04/30/2015 10:42 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Born to Be... Friendly: What Bikers Know About Life that the Rest of Us Don't

It was a simple gesture. The motorcycle rider, driving toward my minivan on a two-lane country road, flicked his left wrist casually out to the side, his fingers pointing toward the pavement. I watched for him to turn, thinking he was making a turn signal, but then he kept going past me, disappearing in my rearview mirror. It took me a minute before I realized what he was doing: he was waving to the motorcycle rider in front of me.

And then I remembered my dad -- the Harley-riding preacher -- once telling me about biker etiquette. You always give other bikers the subtle "Hey fellow cool biker dude, what's up" wave. Always. And they give it to you. Once you have a motorcycle, you're in the club, you get the Biker Wave. Everywhere you go, from every biker you pass.

I have always had a fondness for bikers, because of my dad, but now I have yet another reason to love all the hairy, tattooed, bike-riding rebels of the world. (And yes, I realize that many bikers don't fit that stereotype -- my own father included.) I find their culture of waving both fascinating and endearing. Let's be honest: Bikers -- particularly the hardcore ones, with their head-to-toe black leather and their ZZ Top beards -- seem like the least likely segment of the population to engage in friendly, borderline cheesy behaviors like waving. Spitting, maybe; rude gestures with their middle fingers, probably -- but waving, not so much. And so, bizarre as it may sound, this whole waving-bikers concept warms my heart and -- dare I indulge in a bit of hyper-sentimentality? -- gives me hope for mankind.

We all want to feel connected, to belong, and motorcycle riders have found a small but meaningful way to find brotherhood with their fellow dudes -- a method that has eluded the rest of us weenies who dare not risk our lives every day on two-wheeled death traps. Just knowing that bikers tool around our nation's curvy back roads, waving at men and women they have never met--that they find camaraderie, even in this simple way, as a community of sorts, a leather-wearing, thrill-seeking fellowship--well, this knowledge gives me hope for the rest of us.

And maybe we're catching on, just a tiny bit. In my neighborhood, we always wave at each other as we drive past. I don't know all my neighbors' names, but I figure the waving is a start. I confess, when I drive through my friends' neighborhoods, I like to wave at their neighbors, too -- pretending I live there, presuming we have a reason to go out of our way to be kind to each other (as if our shared humanity were not reason enough). And sometimes, when I pull out of my neighborhood onto the roads that take me out to the wider world, I still find myself waving at the other drivers I pass, out of habit. I bet they think I'm crazy: "Who's the weird lady in the minivan who keeps grinning and waving at me - -holy cow, are those monkeys jumping around that van?" That would be me, your eccentric local writer (and my crazy part-monkey children). Blame it on my sensitive, creative nature, if you want. And maybe on my upbringing, me with my Harley-waving-preacher father, and my delightfully idealistic mother.

My mom told me her own waving story so many times in my adolescence that I now have it memorized: When she was 15, she went through a period of insecurity and loneliness, feeling like she didn't have friends in her high school. Her solution? She decided to march through the hallways, smiling and waving and saying "hi" to everyone she saw. Within days, Mom wasn't lonely anymore -- her confidence and friendliness had won her many new friends.

All this has made me wonder: What would the world be like if we all waved at everyone we met? If we made eye contact and acknowledged, even in a small way, every person's presence and innate worth? If we focused on making basic face-to-face connections instead of digital ones? Would this world, jammed with all its seven billion inhabitants, be a kinder, more intimate place to live? I like to think so.

So if you catch me, in or out of my minivan, waving at random people, grinning like an idiot--well, blame it a little on my parents and a lot on the bikers. We're making the world a better place, one wave at a time.

This post was first published on the author's website,