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April 21, 2011 5:22 PM   Subscribe

I'm curious about ritual superstitions, particularly the ones involving driving--holding your breath when going past a graveyard, for example. What are more of them?

Do they vary by age group? Region? And what are the supposed consequences for *not* participating in the ritual, if any are specified?

Bonus points if anyone knows where any of these actually come from.
posted by NoraReed to Society & Culture (63 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
My friends and I would hold our breath through tunnels (well as long as there wasn't traffic).

Also we would touch the roof of the car while going through a yellow light.
posted by radioamy at 5:23 PM on April 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


Twisting a button when a black cat crosses the street.
posted by mooselini at 5:27 PM on April 21, 2011


We'd lift up our feet and put our hands up on the roof of the car to "make it lighter and hold the car up" while going over a bridge.

Western US, 1990s. No consequences except that you'll get ribbed if you don't do it.
posted by TooFewShoes at 5:28 PM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've recommended this book here before, but if you can find a copy of Duncan Emrich's "The Hodgepodge Book: An Almanac of American Folklore, Containing All Manner of Curious, Interesting, and Out-of-the-Way Information Drawn from American Folklore and Not To Be Found Anywhere Else in the World." Four Winds Press, N.Y., 1972 (LC cat card # 72-77811), you'll find a lot of kid superstitions.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:30 PM on April 21, 2011 [7 favorites]


We'd lift our feet up over bridges, and hold our breath past graveyards - this is in Australia, early 90s, so it had crossed the Pacific by then (presuming it started in the US).
posted by twirlypen at 5:32 PM on April 21, 2011


Also, a personal quirk...Years ago, in gratitude to the driving gods for helping me catch a green light, I would kiss my right hand, slap it against my visor and say "Thank you!"
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:32 PM on April 21, 2011


Kiss the roof of your car when you go through a red light.
posted by angsolom at 5:36 PM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Similar to radioamy and angsolom, but we kissed our fingers then touched them to the roof of the car when going through yellow lights.
posted by Ideal Impulse at 5:39 PM on April 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Hand to roof and make a wish when you see a car with on headlight. - Vancouver
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 5:40 PM on April 21, 2011


These are fascinating and despite being a lifelong member of the California Car Cult, I've never heard of any of them.

However, as a Californian, I tend to avoid coming to a stop under certain types of bridge/overpass abutments. Not due to superstition though but I can easily see it becoming one in the future.
posted by jamaro at 5:41 PM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Kissing your fingers and touching the roof when going through a yellow light here; in high school this was specifically "for good sex."

We'd also lift up our feet and make a wish when going over train tracks.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:47 PM on April 21, 2011


I picked this up from a friend of mine in New Mexico 'round about 1996... When going through a yellow light, rap on the dashboard twice then on the windshield. Since then, most of my friends have picked it up and my daughters have all added a rap to the roof as well.

It's to keep cops from bothering you and to protect from green light anticipators (since most car accidents at stoplights are cause by yellow light accelerators meeting green light anticipators...)
posted by patheral at 5:51 PM on April 21, 2011


I remember lifting our feet crossing train tracks when on the school bus, but not making a wish while doing it. There was also the custom of having to say "padiddle" when you saw a car with just one headlight. I forget if there was punching involved with that one, or if I'm confusing it with punch buggy. (Connecticut in the 80s.)
posted by Neely O'Hara at 5:56 PM on April 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


This is more of an urban legend, but I was warned not to flash my lights at a car with no headlights on at night, for fear the oncoming car was someone who wanted to kill people who did that for sport? Or something?
posted by xingcat at 6:01 PM on April 21, 2011


My friends and I pray to Asphaulta, the Parking Goddess, with the following incantation: "Goddess Asphaulta, full of grace / Help me find a parking space!"

We also cast the Mashed Potatoes spell on the car before leaving on a road trip. Place hands on vehicle, intone "Mashed potatoes, mashed potatoes, mashed potatoes!" The idea is to make the car as bland as cold leftover mashed potatoes, hence unattractive to thieves or law enforcement.
posted by ottereroticist at 6:17 PM on April 21, 2011 [7 favorites]


The hot steam scene from To Kill A Mockingbird
posted by mmmbacon at 6:19 PM on April 21, 2011


Lifting feet over train tracks "for luck" and "pididdle" for one headlight cars...with a punchbuggy-style punch in the arm! Virginia, 1980s.
posted by JoanArkham at 6:20 PM on April 21, 2011


Fingers crossed and held up while going by a graveyard.

Breath held while going over a bridge.

