In Chicago, very few unwritten social contracts are as dear to me as the pedestrian-to-driver wave. Sometimes, it’s a head nod.
I take pride in my ability slow my pace slightly, calmly put my hand in the air, and give a slight nod to drivers at stop lights, stop signs, or any other occurrence of this urban transaction. It’s my acknowledgment to drivers that, yes, I’d prefer not to get hit and want to keep your hood blood-free. Any blood, really, but mine especially.
The contract’s provisions cover the entire city of Chicago. I used to believe the provisions were worldwide until I went to Kyoto and experienced the alleys and their quick-whizzing cars and motorbikes. My mental rules then became nationwide until I went to Seattle and realized their drivers preferred to stop anywhere and do the waving. They’d stop and wave, a blank look drawn across their face, and wait for you to do the standard human hurry-up run to the other side.
At night, the contract becomes a binding agreement signed in blood. You miss dotting an proverbial “i” or not initialing here, here and here, and you may end up looking like 2016 Mickey Rourke, your face swollen and badly marred by a mix of fate, poor timing and failing to meet the terms of the agreement.
I want to let you, the driver, know early that I’m human. I want you to see that I have the same functions as you, hopefully; arm moves up, eyebrows arch, head bobs a little, ass wiggles a little. I want you to quickly admonish yourself for thinking “Look at this asshole I could hit him and no one would care” after seeing I’m a nice, personable member of society with a very sensible wave. I want to walk by and forget you’re there, only recalling a simple ache in the arch of my foot instead of a sharp feeling of the fascia cutting away with every step.
That’s why I uphold my end of the agreement. It’s our peace treaty, drivers, and it sets us apart from the real animals out there: Those who walk without a wave, who drive without a fuck. It’s a guarantee that I can walk across without being hit and you can watch me go by without direct eye contact.
It works. Bicyclists, perhaps we can work out a deal next?