The Hurst Road Finger Wave

12 09 2010

Contrary to what many people across America might think, Indiana is not flat.  Well, at least not the southeastern part of the state.  Rolling hills and, at times steep hardwood covered ridges reaching 1000 feet above sea level dominate the topography.  Our home is located in the extreme southeast corner of Washington County, about 20 miles to the northwest of Louisville, KY, as the crow flies.

A quick look at a topography map will indicate that our property in at the extreme northwestern edge of what is called The Knobs.  The Knobs is a range of hills and ridges rising up just to the north of the great basin of the Ohio River.  We live in the “low-rent” section of this prestigious area; in fact, the “white trash” area may be a more appropriate description.  Homes located to the south, on the tops of the ridges with stunning views of the river and the Louisville skyline are always in demand and quite often fetch seven-figure selling prices when, on that rare occasion, someone with an obvious case of temporary insanity decides to sell.

In order to traverse the 17 miles from I-65, just north of Louisville, to our backwoods home, a person must first travel northwest along state highway 60 which runs through a valley between two spectacular ranges of The Knobs; a turn to the north or the south will result in an immediate and significant climb to the top of ridges with breathtaking views of valley farmlands and multiple hardwood covered peaks as far as the eye can see.

Highway 60 is a very good two-lane highway.  It is generally flat with only the occasion gentle rise, fall or curve.  Driving five miles per hour over the posted speed limit of 55 is quite safe except in bad weather or when the deer are moving.  Just a few miles out of Borden and before crossing the Blue River on the edge of Pekin, we leave Highway 60 and begin the final 2.5 mile trek up the back of the ridge known locally as Daisy Hill.

When we first bought our land and moved out to the woods in 1981, the official address was simply Dan Grey Road; no street address, no rural route number, no box number, just Dan Grey Road.  Understand, Dan Grey Road twisted and turned on itself along the ridge of Daisy Hill for a good five to six miles, even crossing the county line and back again.  Still, with so few people living on the gravel road, the mailman didn’t need numbers—he just knew where everybody lived.

Fast forward to present day.  Many changes have taken place to the area along what was once known as Dan Grey Road.  Oh yes, the name of the road changed with the onset of 911 emergency service. The once-gravel Dan Grey Road is now black topped with official green and white county road signs designating it as Hurst Road.  Residents now has street addresses posted on the sides of their mailboxes.  We no longer give directions to our home by using landmarks, just the address number.

The jury is still out whether these changes are good or bad or neither.  However, one thing I do regret with the progress is the loss of what I will call the Hurst Road Finger Wave.  For anyone with rural roots, the finger wave is simply part of the culture.  It may be necessary to distinguish between the rural finger wave, which is given with the index finger of either the right or left hand, depending on which hand is resting atop of the steering wheel and the similar, but significantly different, urban finger wave given with the middle digit of either hand.  There is no need for the person giving either gesture to know or even recognize the recipient.

Unlike the urban figure wave, the origins of the rural finger wave have been lost in posterity.  Perhaps it goes back to the days of horse and buggy when the passing of another person was a rare occasion and the sparse population accounted for nearly everyone, like the mailman, knowing everyone else in a rural community.  In other words, you were expressing a greeting to either a friend or an acquaintance.

Being raised in a small town and spending lots of time on country roads as both a passenger and a driver, I learned the importance of the rural finger wave from my elders.  It should be mentioned that the finger wave must also be preceded by a very brief and therefore safe moment of eye contact with the driver coming in the opposite direction.  The operative word in that last sentence is “safe.”

As with many county-maintained secondary roads, there are very few, if any speed limit signs (legal speed limit on county roads is a maximum of 45 m.p.h.)  on Hurst Road.  There has never been a need.  Only a fool or someone unfamiliar with the road would drive in excess of 30 mile per hour with all the blind curves, hidden driveways and small but steep hills that can easily hide a log truck or tractor and plow taking their half out of the middle of the road.  It should also be noted that since Hurst Road runs along the top of a ridge, there is no shoulder to pull off onto.  If you need to swerve it is a downward journey through trees.  So the experienced and/or wise driver proceeds at a speed that will allow for stopping in the road rather than swerving, if the need arrives.  This cautious pace is ideal for participating in the  time-honored ritual of the finger wave.  Remember, it is not an official finger wave without the eye contact.  That means it takes two drivers, coming in opposite directions, both exercising the appropriate amount of caution to execute the maneuver of the finger wave and passing each other on the narrow county road with a mishap.

I suspect that the finger wave and eye contact may be similar to the eye contact between two basketball players just moments before attempting an alley-oop pass.  Making sure each driver recognizes that someone else is on the narrow road and that both drivers must work together to avoid a potential sideswipe accident is the practical result of the gesture.

I don’t think that type of unspoken cooperation is in vogue today for many people; especially among strangers.  Maybe it is just another example of the lack of civility and courteousness we see in our society.  If I am correct in my hypothesis then why do so many people no longer value and, in turn, practice basic courtesy?  Have our values changed? Maybe we refrain from any effort that does not bring about a positive answer to the question, “What’s in it for me?”

Another explanation for the diminished number of country road driver who have the finger wave as part of their driving etiquette might have something to do with everyone being in such a hurry.  It’s really difficult to make eye contact (the prerequisite for performing the finger wave) when you are taking a blind curve at 45 m.p.h. while talking on a cell phone.

Regardless of the reason, I miss the good feeling I get when I greet a passing stranger knowing that the selfless gesture made each of our days’ just a little better.

-gw-

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