Wednesday, January 08, 2014

hand gestures while driving: one finger or two?

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I have a magic finger that I use in traffic. I had never done this until I met my husband. I saw him do it one day as we approached an intersection, and marveled at the power wielded by one little finger. I decided to start using my finger, too.

No, not that finger. Get your mind out of the gutter. The only power "that" finger has is to offend people and make them want to run you off the side of the road.

I'm talking about my POINTER finger!

I'm not sure why they call it the 'pointer' finger, because my mama always taught me it was impolite to point with it. When I indicate something, it's ok to use two fingers or a whole hand or to nod in its general direction. But using your index finger to point at something is so déclassé.

Unless, that is, you use it to point at another car entering your zone at an intersection. Then, my dears, it is magical.

I could hardly believe it when my then-boyfriend Morgan told me about it. We were out driving in Charleston - notorious for bad drivers (sorry, Chucktown - I love you but you do NOT know how to drive) - and we came to a 4-way stop. A car was approaching from the right at a fairly rapid rate of speed. As we were talking, Morgan calmly said "Stop" and then pointed intently at the approaching car as though his index finger was a magic wand. Miraculously, the car slowed and came to a complete stop at the intersection, and we proceeded safely.

"Whoa - did you just stop that car with your finger?" I asked, incredulous but a little impressed.

"But of course," he replied nonchalantly. "You should try it. It really does work."

So of course, I had to try it. And it worked. I never trusted in it so much that I didn't pay attention or use caution. But I found this whole Magic Traffic Finger rather intriguing. It worked equally well in town and on the highway. It didn't stop people from acting like idiots. Otherwise I would walk around all day pointing at people's heads and not just at their cars. But it did seem to work on vehicles. And that was good enough for me to incorporate into my repertoire.

Now I do it without thinking. And to this date I have not been T-boned once or in any accidents (knock wood, spit on my fingers, turn around three times, pray to Jesus). I say I'm not superstitious, but just writing that makes me feel jinxed. I'll just have to trust that sharing my story for good will balance any jinx.

Because you really do need to try using the index finger instead of that other one.

Speaking of the "other" finger, I do occasionally receive that one while driving. I am a rather impatient driver. My husband says I am rash. I prefer to say I am assertive.

Now, I'm a mom and I carry precious cargo, so arriving intact is my main goal. Therefore I drive safely and obey speed limits (within a 5-10 mph range) and try not to tail-gate. I (rarely) speed through yellow lights and I merge correctly. I even use my cruise control, which is more than I can say for 75% of the other drivers on the interstate.

But let's face it - when other drivers are behaving badly or not heeding the signs or obviously trying to get on my last nerve, the best thing I can do is get away from them. Which might mean bending the rules a little.

We live in one of those "plantation" developments that encompass ten or so neighborhoods. There are only two ways out and in the morning most of the people are going in the same direction I am. The city installed a zipper merge lane into the four-lane highway that takes us out of the boondocks and into civilization. The merge lane doesn't stop at the light. To re-enforce that point, there is a big sign that says "Keep Moving, Change Lanes Later." Easy language. Simple instructions. Which means there is always at least one driver every morning who ignores the sign, stops at the beginning of the merge lane, and backs up traffic through the entire neighborhood during rush hour.

A few months ago, this happened in front of me on a morning I was not to be messed with. I was in a hurry for whatever reason and to top it off I was not in a very good mood. As I approached the intersection, the car in front of me slowed and then came to a complete stop at the head of the merge lane. And it sat there. I huffed and I puffed. Nothing moved. I pointed my magic finger (the nice one). Still, the car sat. So I blew the horn.

I hate blowing the horn. But sometimes you just have to.

The car started moving again. By this time I was a little hot and bothered and probably saying ugly things under my breath. Not one of my prettier moments. There was no traffic in the other two lanes, so I whipped out around that offensive car and passed them on the left to make up time and get on with my day.

As I did, I saw the driver of the other car lowering the window. Her elbow came out of the window, followed by her hand. "Oh boy," I thought, "I'm fixing to get 'the finger' from that idiot who can't read traffic signs or merge properly." I rolled my eyes and braced myself as her hand came out of the window.

But instead of giving me the finger, she gave me two. She flashed me the peace sign and grinned.

All the piss and vinegar I had felt a second before evaporated. Now all I felt was humbled. In a split second, the other driver had taken me from anger to laughter. I felt a little sheepish as I drove by flashing her a peace sign in return.

I still drive assertively. I still occasionally talk to other drivers out loud. It's a really bad habit. But more often than not, I try to take a breath and relax as I remember that driver who offered me peace instead obscenity, two fingers instead of one.

So use the magic finger to stop other cars. And when other cars don't stop or other drivers act badly and you're tempted to use the "other" finger, try flashing two instead. Like they say, you catch more flies with honey.

And goodness knows, we'd all be better off with more peace and less obscenity, in and out of traffic.

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