Bob Sosnik, Ray Bird and Betsey Taylor Herd. Photo: Barbara Ettenger

During my early morning runs, I encounter drivers hurrying to work, coffee cup or cell phone in hand, foggy from too little sleep, and not looking for a runner coming down the road toward them. I focus on the vehicle and, when it’s about 50 yards away, I raise my hand and wave, and that usually works wonders. Makes me think of Ray Bird.

Ray always waved at the driver. He thought a wave showed good will on his part and might improve future runner-driver relations. I think he was right.

Ray was a country boy. He wasn’t very fast, but he ran a lot of miles, and he was persistent, so he won some age group awards, and he kept going to races. I don’t know where he is today, or if he’s still running.  He was a nice guy; not a mean bone in him.

My favorite Ray Bird story is about him coming to a Monday evening fat burner run of 7 or 8 miles in a new pair of shoes. Right out of the box. All during the run, he complained about one of the shoes being too tight and hurting his toes, but he never stopped. He finished with the group and then sat down on the curb in the YMCA parking lot and took off the offending shoe and discovered he’d neglected to remove the paper the manufacturer always stuffs in the toe. Ray tended to do things like that.

Anyway, I went to a race in Eden with Ray some time in the 1980s. We warmed up and cooled down together, and I noticed Ray invariably waved at drivers as they passed, going in either direction. Made no difference whether the drivers had moved over their vehicles and given us plenty of room on the road or had not moved at all and had put us in a ditch. Ray waved. I think he also said, “Thank you,” but I’m not really sure about that.

As we ran, I asked Ray about his waving, especially to the knucklehead who had nearly put us in the hospital—and to whom I had given a one-finger salute. He said he always waved, been doing it as long as he could remember. He thought a wave was a polite gesture that sent a peaceful signal to the driver and, if done repeatedly, might build up a store of good will among drivers that would make life safer for him and other runners. I think he developed this theory partly because he was a nice person, but mostly because he did much of his running on country roads and often encountered good old boys in trucks with shotgun racks who thought runners had no business running on the road and who were always ready to throw a beer can.

I try to practice Ray’s wave theory. I say “try” because I still struggle to make a polite gesture to drivers who plainly see me running at them on the edge of the road in a fluorescent shirt or jacket but refuse to move over, even though no other vehicle is coming in the opposite direction. But I’ve pretty much cut out the one-finger salute since it’s a waste of energy, and, in this day and age, the driver may be carrying a large caliber handgun.

So, I wave. Just a brief lifting of the hand, palm out. Hi. Thanks for moving over. Like Ray, I figure a wave is a nice gesture, and the drivers may appreciate it and maybe think positively the next time they encounter a runner.

Who knows what will happen if we all start waving at drivers. They may think better of runners, and fewer runners may get run off the road or hurt. We might even make life better for the grumpy cyclists. I know Ray would approve.