Six degrees of separation: The finger salute

As mentioned in a previous column, there was an Indy 500 feel to the backcountry road that was part of my former work commute for several years. It was a beautiful, lovely drive that allowed time to prepare for, and unwind from, work.

Yes, I could have done without the speed demons. I also could have done without the deer that popped out from tree lines to dodge a bumper. There was also a previously mentioned sofa dumped on a bridge that did not quite fit the outdoor décor. It drew my attention far more than it should, but I suppose that goes along with the need for better hobbies.

The highlight of a decade-long drive that made the commute feel beyond words “special” began one morning like most. Aloha and Silverado had left me in their dust. Well, it was more like puddles as there had been a significant amount of rainfall in the area. The creek parallel to my commute moved along at an alarming speed. It was a watery version of The Wizard of Oz tornado with a variety of trash, including a mattress, caught within the eddy waters. Fortunately, there were no little dogs or wicked witches.

It was along my commute that I noted an oncoming vehicle make a hasty U-turn in a wide driveway. Assumptions (And we know about assume) followed, such as a sudden emergency or maybe the question of an appliance left on, it happens to the best of us. The driver made their quick turn and pulled out in front of me. I slowed and kept my distance. There was something off about the driver’s varied speed and notable rubber-necking to the creek. Still, I was willing to give the benefit of the doubt beyond appliances and emergencies. Maybe an official in a debate about a road closure, making a judgment on how soon the water would crest — perhaps on the lookout for a mattress?

There was no one besides yours truly and the rubbernecker for a quarter-mile. When, without warning, Rubbernecker made a beeline for the opposite side of the road. They made a stop to check, of all things, a mailbox.

Not sure what move the rubbernecker would do next, I slowed and did the unthinkable — I honked the car horn as I passed.

Now I am not someone who readily uses a car horn. When I mention the latest scary driving incident, my husband always asks if I laid on the horn. “No, are you crazy?” I respond because I read the news with too many people yanked out of cars or shot by road-enraged drivers filling the headlines.

That morning, I’ve no idea what possessed me. I gave a half-hearted tap to the car horn that made me wince, and my ears burn. I wanted Rubbernecker to be aware that I was moving passed their passenger side door since they were on the wrong side of the road. I passed without a problem, of course, but a glance at the rearview mirror revealed Rubbernecker’s response to my horn tap. I could almost hear the Lion King’s “The Circle of Life” with a brilliant sun-filled glow framing a pale single finger salute.

My mouth dropped in shock and admittedly anger. It wasn’t so much the salute, but the coupled fact I immediately recognized the person. At least, indirectly.

It never fails that about the time the world seems small, it shrinks even further. In junior high, across the street from Ripley’s Believe It or Not! in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, on summer break with my family, I passed a classmate.

Once while learning the history of a former work site, it was shared a family with the last name Royer was the previous owner. Whether there was a direct tie is something I have yet to determine. It is one of those odd little trivialities that is remindful of the six degrees of separation theory by psychologist Stanley Milgram that the world is much smaller than we realize and probably even smaller today what with the Internet.

That said, I’ve no doubt I know Aloha and Silverado, perhaps through a school or work tie, but I will never know until they slow down.

For the single finger salute, I imagined turning around to saddle up to their vehicle with the exclamation, “What gives, Rubbernecker?” only with the insertion of their name.

Of course, and instead, I continued on my way because I read the news, and maybe, just maybe, all things considered, they knew me.

By Bethany J. Royer-DeLong

Pushing Ink

Bethany J. Royer-DeLong is a reporter for the Daily Advocate and Early Bird and a life-long resident of Darke County. She holds a bachelor’s degree in work psychology and a master’s degree in organizational leadership because she’s a sucker for all things jobs. You may reach her at [email protected].