I recently spent the better part of a week driving around Nebraska and, boy, is my finger tired.
We visit my wife's family and friends every year or so out there in that area of the country they also call the "Heartland of America." Whoever "they" is, they have a great sense of irony. Whenever I'm there, I clog my arteries on three square meals of red meat, buttered sweet corn and marshmallow Jell-O platters. (To be fair, the Jell-O usually features fruit. Canned in heavy syrup fruit. Prevents scurvy just the same as the fresh stuff, Dr. Oz.) I indulge in these Cornhusker staples/delicacies because they taste good and a stuffed mouth prevents me from showing the natives just how ignorant I am about the ever-present topic of college football.
Between meals, we always seem to be driving. Unlike our New England ancestors who knew "good fences make good neighbors," the settlers of Nebraska knew better --30 miles of cropland between signs of human life makes it pretty hard to tick off anyone. But that was before cars and commuting.
Cruising for hours through an endless procession of flatlands takes its toll on one's sanity. For only so long can your discussions of the summer scenery run the gamut of "the river looks a little low/high" to "the corn looks good/bad."
This year, we tried playing a rural version of "Slug Bug." Instead of a person in the car calling out when they spot a Volkswagen Beetle (farmers don't seem to like Beetles much -- go figure), you scream when you spy a windmill, working or decorative, and slug the person next to you in the shoulder. So now, please, stop looking at My Love’s black-and-blue arm with those accusatory eyes. Kids -- back me up on this!
However, not everyone in Nebraska is fortunate enough to have a rental car loaded with passengers whining, "WHEN are we EVER going to get THERE?" That is why the folks who pass one another on the two-lane highways crisscrossing the infinite Great Plains between Omaha (pop. 454,731) and Lyman (pop. 405, includes mosquitoes and lost drivers from the East Coast) give each other "The Finger Wave."
Here's how it works. Given the lack of turns in the rural highway system of Nebraska (slogan: "Grids good; griddle cakes, I'll be darned, I'll have some more!"), it's easy enough to navigate through with one hand atop the steering wheel and the other probing that shard of co-op store jerky caught between your teeth. When a vehicle approaches, as soon as you can see the bloodshot of the other driver's eyes, you lift your finger off the wheel and point it to the heavens.
Not that finger, my hardened urbanized friends. Your index finger. The pointer. The same one you shoot angry birds with on your smartphone. That's it!
It's the Nebraskan way to say, "Howdy, friend – shouldn’t we be in a bar somewhere discussing the Huskers’ run-and-shoot offense?" even at speeds in excess of the legal limit. I learned about it on my first trip there with my eventual wife while driving her grandmother somewhere. Grandma Marie seemed extremely confused as to why I, an alleged member of the arrogant Northeastern media elite, was so fascinated by this digital phenomenon.
"That's because Uncool is only used to drivers waving this finger at him," said My Love, who may or may not have realized at the time that she just flipped off an elderly female relative in a hairnet. Yet, despite my horror, Grandma Marie laughed it right off.
This has me thinking that maybe we drivers in other parts might be a bit less "road ragey" if we started to greet our fellow travelers with a finger other than the one we are accustomed to seeing in the heat of rush-hour traffic. We can start small with just a pinkie, as if we're tipping dainty teacups to each other.
Go ahead, give it a try. At least when your kids or your grandma are in the backseat.