By Jeff Brady

When I saw the newspaper was asking what people of Skagway are thankful for this year, I immediately thought of family and friends and relatives far away who are just thankful to be together and alive right now. 

It actually was a sobering and somewhat depressing thought: thankfulness, for maybe the first time, being expressed as a false positive or negative.

But I couldn’t say that, not in a newspaper seeking real thanks. I needed something more uplifting. And it came to me on a drive to town this week. Actually it’s something I’ve noticed about Skagway since COVID began to dominate our lives. 

Almost everyone waves now. 

This hasn’t been the case in recent years, but it used to be the norm. When I first came to town in the 1970s, waving, even to passing strangers and tourists, was what everyone did. It was an Alaskan thing, a Skagway thing. It meant that you had some small connection to everyone on the road or boardwalk.

People developed their own wave styles.  Right hand, left hand, on the wheel, off the wheel, elbow out, elbow in, peace sign, Vulcan sign, out the window full arm rotation, you name it.  Mine was two hands on the wheel, thumbs cradling the column, eight fingers flashed up and down, quick on the wave draw. Maybe do it twice for effect, or finish with a pantomimed toast if it was someone you were meeting later for a beer.

I kept it up over the years, but around the turn of the millennium I definitely started noticing that fewer people were waving back. This could be blamed on any number of causes: the tourism boom, our too busy lives, shorter attention spans, more distractions, smartphone watching, or just not caring.  I suspected that younger people thought old people waving was weird.

I still waved, but it didn’t bother me as much after a while that people didn’t wave back.  And then I pulled back as well. Why wave to someone I don’t really know?

I think COVID came at just the right time.

As soon as we were forced to live safely, yet alone and oftentimes in fear, I started noticing more people waving when they got out of the house.  It started about the time those signs started popping up in people’s driveways around Skagway: various hearts and rainbows drawn by children, and the more adult “Maybe Swearing Will Help” and “Butt Seriously, Stay Safe.”

COVID was making us learn to wave again. Your vehicle was your freedom chamber away from home. Waving wasn’t awkward like the elbow bump or the socially distanced air hug. A wave could be a full-on recognition that you cared about the person coming into focus. And you could wave to everyone and they’d wave back. As if to say, we are all in this together. Give me a wave, it’s just as good as a hug.

And for that, I am thankful.