Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Quit Your Honking!

Having lived – and therefore driven – in Los Angeles for 20 years, I’ve developed some serious ‘tude behind the wheel.

I know that friends who have ridden with me will question that statement, and I don’t blame them. Fact of the matter is, when I have a passenger, I drive much more cautiously (and therefore rarely reveal my ‘tude.) …I don’t know, maybe it’s some kind of hang-up. Something to do with feeling responsibility for another life. (I guess I’m quirky that way.)

BUT: most of the driving I do, I do alone, and so most of the time, I am as willing as the next reasonable person to take a few highly calculated risks.

However, when the driver behind me suggests, through the honking of a horn, that I take a risk I am not willing to take, I am tempted to throw it all into park and pull out a picnic lunch.

Seriously. Do NOT tell me I should make the left now.

Just. Don’t.

I witnessed someone dealing with this type of dilemma last week – as I was driving on Hollywood Boulevard, heading west. I had just approached the LaBrea intersection, which comprises at least two times as many lanes as exist on most interstates in our country’s heartland. I was first at the red light, middle lane, when I saw what was happening to the poor soul in the left-turn lane of LaBrea’s northbound traffic. The car behind him had honked intrusively, telling the driver at the front of the pack that he should go now. And so, while the driver at the front responded to that honk by moving forward by about six feet, he clearly concluded – after making that honk-inspired move – that, in fact, it wasn’t safe to proceed at that moment.

And so he became stuck between a rock and a hard place. The rock was the aggressive driver behind him who kept honking. The hard place was the east- and west-bound traffic that had now been given the literal green light to move along.

As I made my way across LaBrea (part of the privileged green-lit traffic), I really felt for the guy who had allowed the driver behind him to push him into traffic. And with that aggression at his rear, he had no options for backing up. He just had to remain there – stuck out and at risk of being hit – until the lights changed once again. I detested the guy behind him who so resented being second in line for a left turn. A part of me wanted to stop my car in the middle of the intersection, get out of it, and scold that honking bully! (But that’s a whole other risk, and I’m not stupid.)

I’m also not saying that car horns are without merit. In fact, just two or so years into my L.A. experience, when I was driving a pre-owned Civic, I became quite alarmed when I realized my horn wasn’t working. As a co-worker (who had grown up out here) agreed, “That’s a safety hazard!”

Damn right it is. The horn is an essential tool. There have been dozens of times when I have used it to alert someone to my presence and so to avoid the meeting of metal. It’s my way of telling someone who is being inattentive that this lane is already taken.

In fact, I think that’s the best way to describe the use of a car horn: to alert the inattentive. And sure, I’ve also been on the receiving end of that alert. I actually appreciate it when the car behind me taps quickly to let me know that the light has changed. In the event that I didn’t notice, that alert is helpful.

But: when the car behind me uses its horn to inspire a risk-taking move? Nothing is more likely to make me take my sweet, sweet time…

Hmm… as long as I’m talking about driving, I might as well use this post to share something I do that I consider the best way to secure one’s safety on the freeway (or whatever highly traveled roads are in your neck of the woods). I don’t remember anymore if this is something I came up with or if it is a lesson I learned from someone else. Regardless, it works like a charm, and it works like this:

If you are in heavy traffic and you see that, ahead of you, the traffic is slowing considerably, turn on your hazard lights. The car behind you will immediately begin to slow down. This tip also is great if someone is riding your ass. There is nothing like the blink-blink-blink of the hazard lights to turn that ass-rider’s aggression into “ooh, don’t wanna be near this problem!”

I’m telling you, in these 20 years of driving in L.A., I’ve figured some things out. And one of them is this: power steering isn’t something that comes with your car; it’s what you bring to the road.

Just be sure the power you are looking for comes from a desire for safety, ‘cause if you’re seeking something else – say, a compensation for bedroom failings or a desire to chew out your boss – well then, I got three words for you: QUIT YOUR HONKING!


Ms. Understood said...

I CAN'T stand abusive honkers. Dude, if you were where I am, you wouldn't turn. Why should I risk my car (and my life) and get into an accident and then you'll just drive on by. Whatever.

Cheryl said...

Where I spend most of my time driving, a honk usually means, "Hey, it's me! How ya doin'?" I smile and wave back because we're so damn friendly around these parts it's frightening.

Jayne Martin said...

Where I live nobody ever honks their horn unless it's a real emergency -- or some stupid tourist probably from L.A. It is considered the height of rudeness. We'll actually sit at 4-way stop signs doing the whole "You go first." "No, you." No, really. I insist." "Well, if you're sure. Thank you." Of course up here being stuck in traffic just means you're behind your neighbor's tractor for a block or so. I lived in L.A. for 20 years. I don't even like to go there to visit now.

Anonymous said...

Glad you got that out of your system Katie! I don't live in a city, not even in a large town - but to the van driver who saw me coming through roadworks on a green light on a single lane, decided he had right of way so pulled into my lane and drove at speed towards me, blocking my exit, stopping a hair's breadth from my front bumper to yell and swear because his light had also been green, (turned out the lights were were broken) I'd like to say, "Chill!"
(That was 1996 but I have a long memory):-)

Bossy Betty said...

Hi there! Thanks so much for becoming a follower on my blog! I really appreciate it!

I am going into LA tomorrow and shall disable my horn just for you.

BECKY said...

This is sad and funny, all at the same time! My very first (and really ONLY...knock on wood) car accident...happened because of "a honker". I was 17 years old, not that experienced, and trying to pull out into traffice on a busy street. I was the only one with a stop-sign, so I had to wait until it was clear. It was dark and I really couldn't see much because of obstacles in the way. Someone in the car behind me got tired of waiting and honked....I panicked and pulled out, only to collide with another car! Thank goodness, it wasn't serious, no one was hurt, but there was car damage and I felt like an idiot. I won't bore you with the rest of the story, but if people would only THINK...ahhh, that's asking a lot some times!

Deb Shucka said...

You are so funny. I feel the same way - if someone honks at me, it makes me want to do more of whatever it is they're trying to make me do less of. So many life lessons to be learned in traffic - for us all.