Biff America: Greeting strangers half naked
“Do you know that guy?”
My question, to my father, was rhetorical; I would pose it so often, it is amazing he never picked up on my sarcasm. My dad would constantly greet strangers. This occurred with vehicles we encountered on the road, walking down the street or, to my horror, passing cars as we worked shirtless in our front yard.
Typically, we would be mowing, raking, digging holes or planting flowers on a hot summer weekend, both of us with shirts off, and my father would wave at any passing vehicles he happened to notice. It embarrassed the hell out of me. Like most parents of that generation he was too busy supporting a family to get to a gym, eat healthy or get a tan. That said he had pale splotchy skin, skinny legs and a beer gut, with his shorts pulled up just below his nipples. Despite that he’d wave at passing cars like he was in a parade.
And in addition to yard-greeting, any vehicles he would pass as we drove on any quiet road he would also greet. This wasn’t as humiliating, as we would both be wearing shirts.
“Do you know that guy?” I’d ask, knowing that he didn’t. “Nope,” he’d respond.
Other than the pale skin, skinny legs, beer gut and pants up to the nipples. I’ve become my Dad (OK, I’ll admit to pale skin). I’ve found that I’ve become a waver, nodder, smiler and greeter of strangers. At first my mate would ask, “Do you know that guy?” and I’d say, “Nope.”
Now obviously this is impractical on busy roads or crowded streets or places where there are lots of traffic — foot and vehicle.
I’ve noticed that a greeting is seldom unreciprocated on lonesome western roads. This is the one place that I seldom have to make the first overture. I find it comforting and a reflection of what is best about America. We’ll usually be driving our small RV — filled with toys not tools: rack holding European skis and ridiculously expensive bikes, “I brake for hallucinations” and “Sierra Club” window stickers. We’ll then encounter a full-size dirty truck — gun rack — driven by some guy wearing a cowboy hat, and invariably both of us will lift one hand in a mutual greeting.
To me that says, “I might not know you, relate to your lifestyle or even agree with your politics but you, like me, are at this place in time and we are sharing this moment. Safe travels.”
Now for sure my old man grew up in a less crowded and less wealthy world. A world where most humans had more in common than that which divided them. Yes there were varying faiths, creeds and colors but all were trying to make enough to live and support a family with enough time left over for frivolous stuff like the occasional night of bowling or working in the front yard.
I can’t speak for those folks who wave to us as my mate and I drive down a two-lane road in Idaho. But for me I see another human who is in the same place as I, but heading in an opposite direction. I see a guy who, though we might have little in common with each other, is probably a good guy. In my life I have met infinitely more good people than evil. I see a guy who, if we sat down and didn’t talk politics, I could make him laugh and we might learn something from each other.
I can’t help but think, were that guy and I living in my dad’s time, the avoidance of politics would not be necessary. We would have known that though we might be right, left, liberal, conservative or in support of small or large federal government, before all that, we were not the enemy but simply people. People who either by luck, desire or both are sharing this nation. People who want much the same thing: to be loved, respected and safe. Though admittedly some of us do look much better than others topless.
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Biff’s new book “Mind, Body, Soul.” is available at local shops and bookstores or Shop.HolPublications.com/products/biff-america-mind-body-soul
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