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It’s a Hill thing

| 01 Mar 2024 | 02:31

After nearly four years in Pennsylvania, we’re in.

Year one: The neighbors on our hill start (finally) waving back as we drive by. At first, we’d assumed it must be our front license plate, signaling we were newbies from New York (“front platers”) that explained the poker faces. But even when we got our Pennsylvania plates, we continued to feel the chill. Was it the Prius? I could see how my Little Engine That Could might look like a virtue-signaling tin can, especially when I got stuck on my long, snowy driveway and a neighbor mercifully if grudgingly dragged me out with his tractor. Or just that we were new, and these folks don’t wave at every yahoo who wanders in.

Year two: Neighbors start leaving us their empty egg cartons to use for our flock’s eggs – including the neighbors that we figured, from the election signage featuring an extended middle finger on prominent display when we moved in, might not care to mingle. Turns out shared humanity trumps politics (especially in off-election years). Everyone likes free-range eggs, and not wasting.

Year three: Sledding parties and Crock-Pot hot cocoa; a gender-reveal party where the dad-to-be shoots a color-filled smoke canister (boy!); shared garden bounty; bus stop chitchat; impromptu snake handling demos. This is our crew. I don’t know exactly who votes which way, and I’m not asking. We’ve got plenty else to talk about.

I’d forgotten how good it feels to belong – settled, like pulling on a new pair of socks. And is it just my imagination, or does it feel even better because we weren’t embraced with open arms the moment we pulled up? Because our hill, the antithesis of the country club environment in which I grew up, is nonetheless its own sort of exclusive club?

What is it with humans and our clubs and societies, anyway? We’re probably not unique in our fixation on exclusivity – chimps may have their back-scratching cliques, too – but there does seem to be something quintessentially human about the desire to be part of the in crowd. And to have an in crowd, it goes without saying, there has to be a sizeable out crowd. That fringe is a place I’m plenty comfortable; as an introvert, it’s probably preferable to remain in orbit – but it can get lonely out here.

Usually, you have to put in the time to break into any inner circle worthy of the name. Recently, however, I discovered I’d stumbled into yet another secret society, this time purely by accident.

My Little Engine That Could finally died, clunking to a decisive end moments after the odometer hit that electrifying round number: 250,000 hard-driving miles. I bid my trusty nag adieu and decided it was time for a vehicle that would not put the fear of God in me every time a wintry mix came down and I had a kid in the car on I-84. For the first time in my life I bit the bullet and bought a new vehicle: a hybrid 2024 Jeep Wrangler, christened the “Momster Truck” and promptly baptized with crumbs (haha no eating in the car, nice try Mom).

My brother-in-law, a car guy through and through, hopped into the passenger seat admiringly – something he’d definitely never done in the Prius – and informed me that Jeep drivers wave to each other. Sure, okay. Jeep jingoism, didn’t sound like my thing.

Then I noticed, I was getting waves. Upon mentioning this phenomenon to a Jeep-driving colleague, she informed me that “you Wrangler snobs” have your own wave, some off-road culture thing. For real?

I just wanted a vehicle that got decent gas mileage and was rugged enough to handle our sticksville life in any weather, preferably green. Now I had my own gang sign? But hey, I throw up those fingers when I pass a car that looks like mine, why not? I can’t deny that the mutual greeting is an addition to my commute, like how everyone on a boat on a lake on a summer day waves to each other.

The Jeep wave is an afterthought, though, compared to the nods from our neighbors on the hill – heck, why not lay claim to the grand ol’ uppercase? The Hill. The acknowledgments paused after I got my new car, replaced by those poker-face stares of old, while they figured out who the hell that green Jeep was. Now they know it’s just me, and regardless of what yard signs go up in the coming year, regardless of what make or model I’m driving, we will wave each other home.