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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Car Talk

by Deborah Zeitman (writer), Venice, February 27, 2007

“Don’t bark!”

Those were the first words out of my mouth when I heard the repeated honking of the far-off car. Not ‘honk’, but ‘bark’. Yes, a little Freudian slip, but that’s exactly what we do when we repeatedly hit our horn. We’re simply barking, and it’s not an effective form of communication. One hard jab can prevent a near accident, but the continual jabs just express anger. They seldom have any impact other than to make us feel that our irate voices have been heard.

I think there’s a better way.

In Los Angeles, we spend countless hours stuck behind the wheel of our cars, so we actually do need a method to communicate with others sharing the road. Why have we settled for one restrictive sound for all these years? Of course, in our ingenuity, we find ways to expand the language of the horn honk. The gentle tap means, “I don’t want to upset you, but, uh, the light has changed, so could you please go.” Succinctly, this mode contains a ‘please.’

The accident-avoiding honk is rightfully strident and aggressive. It either appears in the form of a harsh thrust onto the horn or the alternative of the long, drawn-out wail of a frightened hand bonding with the steering wheel. Your subconscious usually makes the choice depending upon how freaked out you are.

Then there’s the ‘Let-me-tell-you-how-I-feel-after-the fact’ honk. The incident has passed, and we turn to our horn simply to vent our disgust with the offending driver. Perhaps he cut us off. We safely avoided a collision, but we want to criticize his driving and let him know how pissed we are. If we have the opportunity to pass this driver, we add a scowl and hope for humiliating eye contact. “That’ll show ‘em,” we congratulate ourselves.

No one wants to end up behind a driver honoring the speed limit, a number clearly selected to incite road rage. You feel as if you’re crawling like a snail, which inevitably leads to your being late, for you never factored in a law-abiding citizen. We start with the polite horn tap, but if the driver doesn’t pick up the pace, we escalate to the ‘I-hate-you’ honk. If you succeed in passing this driver and see that it’s a little old lady or man hunched over the wheel straining to see and comprehend road hazards, you may feel guilty. However, indignation quickly replaces the guilt. “They shouldn’t be driving if they’re that old!” you tell yourself, and then you realize that one day you’ll be that old and living in a city with a horrendous public transit system. You decide you better start hoarding your money so that you can afford a driver for when your eyesight and reflexes start to fail you.

Another rage-inciting driver is the one who refuses to use his turn signal as if he can’t be bothered. The potent response here is the mighty middle finger. Horn honking doesn’t work.

The ‘I-hate-you’ category extends to include drivers absorbed on their cell phones, eating breakfast, applying make-up, and shaving. A newly added group is drivers navigating their iPods. L.A. drivers attempt far too much in their cars, but given that we now move through the city at a painfully slow pace we have little choice. The number of vehicles occupying our roads is escalating like mating gerbils. L.A. natives over the age of thirty tearfully reminisce about fond childhood memories when everything was “twenty minutes away.” Now we choose our friends by their geographic viability. “Yes, I love you, but you live in Pasadena. The friendship is doomed.”

Today cars have navigational systems, DVD players, game system hook ups, but no effective way to communicate with those stuck for endless hours on the road alongside us. If we can have differentiating ring tones on our cell phones, why not assorted horn honks for our cars? It would be like learning a new language, which should silence the critics who rant about how monolingual Americans are. We can all learn car talk. No more gentle tapping to say hello to a friend two lanes over, not when that message can easily be mistaken by the driver ahead of us as “Move, please.”

A honk for every occasion. Now that’s something I could get behind.


About the Writer

Deborah Zeitman is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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1 comments on Car Talk

Log In To Vote   Score: 0
By Steven Lane on February 28, 2007 at 12:01 am
The "the-let-me-tell-you-how-I-feel-after-the-fact" usually includes some sort of hand gestures.
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