Usually I try to be serious, well, sometimes anyway, but on my way to school this morning, I saw one of those little things in life that sort of drives me crazy—a right turn hand signal by a bicyclist.

Okay. It’s petty, yes, but it’s so silly. Here’s what I mean. If you’re trying to tell someone you want them to go or move something to one side or the other, you simply point in that direction. The farther away they are, the larger the arm gesture is likely to be. Right?

All right, so I’m in my car and the left turn signal doesn’t work. What do I do? Well, of course if I’m under 60, I don’t do anything because signally my intention does not exist in my cognitive vocabulary. Even if the signal did work, I would only engage it because my hand bumped the lever while turning the wheel. No, no. If I wanted to signal a left turn with the window open, even in the dead of a Minnesota winter, I would thrust my arm straight out to the left to say, boldly, “I’m turning left!” In computer parlance, it’s very intuitive.

Now my bicycle that I often ride on the roads and trails does not have turn signals and I am over 60, so I use hand signals. When I plan on turning left, I stick my arm out to the left and even point with my index finger for those less perceptive, less intuitive individuals approaching from behind or ahead. I even move over to the left, assuming the way is clear. People seem to be able to figure this out pretty well, and I don’t think it’s because they’re all using hand signals in their automobile.

HowNow there are times when I’m approaching other cyclists, and one of them gives me a 1950’s stereotype Indian “How” greeting. “Hi?”  I try to say hello in return, but they pull off to their right and ignore me. I was offended by this for several seconds, but I have now figured out what’s going on.

Back in my car with defective turn signals, I know I must indicate my intention to turn right by sticking my arm out the left window, raising my forearm up. I would stick my arm straight out the right window if I were in the UK, but here in the land of big cars driving on the BikeRightright hand side of the road, such a gesture would do to damage my passenger more than indicate anything to anyone outside the car. Clearly the only window I can gesture out of is the left—down for slowing and stopping, up for turning right and straight out for turning left.

I have no windows on my bike. I can reach visibly to the left and to the right. I can signal a turn in either direction without depending on the unknowledgeable knowing what “How” means. I can, though I seldom do, signal a stop by putting either arm down, palm to the rear. So when I see someone in their local club kit pedaling through BikeRightNewrush hour traffic, glibly offering native American greetings to morning commuters, I have to snicker.  Is pointing too analogical in the digital age? Is semaphore better?

About Jay C Ritterson
The only failure is the failure to try.

One Response to Hi?

  1. Tianna Hadjiyiannis says:

    Maybe in your free-time this summer, we should take a ride and you can teach the aging art of hand signaling!


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