Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Car Horn Courtesy Honk

The other day I was behind a car at a stop light. When the light turned green, the car in front of me did not move. I could tell the driver had his head tilted down, no doubt looking at his smartphone.

So, I did what I always do in this situation: I stepped on the gas and slammed into his rear bumper, which sent the clear message, “Hey pal! The light’s green! Get moving!”

No, of course I did not do that, since I’m not from New York. Instead, I did the polite Connecticut thing: I slowly counted to three, and then when the car in front of me still was not moving, I beeped my horn. I saw the driver’s head look up quickly, and then he drove away.
I’ve been on the other end of the “Hey pal!” car horn beep many times. After all, when you get stuck at a red light, it’s crucial to find out how many new emails or text messages you’ve received since the last red light four minutes earlier. Whenever I’m surprised by a car horn beep, and look up to see the light is green, I always offer a sheepish “I’m sorry” wave to the car behind me and drive off.

Well, the other day, when I was the beeper rather than the beep-ee, as the car in front of me started moving, the driver flipped me off — that is, he gave me the famous “We’re Number One!” hand gesture, also known as half of the peace sign.

I was shocked to see this rude display, and for an instant I wanted to accelerate and slam into his rear bumper. But obviously I did not do that, since I am a calm and collected law-abiding citizen, who understands that pouring gasoline on a fire will only escalate the confrontation and lead to serious violence. Also, his car had New York plates, which meant he already was a powder keg behind the wheel, and I really wasn’t in the mood that day to get beaten to a pulp and then run over a few times.
It bothered me that Mr. Hot Head New Yorker completely ignored the last remaining bit of courtesy on the highways. Everyone understands that driving a car nowadays has turned into a survival of the fittest, gladiatorial competition. Drivers ceased being polite decades ago. (Well, I live in the Northeast. Maybe there is a little roadway politeness down south. If you have any information about this, let me know.)

But there still is one aspect of driving with some remaining sense of courtesy: the “Hey, green light” beep. We understand that everybody behind the wheel is distracted in our modern world. If it’s not smartphones, then it’s the radio and CD player, or putting on makeup and combing hair that keeps our eyes off the road for multiple seconds at a time.

When cars are lined up at a red light, way more than half of the drivers don’t look at the light, as they attend to other things. Beeping the horn is actually a polite way of saying, “OK, my friends, we’re all in this together. It’s time to start moving again.” Most of the time people understand, and offer congenial “thank you” waves.
I think it would be nice if cars were equipped with different horn sounds, so there’d be no misunderstanding. There could be a cheery “beep beep” for courteous reminders, along with the more typical blaring “HONNNK!” for real emergencies. But if there were optional horn sounds, someone eventually would develop a sound that incorporates actual words. The loud horn blast that includes profane insults would be called the “New York option.”

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