In some places, 'the wave' lives

Not all Northwest places have abandoned driving civility.
Lopez Island, Wash., in the San Juans. (Sue Frause)

Lopez Island, Wash., in the San Juans. (Sue Frause) None

Feliks Banel recently lamented the loss of the "Seattle Wave," the quick signal between drivers doing each other a courtesy by taking turns navigating one-lane streets. I've notice the same thing. In fact, the same day his story appeared, I was in three different "wave" situations on narrow roads and I was the only one doing the waving. What does it say about Seattle that we won't even wave at each other to prevent an accident or acknowledge a kindness? The most waving here in recent years is with the middle finger.

It also put me in mind of the early 1960s when my dad bought a Volkswagen Bug. There were very few Beetles on Seattle streets half a century ago, in fact, they were still a novelty car. There were few dealerships (we got ours from a lot on Rainier Ave.). VW Bug drivers would wave or honk at each other, acknowledging membership in the cult of those who bought small, sensible, cute import cars that stood in such contrast with the Detroit hogs that filled the roads.

We did a lot of beeping and waving at fellow urban pioneers circa 1961. Unlike most VW's, however, ours was a complete lemon and my father eventually left it on the side of the road somewhere outside Anacortes on our way back from a trip to the San Juans. He had it towed to the scrap heap.

But I was just up on Lopez Island for a family wedding. I've not been to Lopez in many years. But Lopezians, who live on a most pastoral, most-amiable island, have not given up the wave, unlike their fellow islanders on Orcas and San Juan. In fact, in true country style, Lopez drivers still wave at everyone they pass. Some give you a full wave, others simply raise the fingers of the hand holding the top of the steering wheel and flutter them lightly, but the point is made: howdy neighbor.

Knute Berger is Mossback, Crosscut's chief Northwest native. He also writes the monthly Grey Matters column for Seattle magazine and is a weekly Friday guest on Weekday on KUOW-FM (94.9). His newest book is Pugetopolis: A Mossback Takes On Growth Addicts, Weather Wimps, and the Myth of Seattle Nice, published by Sasquatch Books. In 2011, he was named Writer-in-Residence at the Space Needle and is author of Space Needle, The Spirit of Seattle (2012), the official 50th anniversary history of the tower. You can e-mail him at

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