The Socializing Drive
Driving in Bay St. Louis - like most things - is a little different than in most places. And better.
- story by Ellis Anderson
After a few minutes, I realized this required true finesse and lots of practice. The driver was steering with his right hand atop the wheel and pushing his forearm onto the horn to honk. Then his left arm, which had been resting comfortably atop the door frame, would go into action. The hand articulated all sorts of greetings with the elegance of an interpreter for the deaf.
For instance, an elderly man in a wheelchair parked on the porch rated an enthusiastic wave and a shout-out: “How’re you doing today?” A homeowner trimming her hedge received an encouraging thumbs-up, as if to say, “Great job!” A man mowing his yard garnered a flourishing finger pointing, as if to say, “Aren’t you the man?”
The cars lined up behind me, but nobody honked their horns to speed things along. A Socializing Drive is an important and respected endeavor in the Bay. To show impatience would be like pasting a big magnetic sign on one’s car: “Hello! I’m a Big-City Dweller Who Needs To Slow Down and Appreciate the Finer Things in Life.”
The Socializing Drive also manifests itself in Mid-Street Conversations. Typically, they begin when a driver notices a friend/family member/neighbor walking or outside in the yard. Both parties have been meaning to talk to each other for a while, but just haven’t had the opportunity. The car stops short, blocking the lane. The pedestrian approaches the vehicle — usually standing in the other lane — and the conversation begins in earnest. Sometimes more passersby, either on foot or in their own cars, join in. Approaching traffic is waved around the conversational cluster. Folks standing in the street scootch up against their friend’s car momentarily to make passage easier. Again, nobody honks. It’d be bad form.
Then there’s the Four-way Stop Sign Tango. Instead of charging ahead when you’re sure it’s your turn, it’s very likely that you’ll recognize the driver of another car. A wave is in order, of course. In addition, there are the mandatory directional waves. Wave One means "You go on ahead, I’m in no hurry,” Wave Two signals “No, you go first!” Wave Three: “Honey, go on now, I think you got here a split second before I did,” The final and Fourth Wave means “Alright, if you insist —but have a great day!”
We also have the I’m Waving Back Although I Have No Idea Who That Was Who Just Honked At Me. It’s a town favorite. While walking/biking/working in the yard, the driver of a passing car will beep their horn in greeting. Tinted windows and the glare of the sun likely prevent instant recognition. But you wave anyway. Although you're clueless as to who was wishing you well, it's enough that they were glad to see you. That’s all that matters in the Bay.
Now with golf carts growing in popularity, the Socializing Drive is enjoying a popular resurgence in town. The open buggies ply the roadways, with no windows to hinder easy ID. The horns have a friendly cartoon sound made for greetings rather than warning. And there’s no temptation to speed either. Keeping things slow is crucial to preserving the SD tradition.
Years ago, a travel writer from New Orleans wrote a story about the Bay. While she rhapsodized over the natural beauty, the historic charm and the friendliness of the residents (of course!), she did seem scandalized that the speed limit on the beach road was only 25. She didn’t understand the way children and their parents need to be able to scamper across between the neighborhoods and the beach.
Once, anxious that I’d be late to a meeting, I hurtled along a near empty beach road at the outrageous clip of 45 mph. I only slowed after noticing that the car headed toward me had blue lights mounted. I hit the brakes, preparing to stop and be ticketed. Instead, the officer driving shook an accusatory index finger at me.
“You’re old enough to know better,” his finger wagged. “Shame on you.” He drove on past me. Mortified instead of relieved, that scolding made me realize how my impatience was risking the sanctity of family the coast holds dear. A heavy fine or a rise in my insurance rates wouldn't have made nearly the same impression.
As the Bay inevitably grows, it might be a good thing to share the joys of SD with newcomers to the area, clue them in to the finer points. After all, it's one of the traditions that keep us a “Place Apart,” or rather, a “Place of Heart.” The city might even consider installing yellow caution signs in certain locations.
“Slow: Roadway Conversations Ahead.”