The Science of Waving in Rock Hall Maryland


For those of you who want an education and a primer on what the Rock Hall Wave actually is and what it means, I have jotted down my thoughts as a means to open a discussion and lay some important groundwork.

I set forth my disclaimers.  First disclaimer, I’m not talking about the nautical waves which surround us, or the waves we give as we see people depart on a trip, but rather, the ever-present waves which take place between drivers of cars, trucks, farm machinery, hay wagons, travel lifts, school buses and other vehicles here in the Rock Hall environs.

Second disclaimer, I was born and raised in Philadelphia. If someone waved to me from another car there, I assumed either they saw smoke coming from my engine or that they mistook my car for their Aunt Masie’s 1950 Ford coupe, the same of which I drove for a long time. This is to point out that I am not born into the rich Rock Hall culture.  Forever, I will wear the tag: a move-in.  So I set the tone of this article as not to define the wave culture, but to seek advice and clarification from others.

So, for a start, let’s try to define the different “waves”:

  • There is the full hand, off the wheel wave, sometimes almost frantic in its movement from side to side
  • There is the one finger wave, where the driver just lifts a finger (no, not that finger!) often to acknowledge an oncoming wave from another vehicle
  • There is the late wave, a jerky late response to a wave from another car
  • Then there is the nod wave with a slight hand movement to include a pretty decisive nod of the head.
  • If it is warm weather, and the driver’s window is open and an arm is extended on the window sill, there is the quick hand up, wave up, wave down wave.  Quickly is the key.
  • And finally, when you have definitely missed an oncoming wave, and you feel great guilt because it is from your minister, or the mayor, or someone you owe money to..there is the behind the car, backward hand motion wave.

OK, those are at least starting definitions.

Who waves?  Well, this one is tougher. For a long time, when I first came from the city, I assumed that people waving at me knew me.  Naturally, I’d squint to see a face. Sometimes, later in the day, I’d run into that stranger on the grocery store parking lot and say “HI! I saw you on 288 today!” ……And they would return these blank stares. So, you really don’t have to know the waver to get a wave, or give one.

Are there people who don’t wave? Well, here I have to get a rant in on the younger generation, for they seem too busy texting, or have their Ipods glued to an ear, or are deafening themselves with the sounds coming from the MegaBass system in the car. Youth!

So, waving seems to be something that has just become a part of Rock Hall culture.  True, women don’t seem to wave as much, but many do. Thelma Shriley doesn’t wave, Robin Wood Kuowski does, Jane Hackett does, but I don’t think that Miss Edna Marie Hubbard Sutton does,not sure…I could be wrong.  Miss Helen Durding does and doesn’t….and we are all just fine with the fact she can do whatever she wishes.

I say it is a Rock Hall thing, because I find that once past the Fairlee turn, waving declines rapidly as you head to Chestertown. Of course, lawyers don’t wave, with exception of Robert H. Strong, and it would help if they did.  Maybe the Historical Society could sponsor a team of expert Rock Hall Wavers to do a seminar at the Chestertown Fire House for wave-learners.

But, you know, even if people don’t wave, I’ve never had anyone say they don’t like to be waved to.  And that is nice.  A few years ago two of my friends who are from Hungary visited me and toured around with me for two weeks.  One of them said after trip that they realized that I know everyone in Rock Hall..why did they think that? Because of the Rock Hall Wave!

I’d hate to see the wave die. But these new model cars, now with cameras in back, and automatic parallel parking, and engines that can start when you are a half mile away, what next?  Well, I hope they don’t invent an automatic wave device.

By the way, does anyone remember the Leo Hicks wave?


Tom McHugh has been a teacher all of his life…teenage camp counselor, boarding school house parent, middle and high school teacher, and college professor. With undergraduate and graduate degrees from Temple University and The University of Pennsylvania, (BS,Ed; M.ED. and Ph.D) he started his college teaching career at Washington College, Chestertown Maryland. From WC, he moved to Vassar College as Chair of The Department of Education and retired in the early nineties as a full professor. He moved back to Rock Hall, Kent County Maryland to raise his two girls in the Eastern Shore setting.  In 1997, Tom founded The Mainstay in Rock Hall as a community center for the arts.

Letters to Editor

  1. John Wayne says:

    Thanks Tom! Well done and an observation well overdue.
    One very dark foggy night a little over a year ago I approached, on the 300 block of Canon street, a bright orange Dodge pickup truck. As the truck slowly and quietly passed I heard the driver say “Hey Oh” followed by, in the same almost cartoonesque voice, “I hope so!”……….. It was too dark to catch a wave.

  2. Carol Knight says:

    I found myself laughing out load with gusto, about the seminar given by expert Rock Hall wavers to help the waving challenged. Great article Tom, loved all of it.

  3. Nancy Taylor Robson says:

    Jimmy Langley, who grew up in Solomons Island, told me once that he worried for almost a year before getting his driver’s license, what kind of wave he should have. One finger off the steering wheel? Two? A half-hand wave? He wanted to be friendly and cool at the same time. Maybe one kind of wave for his buddies, another for a respected elder and by-golly the full-blown return hand-signal type wave for his great aunt who would tan his hide if he were seen to be the least be reluctant to acknowledge the kinship!

  4. Carla Massoni says:

    This is why I read THE SPY! Nothing like a chuckle with your morning coffee – Tom’s article required putting the cup down – I was laughing out loud!!

  5. When my friends and family visit they are inevitably fascinated with the Rock Hall wave. My mother and sister vigorously wave to all cars when they walk around town, and even utter “chicken necker” when they do not get a wave back!. Great article, Tom!