Feet up while going over traintracks.

circa 1989 Vancouver
posted by Abbril at 6:26 PM on April 21, 2011


"Feet up for good luck" was for going over a train while crossing a bridge in our family. I've heard of blowing on red lights to make them green. I've heard the phrase "pennies from heaven" when encountering change on the ground, but much more common is refusing said penny as unlucky if it is found facedown. "Knock on wood" if you mention a possibility you'd rather not come true. And, of course, the relatively new "if you don't repost this to x amount of people, xyz bad things will happen"
posted by Ys at 6:30 PM on April 21, 2011


Also, if you drop salt, you need to cast a pinch over your (left?) Shoulder to guard against bad luck/witches.
posted by Ys at 6:32 PM on April 21, 2011


We held our breath through tunnels (New Zealand). People beep the horn when going through tunnels in NZ and Australia too, but I don't know if that's superstition or because it's echoey fun.
posted by lollusc at 6:42 PM on April 21, 2011


This is more of an urban legend, but I was warned not to flash my lights at a car with no headlights on at night, for fear the oncoming car was someone who wanted to kill people who did that for sport? Or something?

I remember being sent home in grade school with a notice about this, saying it was gangs. I laughed about it then, and laughed about it when I discovered it was totally untrue.
posted by InsanePenguin at 6:53 PM on April 21, 2011


In Hawaii, you might be advised that you run the risk of supernaturally induced car trouble if you are transporting uncooked pork while driving over the Pali Highway. The linked Wikipedia article attributes this to the Pele vs. Kamapua'a feud, but I was told that it was because back in the days when Ali'i presided over the area, any traveler would have had to offer them (at least a portion) of their pork, and until they received their share, the traveler would be prevented from passing through their land. The spirits, presumably, still have a hankering for hog, which I find quite understandable.
posted by krippledkonscious at 6:55 PM on April 21, 2011


I also kissed my hand and touched the roof of my car when going through yellow lights. Also, when walking with a friend, if we were separated by a tree, pole, hydrant, etc. that split our paths, when we met back up one or both of us would say "bread and butter." I believe the idea was that if you forgot to say it, you and your friend would grow apart.

This was in Georgia in the late '90s, early '00s.
posted by DeusExMegana at 6:56 PM on April 21, 2011


My Grandad would shout "Duck!" and we would all duck when driving under a bridge.
posted by jontyjago at 7:06 PM on April 21, 2011


Ditto on calling "padiddle" when spotting a vehicle w/ one headlight (CT - 1990's). We'd punch the roof when we saw one :)
posted by sleepykitties at 7:16 PM on April 21, 2011


My goodness, has no one mentioned "punch buggy"? You see a Volkswagen Beetle, you punch the person next to you!
posted by fancyoats at 7:21 PM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


... hold our breath through tunnels...
posted by radioamy


As long as I can remember. Also, lift your feet off the floor when going over bridges. I guess it was so the added weight won't collapse the bridge.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:31 PM on April 21, 2011


Weird. We lifted our feet going over train tracks so we wouldn't get pregnant.

We were classy.
posted by headnsouth at 7:34 PM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


... in PG County MD in the 80s.
posted by headnsouth at 7:35 PM on April 21, 2011


If you happen to look at the clock when it's 11:11, make a wish.
posted by WaspEnterprises at 7:36 PM on April 21, 2011


Not necessarily done while driving but has to do with traveling, there's is a saying in Spanish that goes "Martes, no te cases, ni te embarques." which translates to "Tuesday, don't wed, don't embark (on a trip)" So even road trips we refuse to start them on Tuesdays.
posted by xicana63 at 7:44 PM on April 21, 2011


My best friend holds her breath whenever we pass an ob/gyn or fertility clinic, so as not to get pregnant.
posted by AlliKat75 at 7:51 PM on April 21, 2011


Like jamaro, I'm a lifelong Californian and have never heard of any of these either.

