Tag Archives: driving

Hit the ceiling on Yellow lights

Date: April 20, 2022 

Source and Relationship: T, best friend

Type: Superstition, Tradition

Folklore/ Text: Hit the Roof on Yellow Lights: “Since I’ve had my car, I always knew I wanted to do some weird little traditions with it. I thought it was a right of passage to have your own superstitions about driving. Basically, one day I was watching some movie with Brad Pitt in it and the character driving had to speed to make it through a yellow light, and when he did, he punched the ceiling of his car. They never really explained why he did that but I thought it was awesome so now I do it for good luck. All my friends have learned to do it with me when we’re in the car together too, which is great, because that means extra good luck.”

Explanation/Context: I love this superstition of T’s because it is so specific to her and I’s friendship together, so much so that I’ve found myself doing it in my own car for good luck. Our entire friend group knows about how spooked out T gets about angel numbers and specific street signs, so it only makes sense that we all participate in this strange ritual each time we narrowly escape a red light. I feel it has a placebo effect, as someone who is not superstitious, but nonetheless it provides her comfort and a semblance of safety when driving along Los Angeles roads, which superstitions often do. 

Jeep Wave

Main Piece:

So my thing is more of a gesture. It’s kind of something that happens and I didn’t know about it till after I got my car. But basically, once you get the Jeep, there’s something known as a Jeep wave. And so basically it’s with, I don’t really know, like, I think there are different variations of how you do it. But the one I was told is that you put one hand and one hands on the wheel, and it’s just like, three of your fingers are just like couple your fingers up. And it’s the idea is if you see a Jeep, like driver and you and you’re driving your Jeep and you’ll see each other you do a Jeep wave. And it’s a form of like a community type thing, but like it’s really just like a wave that you do. So

Relationship to the Piece:

My informant has driven a Jeep for the last few years and was told this by his friend who also drove a Jeep and it’s become a way for him to connect to his community of Jeep drivers, especially as he recently began to drive his Jeep around LA. 

Context: 

My informant is a 19-year-old BFA lighting design student at the University of Southern California and I was told this as we were hanging out in a theatre on campus swapping tales of folklore. 

Analysis:

I’d never heard of the Jeep wave, but I think it makes sense, as especially in America, the cars we drive often become aspects of our identity, especially with all the stereotypes we associate with certain makes and models of vehicles. It makes sense that a little community would form around certain cars, but it also creates questions, like who began the gesture and how it spreads. 

Lifting Your Legs Over Train Tracks for Good Luck

Context: The informant and I were driving in the car when we passed over train tracks and she told me the piece. The piece was collected in its natural performance setting.

Background: The informant is my mother, who is a third generation Irish immigrant. She learned the piece as a child from her parents who would say it when passing over train tracks.  

Piece:

“Lift your legs for good luck!” 

Analysis: I grew up hearing this piece from my mom every time we drove over train tracks. Neither one of us knows why it is good luck, but I believe it is an exercise in controlling something tangible to control the intangible. Train tracks can be dangerous places. By lifting our legs, perhaps we are attempting to subvert this danger. Some variants of this practice involve lifting one’s legs in order to prevent them from being chopped off by the train tracks while other variants threaten that if one does not lift their legs, they will die young.

For another variant of this practice visit:

Edelen, John. “Lifting Feet Over Train Tracks.” USC Digital Folklore Archives. University of Southern California, May 13, 2019. http://folklore.usc.edu/?p=47643.

Ghost on MA-70

[The subject is PD. His words are bolded, mine are not.]

Context: PD is a college student from Massachusetts. He is Caucasian, of Irish-Catholic heritage, and has lived in the United States for his entire life. This story was told to a small group of people during a party, just after midnight, when the conversation had shifted to ghost stories.

PD: It was like… this is how I know it was definitely a ghost, because it was like 2 AM, like broad daylight, like I was driving from Clinton to Worcester, and like to get from Clinton to Worcester is like this ten mile stretch of like nothing but woods. Like no people, no houses, no nothin’… and I was like stuck behind this like 19-like 80s, 90s, like fuckin’, like a… it was like a Plymouth, like a car they don’t even like make anymore and shit. And the dude was going like 10 miles below the speed limit, and I was like fuckin’ pissed as shit. And like out of nowhere, the dude just like pulls over to the road, and like gets out of his car, and sprints and just like leaps over the fence and into the woods. And I’m like, ‘what the fuck was up with that?’ So ten seconds later I do a three point turn and turn around, dude’s gone, car is gone, I don’t know what in the fuck happened, but I asked my fuckin’ boss Emily, who’s like been in the parks department for like five hundred years, and she was like, “oh yeah, I’m pretty sure like a bunch of people died on route 70 back in the eighties before we started like improving it.” And I’m pretty sure I saw a ghost!

Thoughts: At the beginning of the story, I think PD meant to say it took place at 2 PM, since it was in broad daylight, and he was sure that this was a ghost because he could see it clearly. I noticed that this legend is very dependent on the modern time frame that it is set in, because the old style of car that the ghost was driving stood out to the storyteller, and connects to what Emily had said about the roads being unsafe in the eighties. I also found it interesting that the car the ghost was driving was said to be a Plymouth, since the story takes place in Massachusetts and Plymouth, Massachusetts is one of the oldest towns in the United States and is generally thought of as a place with lots of history and folklore, including ghost stories.

Gravity Hill

JC: “Gravity Hill is a place in Mentor, Ohio, which is upa round the Lake Erie shore, north of Cleveland. And I have no idea why, how we planned the trip that got us all the way up there, four and a half, five hours up from Dayton. But we had heard about it, and I believe we had even seen it on That’s Incredible, which was a TV show that sort of anthologized folklore and weirdness and Guinness Book things and so on. So we drove up to Mentor Ohio, a group of us, in high school. And the road it’s on, I don’t remember what the road is called, but we had to look it up on a map–a paper map, cause there were no Internets, and we got to the place on the road where it was, and we had to take the car, and put it in neutral, at the bottom of what looks like a hill, and then the car slowly goes up the hill and gathers a little bit of speed. Apparently, somehow, it’s just an unbelievably convincing optical illusion, but it really feels like your car is being pulled uphill. Like it looks like it’s uphill, it really does look that way. So that’s Gravity Hill.”

Background: JC is an Ohio native. He and his friends likely heard about this Gravity Hill, or a similar phenomenon, from television.

Interpretation:

The Gravity Hill phenomenon is fairly common, and dozens of these stretches of road exist around the world. The conditions required to maintain the illusion come about naturally or unintentionally in many places in the United States, and most of these places likely have their own set of stories surrounding them, with some similarities and more variations. JC had no further information about this particular hill with regards to any stories surrounding it. This particular feature was considered just an illusion by JC and his friends.

Interestingly, there is a Gravity Hill nearby in Altadena, California, which has further folklore surrounding it. A range of ghost stories involving crashed school buses or cars of cheerleaders claim that this particular hill is haunted, and perhaps the “magnetic” effect is ghostly hands pushing your car to ensure you don’t meet the same fate as they did. A common practice of “ghost hunters” is to put baby powder or flour on the front or back of their car, and see if handprints show up while rolling “uphill.”

 

For more information on Gravity Hill in Altadena, see another local account of this gravity hill: http://folklore.usc.edu/?p=34587