into was pretty rough.

"Did you ever think about what you might have done to spoil his good time on the open road?" He didn't wait for me to answer. "Didn't think so. Wave at the next person that pulls over for you or we end the trip. You owe them that much. A thank you for their courtesy. They know they're slow, they know you want to get going, and most of them pull over as soon as they can to let you go by. There are exceptions, of course, but that's a different lesson."

Our burgers came and that was all Uncle Bob said about it. We talked about the rest of the trip for the rest of the lunch. We hit a few more RV's on the rest of the trip as well as slow-moving cars and semi's. I remembered what Uncle Bob had said about them enjoying their day on the open road and waved to them as we eventually got around them. I have to admit it was nice to see their smiles in my rear view mirror.

But I'm too old to ride much anymore, and I'll admit that more often than not now I'm the guy in the RV. I always get over as soon as I can but these days I get few thank-you waves, especially from older riders who should know better.

The point is that it's not always easy to pull a big rig off to the side of the road, or for that matter, a car, so motorcycles can pass. Appreciate it when they do, show your thanks by giving them a friendly wave and remember that one of these days, sooner than you think, it could be you in the RV looking at the impatient rider waiting to zoom past.

Wave. It doesn't cost you anything and means a lot.

Patrick Bell/Fall 14


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