As a passenger, though, I close my eyes and bow my head and send thoughts to the Parking Gods whenever I'm with someone looking for a parking space - and hey, it always works. Always!
posted by chez shoes at 8:18 PM on April 21, 2011


Michigander here. Can't believe I've forgotten about "padiddle", yellow-light roof-touch, and lifting feet over bridges. Thanks for the memories.
posted by sfkiddo at 8:32 PM on April 21, 2011


An older relative told me about padiddle, but she said if the guy said it first upon seeing a car with one headlight he got to kiss the girl, but if the girl saw it first she got to slap the guy.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 8:36 PM on April 21, 2011


Serene, true, I completely forgot about that!
posted by sfkiddo at 8:46 PM on April 21, 2011


To this day, when my wife runs a light ("just a little pink," she says) she taps the windshield twice with her knuckle, then brushes the interior roof with the back of her hand. At least one of her sisters does this, too. She's from West Texas.
posted by Gilbert at 9:14 PM on April 21, 2011


My family (chicago, early 90's) would touch metal when we passed a graveyard.
posted by wayland at 9:51 PM on April 21, 2011


The ceiling thing is specifically a kiss here, not just a tap on the ceiling, in the circles I'm in (kiss hand, touch ceiling), and I've never heard a reason for it except one person saying the last person to do it has to remove an article of clothing. (NM, 2000s.)

We have the feet up going over train tracks but I've also seen it combined with touch something metal and put your feet up when you go over train tracks. I guess touch something metal is a substitute/addition to a lot of these?
posted by NoraReed at 9:55 PM on April 21, 2011


Not familiar with padiddle at all! Grew up in Oregon, been in California close to 20 years now. I guess our West Coast version of punchbuggy is "Slug Bug!" I always heard the don't flash when a driver didn't have headlights on was because it was obviously a gang initiate looking for his/her first kill.
posted by JenMarie at 9:58 PM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, feet up over the train tracks is nothing I've ever heard of. We always did honk when going through a tunnel, though. Now that I'm in the Bay Area tunnels have sort of lost their allure. But I still smile when I hear tourists honking in one of our local tunnels...
posted by JenMarie at 10:00 PM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Definitely hold my breath in tunnels, but only as a passenger, and making horribly grunting noises to encourage the driver to hurry up. Never heard of the feet off the floor thing or the pregnancy cures. Our family's parking helper is Geronimo, an Indian guide, and my PopPop taught me to say "yo, Geronimo!" in a sing-song voice, and a parking space will turn up. California born and bred.
posted by Scram at 10:38 PM on April 21, 2011


We were taught to hide our thumbs whenever a hearse passed by (the superstition being that if we didn't hide our thumbs, the hearse driver might think we were hitch-hiking, and since being a passenger in a hearse usually means you're dead, hiding your thumbs was a little ritual to protect yourself from death).

My Grandad would shout "Duck!" and we would all duck when driving under a bridge.

My dad did this too. I don't think it was superstition-related, but it was fun and always made us giggle.
posted by amyms at 10:40 PM on April 21, 2011


Ditto-ing a previous reply abt Hawai'i and driving with pork at night -- only the version I remember said it was to avoid being trapped by the Menehuni, who are like mystical little people. Word had it they were wild for pork, so take heed when driving to avoid being jacked. HI, early 80s.
posted by wowbobwow at 10:55 PM on April 21, 2011


I learned three options for tunnels: honk, hold your breath, or scream. I didn't know there was any ritual other than announcing 'orange light!' when you go through the light and we do slug bug rather than punch buggy. These are awesome!

(Also, per my boyfriend: if you don't put the front seats back in their upright position, the car gets a stomach ache!)
posted by Space Kitty at 11:12 PM on April 21, 2011


I know some people who do Slug Bug and something involving colors-- do those mean anything? Anyone have slug van rituals?
posted by NoraReed at 11:20 PM on April 21, 2011


We did Slug Bug for VW Bugs and Punch Bus for VW busses. If we slugged a sibling claiming either Slug Bug or Punch Bus and we were wrong about the vehicle, the sibling got to punch back twice. And twice more if the punchee flinched (Two For Flinching!).

We held our breath over bridges, often causing our father to slow to a creeping halt in the center just as a test of wills. Not many cemeteries or tunnels around these parts.

A car with its headlight out and we'd slam our hands against the roof. The last one to do it supposedly had to buy everyone else Cokes, but I cannot recall ever actually buying or receiving any sodas because of it.

And on one large valley on the way to church we would thump our feet rapidly on the floor to "help" the car gather the speed to make it up the other side.

Rural Alaska, no stop lights, late 80s/early 90s.
posted by rhapsodie at 11:27 PM on April 21, 2011


ottereroticist: "My friends and I pray to Asphaulta, the Parking Goddess, with the following incantation: "Goddess Asphaulta, full of grace / Help me find a parking space!"

I am one favoured by the parking gods. I'm happy I can thank Her by name now. Thanks!

posted by deborah at 11:27 PM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


We used to hold our breath going past cemeteries (in order not to catch death, I suppose). We also seem to have merged padiddle with punch buggy, because you got punched for either a car with one headlight or a VW Bug.

