I had never seen "the wave" until I moved to small town Nebraska. I distinctly remember the first few miles before we reached the town (population 250) in which we were to be living. It seemed odd to my family and I that each in vehicle we met on the road, the driver would wave at us. We wondered about the first few people to do it: "Who was that, Dad? Do they know us?" Being from the east, where friendliness in strangers is hard to come by, we were rather intrigued. The closer we got to town, the more drivers waved.
"The wave" is a little hard to describe if you have never seen it before. It is never a full hand sticking up above the dashboard waving back and forth like a little child would do. Nor would it ever be a Miss America style "proper" wave or a little granny wave. It is more like a nod with your hand. Sometimes it will just be an index finger lifted as you pass, or a slight raising of all four fingers. Being from the east, we were used to seeing fingers from drivers, only in a different light. To get the proper wave position, you need to have your hand draped over the top of the steering wheel at just the right position so that it can be seen by every other driver on the road. Occasionally, the driver might have his hand across the back of the seat beside him and he will slightly raise it in acknowledgement. Some of the more daring may just lift their chin, instead of using their hand at all. On a hot day, the hand may be hanging out the window or resting on top of the roof of the vehicle.
We came to learn that "the wave" was merely a friendly gesture. Perhaps a welcome to someone you didn't know or a "hello" to another neighbor or resident of your town. The rule was that you always wave, to everyone on the road. Whether friend or enemy, each person deserved an acknowledging. We found out in time that "the wave" is contagious. Soon after we arrived there, our dad caught the bug and started waving to everyone as well.
As young teens, "the wave" was a rite of passage that came with getting your driver's license. You never waved from the passenger seat. Only the driver was allowed to wave. We would sit in the driver's seat, drape our arm over the top of the steering wheel and dream of the day when the wave could be ours. They taught you the proper hand position in driver's ed. No more of this "hands at 10 and 2" stuff, one hand was placed at "12" and your other hand held the bottom of the wheel until you were more confident in driving with one hand.
I guess that comes with the home pride of a small town area. If you live in the same county, there is this pride, this sense of self-worth, knowing that you are one of the chosen few to live in that area and you pledge it with raised hand. No blank stare as you drive down the road. Driving becomes part of the social network in a small town. You see the other person and know that they, too, share the home pride of that area.
I moved away from the small town for a few years. "The wave" was a habit that was hard to overcome. There were some big city people that were waved at, until the strange stares stopped me. I was fortunate enough to marry a small town guy, and so now I get to see the wave all the time and return it with a smile. But, you'll get that in a small town...