The silence of the damns

"Ninety-four percent of our communication is nonverbal, Jerry," Kramer once said, and it's probably true. Crossed arms, goo-goo eyes and swift, sudden kicks to the nether regions all express more than mere words can, and more articulately because they're done without the editor of thought. If you begin your deliberate speech with, "Look, I'm just not understanding your behavior," you might get some exasperated attention, but if you suddenly break a chair across their back, they're unlikely to miss the point that you're miffed.

And if silent gestures speak volumes in regular life, they do much more so on the road. Revving the engine or leaning your head on the horn in frustrated despair speak clearly for us when we're deserted by words. You've probably given and received some messages on the road that you wouldn't repeat to your mother. Or maybe you flip her off all the time, too.

A national study released in March concluded that, of the places where you'll find the most aggressive drivers in the country, Florida has three cities in the top five. Orlando ranked fourth, a notch worse than Miami. Worse than Miami.

All the rage

Growth, tourist traffic and inadequate or unused mass transit make driving more infuriating every day, and apparently we're responding to it with the most trendy neurosis of all, road rage. At a congressional hearing, one expert said that two-thirds of all traffic deaths in 1996 were rage-related. When more and wider roads were offered as a solution, the speaker said that would be tantamount to "giving a wife beater more room to swing."

The problem isn't on the road but inside the drivers. David Givens thinks he can help change all that, and maybe we should listen to him. Or watch him. Givens is the director of the Center for Nonverbal Studies in Spokane, Wash., and in an ABC Online report (which also provided the Kramer quote) he suggested a gesture that he thinks might help on the road. It's called the bowing thumb waggle.

The bowing thumb waggle is performed by holding the palm up, fingers spread, and waving the hand, thumb tucked in. Given says it would be the first universal "designer gesture" ; the folded thumb and upraised palm are recognized universally as signs of humility. "I mean no harm," it would relate, as in "I'm sorry I cut you off, I didn't see you," or "I didn't mean to swerve into you, but I just got some great gossip here on the cell phone," or "Oops, sorry, I'm cocktailed off my ass."

A point even Givens doesn't miss is that the gesture could be used for other things. He suggests that basketball players use it to show that a personal foul wasn't intended, although the gesture would more likely be abused by people using it to tell a nonverbal lie. Stole a parking space? "Didn't mean it, my car just drove there." Just tripped someone you can't stand? "Forgive me; leg cramp." Grabbed someone's butt? "Couldn't help it, it was just hangin' out there."

Signing off

If we're making up an international sign language to keep the road friendlier, here are a few more for the road:

Make a fist, middle finger extended: "One lane each. I know you deserve more, I really do ..."

Fingers in a circle meeting thumb, as though you are holding a flagpole, move arm up and down at the elbow: "Wow, you have a cell phone. You must be important."

Fingertips massaging scalp: "I can see your roots from the far lane."

Mime drinking: "You're drunk, poor thing. Wouldn't want you wrapping that El Camino around a light pole. I'll call the cops for you."

Hold your nose: "I think you're dead. You aren't moving. I'll erect a scarecrow to keep the vultures off."

Point at nice vehicle and smile, then raise and lower eyebrows rapidly: "Gimme a ride in your car and I'll give you a ride in my house."

Another nonverbal communique note: A tiny red car with a loud engine, vibrating speakers and traveling insanely fast does not announce that you are cool. It announces that you're a jackass. Ditto hooting out the window at girls. No girl has ever thought, "Wow, I bet that guy who just hooted at me is the greatest lover of all time. I wish he'd come take me away from all this."

Subtlety, patience and an endless supply of cool, just like in real life, are what's going to keep you in the race for the long haul. Pushy-bastard driving just makes you look like you've got something to prove, when actually the only thing you prove is that you're a schmuck. This is Orlando, fergodssake. Where in the hell do you have to go that you are really dying to get to?

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