betty and i were in new
zealand in a tiny little camper driving on the ‘wrong’ side
of the road. we’ve been to new zealand once before in the
context of peter paul and mary...and despite the fact that
those pp&m road trips are usually such a blur, there
was something about the two sister islands that was magic...
elizabeth (who we called button when she
was younger because she was ‘cute as a...’) was bouncing
around in the rear, from bunk to bunk checking out each
drawer and closet, turning each fixture; we smiled at
her shrieks of discovery upon finding the abandoned deck
of cards or calendar from the previous rentor. it was
easter time 1970, the small ‘vacation’ window following
a united states tour and just prior to another one in
after several hours on the road, liz finally
wound down and took up a curled sleeping position on
the couch that ran the length of the vehicle. betty and
i swapped roles and while i looked over the map of the
north island, she assumed driving duties. there were
few cars on the road this day; perhaps it was during
the week and most of the activity was taking place in
the cities...not that new zealand is ‘overcrowded’ in
we mounted the top of a hill to discover
a long straight descent ahead of us; perhaps a half mile
to the bottom and an equal distance up the other side
of the valley. just as we began at our end, another vehicle
topped the hill at the other end and we began the long
closing of distance between us. the surrounds so void
of habitation, yet so green and beautiful, the other
car and ourselves became more and more unique. closer
and closer we drew to one another. it became obvious
from our speeds that we would pass at almost the exact
bottom of the valley. perhaps it was the fact that the
surroundings were so huge and we human participants seemed
so insignificant within the grandeur of such natural
beauty; mountains in the distance, wisps of clouds against
a gorgeous blue sky and this thin ribbon of highway laying
in the valley from hilltop to hilltop. liz asleep in
the back. the windows down and the cool breeze and then
there we were just 50 feet or so from the oncoming car.
it seemed so natural to wave; as if to say ‘hello, we’re
aware of the perfectness of this moment too’. and, right
on cue, just as i lifted my arm out the window, the couple
in the front seat of the passing car waved back at us.
"wow", i thought. a moment went
by and i turned to betty.
"did you have the feeling...i mean,
did you just KNOW that those folks were going to wave?!
almost like it was ‘in the stars’?!" i asked.
betty thought briefly. "no..."
hmmmmmmmm, i thought, back to the cosmic
but the more i thought about it, the more
it seemed there was a real value to a wave...something
engaging...like a smile...and if someone waved at you
it was like a gift; you just had to pass it on.
"a wave is amazing you know" i
said to betty who seemed quite content to be amazed by
the new zealand countryside.
"mmmmm?" she replied non-committally,
not following my train of thought.
"if you wave at someone", i proposed, "they
MUST wave back".
"not neccessarily" said betty.
"well, i’m going to try it...",
"you’re not!?" betty replied,
peering at me over the top of her sunglasses. after two
years as a graduate student living in france, she saw
this simply as another example of improper gregariousness;
the ugly american syndrome.
"aw, c’mon...i mean, what’s to lose?
and besides," i insisted and volunteered my new
theory, "a wave is never wasted..."
i could tell she was debating the relative
worth of random waving when the next car came into view.
"look!", i pointed up ahead.
"no-el!", betty said in cautious
disapproval. but i could tell she was weakening...
we could see the outlines of an entire
family in the oncoming car; three or four children in
the back seat and one of them leaning out the window
with arms folded with both eyes squint shut against the
oncoming wind and bright sun. as they came to within
100 feet or so i once again raised my arm from the window
ledge and gave them a healthy wave. i saw that betty
had as well... immediately everyone within the car; mom
and pop in the front seat and the two or three kids in
the rear waved.
"alright!" i proclaimed. and
both betty and i laughed and looked ahead to the next