Later, in rural SW Colorado, we used to hold our breath and raise our feet off the ground going over cattle guards, for no other reason than the oldest guy in our group told us that was what you did.
posted by colfax at 12:48 AM on April 22, 2011


Another one for ducking when going under bridges. Australia '80s.
posted by Trivia Newton John at 3:51 AM on April 22, 2011


My little brother and I both ball our right hands in to fists and then lightly tap the roof of the car when driving through a yellow light. I'm interested to hear that others have a similar ritual that involves kissing one's fingers; not sure how ours developed or why it's different in that regard.
posted by saladin at 4:21 AM on April 22, 2011


I always thought of the finger-kissing one as "blowing a kiss" to the light. No idea if that's the standard interpretation.
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:37 AM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


North Central WV here growing up, we did Padiddle for cars with one headlight, and touched the interior roof of the car. Punch buggy for VWs, and I also remember holding my breath through tunnels, raising your feet when you go over train tracks, and (I think--very foggily!) remember holding crossed fingers aloft when passing a cemetery.
posted by miratime at 4:45 AM on April 22, 2011


Never sleep on your back with your arms crossed over the other. Doing so encourages nightmares about loved one. Spain, not sure if this is only specific to my family though..
posted by xbeautychicx at 5:43 AM on April 22, 2011


Addition to that, never sleep in any position with your arms crossed because it leaves you vulnerable for attack by a malicious nightmare or spirit.
posted by xbeautychicx at 5:55 AM on April 22, 2011


Slug Bug and something involving colors

Gold or black Bugs got you two punches.
posted by JoanArkham at 6:31 AM on April 22, 2011


All of this is in Florida, 90s/00s/10s...

Some people kiss their hands and then the ceiling when hitting yellow/red lights. Lifting both feet off the floor also works. Both are to keep the cops from pulling you over from running the light.

Seeing a padiddle and yelling "PADIDDLE!" is a fun thing to do, but it doesn't win you any luck or chances to punch people. Punchbuggy only works with the vintage bugs, and you have to say the color or else your punch is invalid and you get punched back. "Punchbuggy blue!"

A language quirk I picked up from a friend raised by Ohioans/West Virginians (she may have got it from them, I don't know): the access drive that connects parking lots to streets is called "the in" when you're on the street and looking to get in. If you're in the parking lot and trying to get to the street, it becomes "the out."

Since nobody yields to left turns, everyone passes on the right. This carries over to the highway, where the left lane is the putzing along lane and the right lane is for the entrances, exits, and passing. That's tradition, not superstition, but it does play merry havoc with the out of towners.
posted by cmyk at 9:29 AM on April 22, 2011


A friend of mine passed along his habit of fingertips to the roof when driving through a yellow light, knuckles to the roof on a red (California, late 1990s/2000s). And I think he would hold his breath through tunnels, while another friend would honk (which I thought was more obnoxious than safe).

I've heard the urban myth of flashing your lights at a dark car could lead to gangstas killing you, but that was some circuituous word-of-mouth, or perhaps some article I read, so I can't give you a date or location.

And just because we were bored, my little sister and I played slug[anything] - she would often say she saw a Beetle when I was driving, but I think she made a few up, so I'd add in "sluglamp" and "slugtree," or anything else (late 1990s, in Santa Barbara, CA). I don't think it really spread beyond our family.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:27 AM on April 22, 2011


Re the flashing headlights/killer gangsters legend, it's an oldie and it spreads like wildfire every few years or so.
posted by amyms at 5:00 PM on April 22, 2011


Massachusetts in the 70's- we shouted "Lift your feet up!" whenever we went over railroad tracks. We also held our breath when driving past cemeteries but we were inconsistent with this ritual.
posted by JohntheContrarian at 5:05 PM on April 22, 2011


From my Utah-raised dad and cousins on his side, raise feet over cattle guards, or you'll get stuck.

Also from those cousins, train track customs. Every family had their own, sometimes two. The complete list was lift feet, hold breath, touch a screw, touch your nose with your pinkie.

All of these collected in late 1980s or early 1990s, but I have no doubt the cattle-guard one goes back to Dad's childhood in the early 60s.
posted by eritain at 9:04 PM on April 22, 2011


I'd add in "sluglamp" and "slugtree," or anything else (late 1990s, in Santa Barbara, CA). I don't think it really spread beyond our family.

I totally forgot about this until now-- I went on a road trip with a friend once as kids and I think our parents made us stop playing around when we started playing "slug grass" and "slug cow".
posted by NoraReed at 11:17 PM on April 22, 2011


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