9. Smile and wave.

Once in a while, every two or three months, I turn into the sort of person other people don’t want to make eye contact with. But by the time they realise this, it’s too late. You see, I wave at cars. Not all of them. Just a select few. And it’s not just the cars I am waving at, it’s the drivers.

But not in a creepy way. Friend.

But not in a creepy way. Friend.

There’s nothing subtle about it. I stare at them across the busy lines of traffic, like a love struck admirer, or that creepy stalker from accounting at a company picnic, until they unwittingly make eye contact. Then I grin like a loon, and wave. To add to the general air of quiet sanity, I then proceed to get washed over by a wave of embarrassment, reddening like a tomato and peering shamefacedly down at the steering wheel until my new special friend has driven away.

I often wonder what it must be like for the other party in one of these exchanges; you’re driving along, minding your own business when you happen to glance at the car next to you. You stop. The driver is staring at you like a cat about to leap on a pigeon. You freeze. The driver grins, and waves at you. You desperately search the recesses of your mind for some spark of recognition. Did you go to school with him? Meet him at a party? Is he somehow connected to your work?

Did he share a cell with you?

Did he share a cell with you?

Just in case, you start to wave back. But something weird has happened. He’s not waving any more. He’s not even looking at you. He’s staring at the road in front of him like he’s trying to set it on fire with his mind. His ears are glowing an unnatural red. And so he sits, frozen, until the lights change. You drive off, and never see him again. But that night, you check twice to make sure you locked the front door, and you sleep with your phone pre-dialled to 911.

My behaviour is, of course, completely reasonable. This all happens simply because I drive one of these.


It’s a Land Rover. A Land Rover Defender. And the day you slip behind the wheel of a Land Rover Defender, you join a secret society. A brotherhood of the road. You are friends with every other proper Land Rover driver on the road. This is a Land Rover Discovery.


It’s a very nice car. But it’s not a proper Land Rover. If you drive a Discovery, you don’t get to be one of the brotherhood. You don’t get to take part in the rituals. And rituals there are. If you happen to park next to each other, you have to stop and chat about your cars. You have to bolt a spade to the side of your car. You have to collectively disparage Toyota Land Cruisers, even though they are better made. But most of all, out on the road you have to wave at each other.

You can choose your own style. And you can vary it with your mood. In the mornings, before the day has taken its toll, I’m a hand raiser. In the afternoons, I’m cooler about it. I lift a finger or two. It doesn’t matter what you are. You can be a puppydog-enthusiatic, hand-out-the-open-window guy. You can be super-cool, a nodder, acknowledging your brothers with an almost imperceptible inclination of the head. You can be smiler, a thumbs upper, a slightly creepy word-mouther.

But you must take part. It’s the rules. It’s an acknowledgement. We few. We happy few. We band of brothers. We have turned up our noses at more sensible modes of transport. We can drive over mountains, chewing up boulders and spitting out dust, but we can’t fit into underground parking lots. We can ford turbulent rivers, tyres clawing a path through the murky depths, but we can’t do a u-turn in a two lane road. We have to sell family members to pay for the fuel, and get used to the idea that the temperamental buggers can drive across Borneo, but might not make it through the afternoon school run.

We are happier for it. We have not bought cars. We have bought a dream, and while our pockets may be lighter, our lives are richer. And this must be acknowledged among ourselves. Because everything we do feels like this;

The dream.

The dream.

The reality.

The reality.

Which is all well and good. But once in a while, every two or three months, I borrow my wife’s car. And I forget I’m in it. And then I become the dork in the Honda CRV who can’t stop himself from waving at strangers. But only strangers in Land Rovers. At least I’m a dork with taste.

42 thoughts on “9. Smile and wave.

  1. theh2obaby says:

    The flooded-Serengeti / road puddle is brilliant. Too many of us lose that imagination, the make-believe, of childhood. Grown-up life is often boring and small. Remembering to pretend can be the thing that makes it tolerable. I have a panther in my house. She hunts pterodactyls. Once a velociraptor got in, was in mortal danger from said panther… but it jettisoned its tail and was rescued by a giant. I wish we had a Defender.

  2. […] about my children, art, Bob Marley and naked Winston Churchill. My most successful post was about Land Rovers, of all […]

  3. This reminds me of motorcyclists here in the States, they all wave to one another and like you, my father cannot help himself when he is behind the wheel of a car if he has been on a long bike trip recently.

    I, on the other hand, have no such justification for my behavior. Other than it is to fun for me and very embarrassing for the people in the car with me.

  4. That picture is scary and is going to haunt me into nightmares of Pennywise the clown crossed with Jack Nicholson’s Joker for years to come.
    Another great post. I eagerly await the next 91.

  5. Lyn says:

    I don’t drive a Land Rover of any sort. Just a thirteen-year-old Hyundai Accent. But I do sit in traffic and wave at people. I wave at people walking along the footpath too. I love to see the look of confusion on their faces. “Do I know you?” Mostly they wave back – still looking confused and the more exuberant the wave and the smile you give them, the quicker they tend to wave back – and the more confused they look nyuk, nyuk, nyuk 🙂

  6. mud4fun says:

    Great post, a very enjoyable read 🙂

    However, can I just point out that the Defender isn’t truly a proper Land Rover because it doesn’t have leafs…….. 😉 😉 My wife and I would still wave at you though as it is the best boingy by far.



