If you have ever driven a Jeep, particularly the breed without a fixed roof, you certainly are all-too-familiar with the cultural phenomenon known as the “Jeep Wave”- a universally accepted social gesture that is as equally deeply-rooted in the Americana of our great country as it is both misunderstood and under-appreciated. How is it that a simple wave, in passing, could somehow be more than that?
The suspected origin of our revered wave goes way back to a time when our country was embroiled in the throes of World War II, a conflict which engaged our nation’s people unlike any event ever had. A product of this engagement was symbolized in the way that corporations stepped up to support the war effort in any way they were able. Companies like Ford and Willys-Overland were called upon to produce four-wheel drive reconnaissance vehicles for use by troops and military personnel, both at home and abroad. Out of ingenuity and necessity, the great-grandfather of today’s Jeep Wrangler was born in the form of Ford GPW and Willys MA & MB, or “jeeps” as they were often called by Army personnel. As GIs scurried back and forth in their Willys MB’s, they would often give a slight, subtle “wave” to other jeeps passed in their travels as a means of signifying that they were, indeed, allies or friendlies; often nothing more than two fingers raised from a hand otherwise preoccupied with clinching firmly the Willy’s massive steering wheel and keeping it centered in the ruts and out of the ditches. In the interest of safety, there was no rank recognized or observed and no salutes given on these short jaunts , so as not to tip off anyone to the presence of a high ranking officer who was out for a drive. As the war came to a close, the army’s surplus of these vehicles was liquidated and many military soldiers were offered a “war-certified” used Willys Jeep for purchase for a song…some for as little as $400.
Many of these were quickly snatched up for use on family farms back home or for basic transportation needs leading up to the eventual late 40’s release of the Willys adapted for civilian consumption, the CJ. For this reason, many of the people who drove these vehicles in the years immediately following the war associated closely and personally with another passing Jeep, identifying them as being a “brother”, someone who had also served their country and given a sacrifice similar to their own- someone worthy of respect and even some level of mutual admiration. With no real intentions, the “Jeep Wave” was born. How it continues to thrive today, 75 years later, can only be described or explained as “A Jeep Thing” that no one can truly understand
SO…why would anybody choose to drive a vehicle where a 10 minute drive to the grocery market can be transformed into an aerobic workout? At some point, would this not become annoying? To answer in a word, No. Why would anyone, especially someone with the presence of an otherwise sound mind, allow themselves to be instinctively programmed to wave at every Jeep they pass, even in the dark, triggered only by the glow of those tell-tale closely spaced round headlights? Heck, even when they are driving their “other” vehicles that AREN’T Jeeps – we often still wave!
I think that today’s version of the “Jeep Wave” can be best analyzed by classifying those people who, by their own choice, drive a Jeep today as a person who longs for adventure, loves the outdoors, isn’t afraid to get a little wet in a downpour and possessing an understanding that the destination is often not nearly as important as the journey that is experienced in getting there. To own a vehicle that can display such therapeutic qualities as to remove all traces of an 8 hour stress-filled workday by merely enjoying a 30-minute ride home at sunset with the wind blowing through your hair. There really is no equal, even when you take into consideration the relentless task of waving at every Jeep that passes you by. So keep waving when you see a fellow Jeep owner out on the road (Yes, even the ZJs), whether you’re paying homage to the past or celebrating the unique camaraderie we share as fellow Jeepers in the present. Wave, smile and know …..It’s a Jeep Thing!!