Editor’s Note: Over ten years ago, Tom McHugh, the force behind the Rock Hall’s famed music venue, the Mainstay, but perhaps more noted as the retired Vassar College and Washington College education professor, who offered his advice to newcomers on the art, science, and protocol of waving to your neighbors on the Mid-Shore from your car.
From the Spy archives from 2010:
For those of you who want an education and a primer on what the “Rock Hall Wave” actually is and what it means, I have jotted down my thoughts as a means to open a discussion and lay some important groundwork.
I set forth my disclaimers. First disclaimer, I’m not talking about the nautical waves which surround us, or the waves we give as we see people depart on a trip, but rather, the ever-present waves which take place between drivers of cars, trucks, farm machinery, hay wagons, travel lifts, school buses and other vehicles here in the Rock Hall environs.
Second disclaimer, I was born and raised in Philadelphia. If someone waved to me from another car there, I assumed either they saw smoke coming from my engine or that they mistook my car for their Aunt Masie’s 1950 Ford coupe, the same of which I drove for a long time. This is to point out that I am not born into the rich Rock Hall culture. Forever, I will wear the tag: a move-in. So I set the tone of this article as not to define the wave culture, but to seek advice and clarification from others.
So, for a start, let’s try to define the different “waves”:
There is the full hand, off the wheel wave, sometimes almost frantic in its movement from side to side
There is the one finger wave, where the driver just lifts a finger (no, not that finger!) often to acknowledge an oncoming wave from another vehicle.
There is the late wave, a jerky late response to a wave from another car
Then there is the nod wave with a slight hand movement to include a pretty decisive nod of the head.
If it is warm weather, and the driver’s window is open and an arm is extended on the window sill, there is the quick hand up, wave up, wave down wave. Quickly is the key.
And finally, when you have definitely missed an oncoming wave, and you feel great guilt because it is from your minister, or the mayor, or someone you owe money to..there is the behind the car, backward hand motion wave.
OK, those are at least starting definitions.
Who waves? Well, this one is tougher. For a long time, when I first came from the city, I assumed that people waving at me knew me. Naturally, I’d squint to see a face. Sometimes, later in the day, I’d run into that stranger on the grocery store parking lot and say “HI! I saw you on 288 today!” ……And they would return these blank stares. So, you really don’t have to know the waver to get a wave, or give one.
Are there people who don’t wave? Well, here I have to get a rant in on the younger generation, for they seem too busy texting, or have their Ipods glued to an ear, or are deafening themselves with the sounds coming from the MegaBass system in the car. Youth!
So, waving seems to be something that has just become a part of Rock Hall culture. True, women don’t seem to wave as much, but many do. Thelma Shirley doesn’t wave, Robin Wood Kurowski does, Jane Hackett does, but I don’t think that Miss Edna Marie Hubbard Sutton does, not sure…I could be wrong. Miss Helen Durding does and doesn’t….and we are all just fine with the fact she can do whatever she wishes.
I say it is a Rock Hall thing, because I find that once past the Fairlee turn, waving declines rapidly as you head to Chestertown. Of course, lawyers don’t wave, with exception of Robert H. Strong, and it would help if they did. Maybe the Historical Society could sponsor a team of expert Rock Hall Wavers to do a seminar at the Chestertown Fire House for wave-learners.
But, you know, even if people don’t wave, I’ve never had anyone say they don’t like to be waved to. And that is nice. A few years ago two of my friends who are from Hungary visited me and toured around with me for two weeks. One of them said after trip that they realized that I know everyone in Rock Hall..why did they think that? Because of the Rock Hall Wave!
I’d hate to see the wave die. But these new model cars, now with cameras in back, and automatic parallel parking, and engines that can start when you are a half mile away, what next? Well, I hope they don’t invent an automatic wave device.
By the way, does anyone remember the Leo Hicks wave?
Tom McHugh has been a teacher all of his life…teenage camp counselor, boarding school house parent, middle and high school teacher, and college professor. With undergraduate and graduate degrees from Temple University and The University of Pennsylvania, he started his college teaching career at Washington College, Chestertown Maryland. From WC, he moved to Vassar College as Chair of The Department of Education and retired in the early nineties as a full professor. He moved back to Rock Hall, Kent County Maryland to raise his two girls in the Eastern Shore setting. In 1997, Tom founded The Mainstay in Rock Hall as a community center for the arts.