Wednesday, February 08, 2006
Lately I’ve been passing the Statue of Liberty when I drive into town. She always waves at me. I finally waved back the other day and it was interesting how much better I felt afterwards. Today when I passed Uncle Sam was with her. This was too good to pass up so I pulled over to talk to them.
They’re out there advertising the Liberty Tax Service tucked in the shopping center parking lot. I can expect to see them through April. When I asked Lady Liberty, aka Karen, where she found a job like that she told me she saw it in the newspaper advertising for “Wavers.” What does a waver do? Waves. That’s all.
But the job is more finely tuned that that. Liberty said most new hires have to watch a training video. A training video? How complicated can waving be? She didn’t have to watch it herself since she’s one of the “older” wavers. But I’m assuming that means the video explains the proper way to wave, and a few more rules. And one of the big rules is “Don’t flip anybody off” even though Lady Liberty herself gets the bird occasionally during the day. And also gets the occasional illicit offer. How could anyone proposition the State of Liberty for crying out loud? I guess they are making a political statement. It’s a free country, after all, and the Statue of Liberty is a symbol of that. “Give me your tired, your poor, your folks who want to shoot me the finger…”
By this time I was waving at cars myself. They work in rotating four-hour shifts. Karen wears dark glasses when the glare is bright so I guess historical accuracy isn’t that big a requirement. But she has a gorgeous green velour gown that makes her look remarkably like the real statue except that when it gets cold she wears layers of thermal clothing underneath. She took off one of her gloves and took my hand to show how cold her hands get even inside the gloves. Other than her green liberty gown and the green foam liberty crown on her head she doesn’t have any special equipment. However she does wear earpieces to listen to music while she’s waving. I should have asked her what she was listening to—John Phillips Sousa, maybe. A truck rolls by and blows his horn. What a rush.
I had just seen Chronicles of Narnia and come away from the movie wanting to be just like the mean old witch because she had the coolest costumes in the whole show. I think I’m into costumes now. Can you imagine getting to dress up in a green velour gown with a green foam crown and get to pretend you’re the Statue of Liberty all day and wave at folks? I was just blown away at the idea.
About 20 feet away stood Uncle Sam whose real name is Rowdy. I didn’t ask their last names. Some details would just complicate matters. Karen said he was back on this job for his second year. The pay is little more than minimum wage but they both told me it was the best job they had ever had. Karen is in nursing school and the 4-hour shift fits right into her schedule. Rowdy doesn’t need the money he says; he just enjoys the job.
And I have to admit it was the most fun I’ve had in a while. It was such an innocent gesture—waving at people. And not one of those wimpy ones the Queen does. They showed me the proper technique. All arm, up and out with a full sweep of motion with your eyes on the driver of the car all the time. Most people waved back at me when I waved at them. I couldn’t get over what a great feeling it gave me.
The boss is really nice, they said. She was even nice the day she fired one of the Liberties when she caught her sitting in her car reading the paper. This job calls for non-stop waving. I asked if their arms get tired. They both agreed and gave me some tips. I noticed that they rotate which arm they use. Sometimes they even use both at once. There is definitely a technique to this work. Truck drivers get the blow your horn signal. When I got the horn back after my signal it was a real rush.
Rowdy once started enjoying himself so much he decided to stand on top of his car by the side of the road to wave. Wouldn’t you know it but the OSHA people happen to be driving by and stopped him. I guess our government has a rule against standing on your car waving at people. Or maybe doing it for money.
It turns out this is a nationwide chain of tax preparers. I met the local owner and her marketing director. The characters are what you call “Guerrilla Marketing” which seems like a pretty strong word for folks who just wave at people.
They keep 2 sets of the costumes back in the office. I wanted to check out the costumes up close because you’re always so disappointed when you see stage stuff up close and personal. But I can testify that Lady Liberty’s gown and crown are kept in pristine condition. They’re washable and the tax ladies take real good care of them.
All of this was a little more than I wanted to know when I thought about it later. It was enough to know that the people behind the wave are happy and plainly welcoming in nature. And it got me to thinking about waving at people.
Out here in the country folks wave at each other when we pass on the road. It’s a custom that is easy to get used to. When we take our afternoon walk everybody waves as they pass us. It’s not just being friendly it also announces our presence on the road—we being the easy target and the car acknowledging that they see us and will try not to run over us. These waves take being friendly to the level of safety.
I remember the week immediately after 9/11/2001 when I visited the Vietnamese cleaners. That was a mournful week everyone shared and this man felt it more than others. He had a background that included eight years as a political prison with a long journey to the US in one of the small boats that brought people here. He told me he was part of a group who were waving a huge American flag at the street corner by his business. They went out every night for a week or so from 6 to 8pm and just waved the flag.
We used to pass a man on the state highway going to see Beaven’s Daddy in Mt Pleasant. The guy lived by the side of the road and spent a lot of his time on his front porch waving at people driving by. He became such a regular fixture that if he wasn’t there when we passed we noticed it.
There is something special about a wave. It’s one of the most selfless acts you can offer. It asks nothing in return, unless you count inviting folks to try out the Liberty Tax Service. And it gives the most amazing feeling of being connected to others.
Most Baby Boomers like myself hold in the back of their minds a fall-back job as a Greeter at Wal-Mart in case the pension doesn’t stretch far enough or maybe they worked at Enron. Me, I’m gonna be a waver.