In the daily grind of traffic, there is a peculiar occurrence which many have witnessed but few understand. Those who have driven any sort of atypical vehicle, like a motorcycle, hot rod or commercial truck, know it well: the nod.
The nod is a momentary expression shared between two individuals driving vehicles that are similar in size, shape and wheel count. The nod usually occurs just before the two drivers pass each other while traveling in opposing directions. Once the drivers notice each other, in that moment, without any prior relationship or communication, a kinship is shared. As the machines pass, the drivers acknowledge each other with a subtle physical gesture. The gesture is often a slight nod, but it can also take the form of a tip of the hat or a wave (partial or full-fingered). This brief moment of comradery may seem like a shallow, compulsory custom, and it is.
After all, what could two motorcycle-riding strangers have in common with each other, other than a fondness for two-wheeled automobility? What secret knowledge could be shared between truckers, aside from a common vocation? Surely all who drive similar vehicles or work in similar industries needn’t nod at every encounter. But if the requirements for this practice are so minimal, then we should nod to our coworkers, family members, friends, schoolmates, we should nod to those who look like us, dress like us, are a similar age as us, we should nod to those who enjoy similar activities as us, eat the same food as us and think the same thoughts as us.
And why should we only nod while driving? It would make more sense to acknowledge others no matter where we are or what we’re doing. However, nodding at every opportunity to everyone with whom we share something in common would obviously be irritating and impractical. But if the nod is so clearly meaningless when expressed in such circumstances, then what meaning could it possibly have in its current state? If we could sum up this expression in a single statement, it would probably be this:
We are driving similar vehicles.
The next time someone gives you the nod, imagine that phrase and keep your head steady and hands firmly fastened to the wheel.