I was just on Lopez Island up in the San Juan Archipelago over the Labor Day weekend. I was driving my old diesel Mercedes around, not to get anywhere, but to warm the old fellow up. Our car “Otto” (it’s not so odd to nickname cars, ask Mercédès Jellinek) has retired to the island full time and doesn’t get a lot of use. So I was trying to get it nice and warm while cruising the pastoral expanse of Lopez island. You can’t go much more than 10 miles in a direction on Lopez and the posted speed limit is reasonable, so it was hard to give the car a proper workout. I mostly went the speed limit, but floored it at the base of hills.
I was passing through that spot where the hardware store and the school are, you have to slow down through there, and I could tell up ahead that some bicyclists had delayed several cars who were shy to pass the bikers real close. This is Lopez Island mind you: every car waves at every other passing car. People stop to ask if you are ok. So these cars were being overly careful about the bikers. To give everyone a hand I took advantage of the shoulder on my side by pulling over a bit to make room. The cars were then easily able to pass without waiting any longer.
And then the oddest thing happened. I looked in my rear-view and the truck with 2 kayaks on top that had been kind of tailgating me was now right on my tail. Real close, like “I’m from Seattle and I hate life and I want you to hate life too” close. I was already over a bit for the bikes so I just signaled a right turn, got over a bit more, and stopped. The truck then peeled out to speed around me. As they sped off I had a feeling in my heart that I hadn’t ever felt on Lopez. That feeling was “there goes someone I wouldn’t help if they were in need”. Like if they were broken down on the side of the road in a few miles I would smile and keep driving.
It’s a caustic feeling. Never mind the tailgating truck, that person was from the mainland on holiday and hadn’t acclimated to the “Lopez Wave” way of doing things. They would adjust in time. The feeling I still had, just below the surface, that seething Seattle go-fuck-yourself had been flushed out of the shadows by this interloper.
I stopped running the car hard to be sure not to catch up, and was glad to see at my left turn that the malcontent continued onward. Down at the boat ramp I parked Otto, got my stuff from Roxy’s saddlebags (Roxy is the motorbike that gets me on those crowded summertime ferries) and went down to the water to row over to the hard-to-get-to island where my place is.
Once on the hard-to-get-to island, the Lopez Wave is compounded. You don’t wave as you pass because you don’t pass each other at all. You stop and talk. “Hey did you fix that problem with your shower?” and “Is so-and-so ok, I heard she fell and broke a rib”. Most of my fellow islanders are people from the worst generation, the people who brought us global warming, Clinton-Bush-Obama-Trump with endless war and the collapse of American values (sure we spy on you and torture you, but we speak English, how bad can we be?). A lot are ACTUAL TRUMP VOTERS. But I’ve got their back. If they need something I’ll help. These are my neighbors.
On Lopez too, this is the unspoken message behind the wave: “These are my neighbors.” I wasn’t surprised the truck was tailgating me at first. I’m sure some Lopezians would pass me Sunday-driving-on-a-Monday in Otto. I pulled over to let them go by because they were obviously in a hurry and I didn’t want to get in the way. I expected the truck to pass slowly and then pick up speed, sticking around long enough for their wave to be visible from the rear window. To rev by and then burn rubber is to share misery that shouldn’t even exist in the first place. I know why I would do that to my fellow cellmates in Seattle, but why do that to your island neighbors?
I mentioned Roxy, my motorbike, my love (don’t tell Kristin). It’s a 1977 BMW R100 and it is more fun than sin. Looks devilish too. I’ve been meaning to stick a gay pride flag or something on it somewhere because it’s all black and I worry with shaved-headed me on top in a leather jacket people might get the wrong idea. Haven’t managed yet. But on the ferry back from the islands I saw a Harley guy with a bunch of patches on his leather vest. One of them was: “Speak English or get the fuck out”. A guy who looked uniquely unlikely to be called on to speak another language, up in arms about those who don’t speak his…
The thing is the Lopez Wave has a few analogues over on the mainland. And one of the strongest, nearly as well observed as the Lopez Wave itself, is the motorbike wave. We wave sometimes at one another from the right lane of a divided highway all the way over to the right lane on the opposite side. We notice one another. You have to give the thumbs up to passing motorbikes when you pull over to get a snack or whatever so they don’t stop to make sure everything is ok. I might have waved at the “Speak English or get the fuck out” guy on the way to the ferry. And I don’t take it back if I did. If he needed help I’d help. “These are my neighbors”.
Now how do I think of people from Seattle as my neighbors? One of us has to stop being shitty first. I’d like to think it would be me, but I am afraid my sense of self is too accurate for my own good. Maybe you start?