Lately, letters about the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad’s train whistle have taken up real estate in our Opinion section. One letter-writer steered the conversation toward a new track (sorry, couldn’t resist), sharing an image of a “no waving” sign in a lawn along the route. We’ll keep the location confidential. But the sign got us thinking – to wave or not to wave. And what this choice says about us.
This “no waving” sign is irreverent. And funny. We haven’t yet pinpointed a historical narrative as to whom was the first to wave –train passengers or non-riders. And where. At what point in time did we become conditioned to wave? We certainly don’t wave at bus passengers. Or people in taxis or Ubers.
It has to do with a special journey. Remember those sepia-toned images of ship passengers waving to people dockside, confetti floating in the air. Maybe this festive sendoff invites good luck. For the train, it could be sharing in wishes for safe travel on D&SNGR’s “leisurely trip to yesteryear.” A salute to living through vacationers’ experiences before we non-riders schlep back to our jobs.
Waving at trains is ingrained.
Except for the people with the sign.
Train passengers generally start the waving business. Then non-riders return the wave. Non-riders don’t initiate the wave. If they do, train passengers are enthusiastic in their return-waving. We’re talking waves that originate from the elbow like animated automatons. Not small baby, anemic hand-waves. Not beauty queen waves from convertibles in parades.
Return waving is expected of us. Demanded even. No matter if we’re balancing lunch, a coffee and taking a phone call. Train passengers’ eyes contact ours, hijack our gaze, then come the urgent waves that say: “We see that you need another arm, but clutch your stuff inside your armpit and wave. Now!”
Again, where did this expectation originate? Is it a genetic imprint from the early 1800s, the start of train travel?
To wave is a social norm. What if we don’t wave? Are we jerks? Are we missing a fun chip? Are we oblivious to social nuances? Although, a trainload of 350 to 400 passengers – most waving – would count as more than a nuance, don’t you think? We feel pressure, especially on days when we’d rather just go about our business and exuberant waving feels fake.
Jeff Johnson, D&SNGR vice president and general manager, said waving comes from the delightfulness of humans. “There’s something about the train going by and wanting to engage,” Johnson said. “It’s an event, it’s a moment.”
Johnson often steps onto the platform to wave everyone out of the station. “The minute the wheels roll, most everyone on the train starts to wave,” he said.
He called the waving infectious, an innate tradition and “kind of heartwarming.”
Locals wave back, too. “I’m impressed with how many people do wave daily,” he said.
Aside from the people with the sign. But give them a break. Maybe they felt forced to wave one too many times. Maybe they just wanted to do yardwork without having to single-hand a rake or lawnmower. It’s a free country.
Waving is an individual decision. And who knows, if you do wave, it could be at a surgeon who will one day save your leg after a tangle with an ebike. Or at a tourist who falls in love with Durango (such a friendly city) and buys that fancy third home. Or maybe your heart skips while waving at your future love interest. Or . . . ok, we’ll stop now.
We’ll go quietly with a little . . . well, you know.