    • 23thorns says:

      I learned to drive in an old series 3 down in the bush. I think it was an army surplus vehicle from Zimbabwe- it still had blackout switches on the dashboard. You’re right- that was a proper Landy.

      • mud4fun says:

        I’ve recently introduced my wife to the joys of proper Land Rover ownership. She went from a top of the range Mitsubishi Pinin with power steering, electric everything, air con and a shift on the fly 4WD system to a rather basic 109″ Series pickup that I bought and refurbished for her 18 months ago.

        It took her a while to get used to the heavy steering (not helped by me fitting 33″ tyres to it) but even she admits that the vent flaps work almost as well as her pinins air con and at least sliding windows can’t go wrong!

        She has also now experienced the ‘brotherhood’ or ‘secret society’ and has often come back from some trip to the shops etc to inform me that she stood chatting in the supermarket car park for ages to a complete stranger discussing the finer points of parabolic leaf springs or the detail differences between a military spec 109″ to a civvy spec not to mention the number of waves she gets in her truck.

        I think I can safely say she is a true convert now and would not go back to driving a boring modern car again 🙂

  7. Great post. Wish I could be part of the brother hood but I want a new Ranger Rover sport. I can totally relate to the casual glance at a traffic light and the awkward pull away when they look back. I get whip lash from that haha

  8. Mocha says:

    OMG…this is funny as hell…awesome piece…

  9. mariekeates says:

    Brilliant. Made me laugh at the end of a long stressy day 🙂

  10. As a MGB owner back in the ’70’s I used to do the secret club wave thing. Nowadays, as a Freelander driver I can only hope to aspire to true Landy ownership. Love the post tho!

  11. narf77 says:

    Owning and driving a landrover is akin to being a train spotter in our neck of the woods. Landrover drivers wear sandals and socks. They also wear cardigans and drive in the fast lane doing 60km/hour. It sounds like you would fit in just fine with your landrover in Tassie Mr 23 thorns.

  12. syrbal says:

    It reminds me of the “motorcycle wave”….that whole acknowledgement of riding on two wheels only thing. And then, no grins visible behind the full face helms, of course. And bah humbug to the riders who refuse to acknowledge bikes smaller than theirs….

  13. warmginger says:

    We had an ancient Volvo a few years back. God knows what it was but my husband had to have it because he could get his 10 footer inside and shut the boot. It also came with membership to some weird club. The wave just made me think the other drivers wanted to meet up at some weird Volvo swingers convention.

    • 23thorns says:

      I used to have a Volvo with an engine big enough to drive a Sherman tank. I feel like I’m single-handedly keeping OPEC solvent.

      • warmginger says:

        Ah, cars take on a whole new meaning in the oil-rich land I live in. I’ve been overtaken on the highway by 8-year-olds in souped-up tuc-tucs. And thanks for your support. It’s nice to think you’re subsidising my incredibly cheap petrol!

  14. Oh My God….such a scary smile…

  15. cvheerden says:

    Hooray! My Landrover is the best car I ever had!!! Love your post. The secret society is men only, however. Nobody ever stopped to chat with me about spades.

    • 23thorns says:

      That’s because you guys are farmers. The spades are more for people from Jo’burg who wouldn’t know how to use one anyway.

      • cvheerden says:

        I am originally from Germany, there you can have your Jeep mudsplashed for a minimal fee at the garage for the extra outdoorsy feel …

  16. Sara says:

    Way back in the ’80s I owned a Renault Le Car and there was the same kind of brotherhood, probably because Le Cars weren’t that prevalent in the U.S. I was always the one to wave back, though. I’m way to shy to initiate such brazen behavior as a wave to a stranger.

    • 23thorns says:

      It’s kind of hard to avoid in a landy. We tend to stick out above the rest of the traffic, like gas-guzzling, breakdown-prone islands in a stream of metal.

  17. LindaGHill says:

    Haha! Soooo creepy, but in a friendly sort of way. hahahaha I’d probably grin and wave back in exactly the same way.

  18. The Rider says:

    Weird people- these Landy ouks…

  19. Non-Flapdoodle-ental says:

    Hahah! You’re hilarious!! And thanks for dropping by my blog 🙂 *follows*

  20. wmanwere says:

    why leave out the guys with the Discovery? they are fully deserving too. good read right there

  21. I get that weirdness from Prius drivers, except there’s usually a good dash of self-righteousness required to be part of that club. Since I’m an impatient Prius driver, my mileage doesn’t meet the club standards. When they smile or wave, I look away shamefacedly. And then I burn rubber.

    • 23thorns says:

      We have no claim to self-righteousness. More like slightly shame-faced defiance. Especially when we accidentally drive over a Prius!

  22. billgncs says:

    It’s true! My sister and brother in law in France have a defender and it is a secret society.

    • 23thorns says:

      I’m glad to know it’s an international thing. If i hire a Renault in Paris I can freak out that select group of locals there too!

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