Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Runners Wave

I bought a small Honda motorcycle about five years ago and I ride it regularly to run errands, take advantage of free motorcycle parking, commute, and to save money on gas. Shortly after I began riding I discovered that motorcyclists have a little wave they give each other as they pass. Their left hand comes of the handlebar and is held down for a second like a "low five". There are some variations; a couple of fingers might be pointed out toward the other rider or the hand might be held open and the degree to which the arm goes out may be anywhere from six o'clock to eight o'clock. The salutation seemed a bit on par with a secret handshake and wholly unnecessary, but I joined in the ritual as well.

I guess bikers (I don't think of myself as a biker) feel a certain kinship and consequently feel compelled to greet a like person. I'm not sure I'm like any of the people I encounter riding motorcycles but I'd grant that we are having a similar and rarer experience than driving a car; I suppose bonds us for a couple of seconds. I have noticed that scooter riders don't do the greeting. I infer that to mean that maybe motorcyclists don't give the low hand wave to scooters and so scooter riders don't wave because no one has ever initiated a wave to them. I've also noticed that riders of certain types of motorcycles are less inclined to wave. They tend to be the riders of bikes with large fairings that cover the whole front of the bike or sport bikes with low handlebars. I don't know if those riders see themselves differently or having a different experience than me and so don't wave, see me as different from themselves because of our bike choice and don't wave, or because of the design of the bike find it more difficult to wave. Sometimes a rider will give me the low hand wave and I'll be braking or about to change gears and not respond and I wonder if they'll feel slighted.

My experience is similar when I run. When I encounter other runners I will acknowledge them with a quick fingers up open hand greeting, sometimes a head nod, or even a spoken "hi" or "howdy". They will often do the same, but many runners will pass without even an expression change. I feel a greater kinship with someone whom I encounter on a trail on a mountain than a motorcyclist so when they pass indifferently it makes me wonder about the implications. Are they lost in the moment? Do they find it peculiar and unnecessary to greet a passing runner, person, fellow human being? Do they perceive me as significantly different from themselves; maybe what I'm doing doesn't seem like running to them, kind of like waving to a scooter driver. If I come across a runner in a relatively remote area where I have not seen another person for a long time, I may make a comment like "Oh, I guess I'm not the only sane/crazy person in the world".

I suppose a lot can depend on population density. A scene from Crocodile Dundee comes to mind. The character is from the Australian Outback and is a passenger in a car that stops for a red light on a New York City street. While at the intersection he greets a couple of people talking on the sidewalk and introduces himself, says he'll be in town for a while and that maybe they'll run into each other again. Presumably, in the remote Outback people greet any other humans they encounter, but a New Yorker would never think to greet everyone passing the other direction walking on 5th Avenue. I don't imagine all the motorcyclists at the yearly Sturgis, South Dakota rally cruising through the streets salute all the thousands of other bikers. Joggers in a city park may not feel compelled to nod to one another just like runners at the local 5K aren't going to all give a little wave to all the other participants.

Maybe motorcyclists and runners perceive themselves as vulnerable minorities. Motorcyclists and runners on the road experience significant vulnerability surrounded by big SUV's, trailer trucks, and distracted drivers in any four-wheeled vehicle and so maybe there is a "we've got to stick together" attitude among them. But then, I have notice other groups behave similarly. Truck drivers passing in opposite directions on a road may flash lights at each other and in my bus travel in Mexico I noticed the bus drivers always saluted and made peculiar gestures to each other as they passed on the narrow highways.

So I think I understand the bond that people feel to one another and that there may be a point when it's infeasible to express that bond; if everyone suddenly were driving motorcycles I'm sure the waving would stop. Maybe Harley riders would just salute other Harley riders and Vespa riders would just wave at other Vespa riders. I still wonder though, why the occasional runner that I encounter on a remote trail whom I gesture to or say "hi" to doesn't at least give a grunt or a nod of acknowledgement. Maybe he grew up in a big city like New York and does the opposite of Crocodile Dundee; he doesn't greet anyone he doesn't know just as he wouldn't on the streets of New York. Maybe he thinks it's a bit silly and unnecessary like I do with regard to the motorcyclists giving the low five to each other.

Many people prefer the anonymity that is found in a large city, but I would rather live in a community where I wasn't so overwhelmed by sheer numbers that saying "good morning" to a passing fellow human being would be an odd thing to do. It's not that I'm such a warm person, either, but it just feels like we'd be a healthier lot if more of us lived where the scale of community allowed for a nod of the head, a wave of the hand, a wink of an eye, a thumbs up, a flash of the lights, or even a "hi there" or "G'day mate".

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