Last Friday, as I drove home from a job in Mt. Juliet, I let a fellow driver get in front of me at an intersection. Somebody had to do it, or he was going to be trapped there for the rest of the day.
But after the guy pulled out in front of me, he didn’t look in his rearview mirror and give me the little thanky wave. I turned to co-inspector Rick, who was in the passenger’s seat. “Did you see that?” I said, about half-excited.
“I let that guy in, and he didn’t wave.”
“He waved,” Rick said. “Just a little one. You must’ve missed it.”
Rick paused for a few seconds, then looked over at me and asked, “Were you going to be mad if you didn’t get your wave?”
“Damn straight,” I said. “This is Nashville. Somebody lets you into the flow of traffic, you wave. A little salute kind of thing, in front of the rearview mirror.” I demonstrated my best two-finger, thanks-for-letting-me-in wave.
Just then, as we drove out of downtown Mt. Juliet, we came upon a man in a wheelchair, parked on the southbound side of the road. He smiled broadly and waved. Rick waved back.
“Oh, I’ve learned all about waving,” Rick said. “That guy’s there just about every day. He waves at everybody, and I always wave back.” Rick’s a Los Angeles transplant. He’s been here for about five years now, and he has adapted well to Southern customs. I’ve seen him slip up only once, when he looked a Sylvan Park Restaurant waitress in the eye and said, “Can you give me some sugar?” The woman didn’t kiss him, but I could tell that she thought hard about it. After that, we couldn’t go to Sylvan Park without the waitress bringing Rick an extra plate of biscuits.
“Have people here always done that traffic wave?” Rick asked.
“I don’t know how far back the history goes,” I said. “All I know is that people were doing it when I got here in ’81, and I’ve never seen drivers do it anyplace else.”
I never saw more traffic waves than I saw in the days just after the tornado. Traffic lights were out all over town, and drivers treated major intersections as 4-way stops. Of course, this is what we’re all supposed to do. But in the past, the rule has been: Drivers on the big road don’t stop, so drivers on the side street just have to sit and wait.
But after the tornado, drivers actually erred on the side of stopping and waiting. Eventually, the people at an intersection would make eye contact, come to an agreement on who’d go first, and traffic moved on. As the drivers passed through the intersection, there were waves all around.
When it came time to clean up the tornado mess, every Nashvillian with a chain saw or a pickup truck showed up to help. Most of the work involved cutting up and hauling away fallen hackberry trees.
This weekend, my neighbors and I are doing our part to replace the trees. We’re going to do it by raising a pile of money and donating it to the Nashville Tree Foundation. The Tree Foundation will then spend the cash on new trees for the hardest-hit neighborhoods.
Here’s the skinny on the fundraiser: It’s the annual Richland-West End Home Tour, scheduled for 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. this Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday. This year, the tour will feature eight houses and six gardens. There’ll be a sculpture show in each garden featuring the works of five area sculptors; the art is being curated by Johan Hagaman and Janice Zeitlin of Zeitgeist Gallery.
At least half the profits from the tour will go to buy trees that will replace the ones wrecked in the storm. (It could be even more than half. As I write this, neighborhood bureaucrats are arm-wrestling over the details.)
To find the tour, drive west on West End, turn right on Bowling Avenue, and you’re in the neighborhood. Take the first right, on Richland, and buy a tour ticket at either 3526 or 3504 Richland. (You can get tickets at any tour house, but these two are the easiest to find.)
By the way, there are three four-way stops in the neighborhood. Y’all be polite, and wave to the drivers who yield.
Visit Walter’s Web site at http://www.nash-scene.com/~housesense. Or e-mail him at Walter.Jowers@nashville.com.