(original post-date: August 18, 2010)
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.
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!