  6. Then there is the Sudlersville wave, one finger (left index) to fellow pick up trucks, two finger (dual index) to family.

    And I have obsereved that down Hooper Island way everybody just waves to everybody once you hit the marshes.

  7. Gee! What’s so special about Rock Hall. Residents in our “North County” communities are highly skilled wavers.
    Mostly people tend to do the 2 finger wave up here.

  8. rcgsunshine says:

    “I say it is a Rock Hall thing, because I find that once past the Fairlee turn, waving declines rapidly as you head to Chestertown. Of course, lawyers don’t wave, with exception of Robert H. Strong, and it would help if they did. ”

    TY for this entertaining piece – however – as an Eastern Shore Native, I must add that the Wave is not exclusive to Rock Hall. I was raised in QA’s and have lived in QA’s, Talbot and Kent…I have waved in all trhee counties and have been the Wavee in all three, as well.

    My children are 9 and 11 years old – when they were, say, 2 and 3, they did think I knew every single person in the tri-county area because I waved to everyone (unless I am on a split highway, like rt 50 from Ches College – to Easton-proper).

    They have come to learn that I do not know All of the residents of the Shore, merely a waving handful of them.


    PS – I prefer the 2 finger, just off of the steering wheel wave – and always while smiling.
    PPS – beeping is also a lovely greeting – but just a quick, half-beep – or a little pettern or tune…full beeps are for true warnings only.
    PPPS – Some of the older residents of Centreville may remember my father (the Judge) and his Shave-and-a-Haircut beep – every night, ’round 5:05, on his way home – just so everyone knew he was en route…I always have to give a Shout-Out for the lawyers 😉

  9. To back up what others have said, the wave is definitely not limited to Rock Hall….I learned about the wave from my grandfather– born on the eastern shore of Virginia, raised in Worcester County, to which he returned when he retired. He waved to everyone, whether he knew them or not, whether they were in vehicles or standing on the side of the road, often accompanying it with a verbal greeting (with a made-up name if he didn’t know the person), even if the car windows were closed, probably for the benefit of his granddaughter sitting beside him. I learned about unconditional friendliness and civility from my grandfather, and have tried to pass it on to my kids. My college-age daughter, raised in Kent County from the age of 3, now finds it “rude” when someone doesn’t return her wave. Usually, we just assume that “they” must be from Pennsylvania ; )

  10. Steve Payne says:

    It’s nice to see a wave is still appreciated around here. When I still lived near the city I was running a construction job for several months Tthere was an older guy who came out to the sidewalk every day and just waved at passing cars. He was confined to a wheelchair and for several hours he would just sit there and wave at everyone. He would use his right hand if the car was coming from the left and viceversa. Most everybody would wave back and smile too. He didn’t like beeping at all and few did it. After that I noticed how everybody just gave a halfhearted nod to others.

  11. When I first moved to Rock Hall back in the late 70’s, it took a little bit for the Rock Hallers to “accept” me with the wave. You see, I was from Quaker Neck (which is a waving haven in itself) , drove a Volvo (with Md tags, but still a stretch) so it took a few months. After several hundred trips along 20 and around town, I was both a waver and a wavee !!

    You’re on target Tom; it’s a personal thing, whether one or 2 fingers, or the whole fist …. a nod, on the wheel or in the air, it’s part of the Rock Hall that we know and love! If you’re driving a truck, you’re in like flint !

    Leo Hicks …. he was a wheel leaner, for sure ……

  12. rcgsunshine says:

    Almost forgot about the “nod” – thank you, Liz . I find myself doing a reverse nod – chin up rather than forehead down 😉

  13. I’m from Baltimore, and the only wave we do is at Orioles games… and even that’s been lacking for the past decade or so.

    There’s a whole other thing that takes place on the River. Almost everyone waves to each other, although sometimes watermen are too busy to wave to non watermen.

    Oh, and the low finger wave when one motorcycle gang passes another has always made me envious of motorcycle gangs.

  14. A good friend of mine lived in Galena for a year. Galena, Alaska that is. Population a little under 700. She rode her bike to work every day and got used to everyone waving and waved herself to everyone she saw. One day she passed a man on a bicycle and waved. He did not return the wave. Thinking that he had not seen her she waved again, this time more vigorously. Again, nothing. When she arrived at work she described the man’s rudeness to her coworkers and how she had tried multiple times to get him to respond. To her embarrassment she learned that the man in question, who had suffered a childhood injury, had only one arm.

  15. My wife is from New York where no one waves, and if you do wave your crazy… So sometimes it’s good not to wave 🙂 I was born and raised in Rock Hall and my wife really believes that I know everyone in Kent County. She has told me that, I should run for Commissioner or some political office… So thats how it starts…. So the wave can get you into a political office…hmmmm …..
    My wave is the quick 4 finger off the steering wheel with a smile wave.

  16. Great article. I’m so glad to learn about the “Rock Hall Wave”. My husband and I moved here five years ago from NJ. (definitely “move-ins”). If you waved to someone from NJ you mostly likely would have received the “Jersey Salute”. We learned about Rock Hall from a Fall Fest article in a boating magazine. We had been trying to decide where to relocate upon retiring. We came down for the Fall Fest weekend and as luck would have it, the weather was perfect and the festival a great time. On the ride home, we talked about Rock Hall at length and ended up keeping our boat here for a year to see if Rock Hall would be a good fit for us. The following year had us packing up and moving here. The Rock Hall Wave was noticed by us almost immediately and that was one of many factors that made us feel very much at home and happy that we made that decision to move here.

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