Waves are famous here in Seattle. University of Washington Yell King (and future Entertainment Tonight! co-host) Rob Weller is almost universally credited with inventing that ubiquitous stadium cheer known as The Wave at Montlake back in the early '80s. (Come to think of it, I believer Weller even means 'êWaver'ê in German).
Meanwhile, in between Husky games with little to Wave about, we live in mortal fear of another (REALLY big) Wave — earthquake-generated tsunamis, which scientists tell us have leveled the place we call home in the past, and that will likely do so again some day.
There'ês yet another wave with history around here, but a nagging feeling and recent experience have me worried that its days may be numbered. Just about anyone who'ês lived in a Seattle neighborhood for more than 10 years knows what I mean when I say, 'êThe Friendly Wave.'ê You'êve experienced it often (in the past), and you know how it'ês supposed to work.
For those who don'êt know, it'ês like this. Many of our residential streets are narrow, and are lined with parked cars on both sides. Thus, in many blocks, only one car at a time can safely pass. If, as you approach a block like this and another car (traveling the opposite direction) is already occupying the lane of travel, you must wait at the intersection for the car to pass (or, you may pull into a gap in the parked cars or sometimes even back up to make way for the other driver). The driver of the other car, in gratitude to you for your impeccable courtesy, makes an unambiguously positive hand gesture, perhaps smiles at you, and maybe even mouths the words, 'êThank you!'ê You smile and nod back, and make a similarly unambiguously positive hand gesture.
The same protocol also applies in other, similar traffic situations. For instance, when a parked car has a door opened into the street, you stop your car to wait for a moment for the driver to load up their kid or unload their groceries or whatever, and then, when your path is clear, you slowly drive past. Again, the party to whom you demonstrated courtesy and patience waves and smiles to acknowledge the beauty of your humanity. You smile and wave back. Everybody feels good.
It'ês very simple, and it used to something we took for granted. But, I'êm afraid that Things Have Changed.
Just the other morning, I was party to two separate situations where, in the past, the other party would have effortlessly given me The Friendly Wave. First, as I waited at the intersection of Bagley Avenue North and North 38th, the car I'êd kindly paused for passed right by me and the elderly driver did nothing to acknowledge my selfless act — he just stared straight ahead.
Then, about ten minutes later, I came upon a young man loading luggage into the passenger seats of a car on North 37th just west of Bagley. Unable to safely pass the car'ês open door, I stopped for a full minute as the man finished his task. As he finished, he suddenly became aware that I was stopped and waiting for him. He looked at me, expressionless, then crossed nonchalantly in front of my car. I looked at the man, making eye contact even, and got . . . nothing (not even a smile or nod).
I guarantee that these aren'êt isolated incidents. The slow yet inexorable disappearance of The Friendly Wave in Seattle is something I'êve been aware of for at least the past few years. I hear the same concerns from friends and neighbors. and I'êll bet you'êve heard the same from yours.
What'ês the reason? Probably the same parties and same phenomena we can blame for almost everything nowadays — transplants from other less courteous locales; those darned kids these days and their specious lack of manners; too many cars on the road; too much cellphone talking and texting; too much hurrying in general. We could fix blame there, but that'ês all just speculation. This situation calls for serious research — or at least a sensationalized TV story.
Not knowing much about serious research but knowing a thing or two about TV, I pitched a story about the demise of The Friendly Wave to the Seattle Channel's CityStream program last summer. My hope was that they'êd engage me as producer/reporter (as they'êd done many times before for less rigorous projects), and assign me two videographers and all the necessary equipment. For some reason, they just wouldn'êt go for it.
Here'ês what I wanted to do: I'êd be in the driver'ês seat of a nondescript vehicle in Wallingford (for nondescript in Wallingford, think decade-old Volvo wagon, or brand-new Prius). Videographer One would be hiding in the backseat with an HD camera pointed over my shoulder. Videographer Two (the more physically toned of the two videographers — you'êll see why in a moment) would be stationed in a hidden location outside (probably neck-deep in the drought-tolerant native landscaping that seems to have Wallingford in a choke hold).
We'êd pick a particularly congested block and then wait in the intersection for proper Friendly Wave conditions to ensue. For our little experiment, I'êd play the part of the courteous and patient person. I'êd go out of my way to yield to approaching cars, and then we'êd try to get video of the whole thing as the other driver either gave me The Friendly Wave or ignored me. Then, Videographer Two (with the assistance of a nimble junior producer or intern) would attempt to intercept the driver in the next block, running up to the driver'ês side window with camera and microphone to find out why he/she did/didn'êt give me The Friendly Wave.
Can't you imagine what great TV this would make?? I'êm sure the late Don Hewitt would have loved it! Or maybe, like my Seattle Channel colleagues, you can see the inherent problems. Now that I think about it, I seem to remember someone saying something about avoiding needless injuries, insurance claims and bad publicity. Still, it'êd be nice to have been able to prove conclusively the demise of The Friendly Wave.