“They” are the world's drivers, and she's referring to my practice of honking while driving.
“It's road rage!” she continues, in quite the raging tone, to which I always respond with a quote attributed to everyone from Emiliano Zapata to ernesto “Che” Guevara: “I'd rather die on my feet than to live on my knees.”
Granted, technically, I'd die sitting down, behind the wheel, but the sentiment is the same.
Car horns date back to the earliest days of the horseless carriage. In response to their growing popularity, a law was passed in the United Kingdom in the 1800s stating that: “[S]elf-propelled vehicles on public roads must be preceded by a man on foot waving a red flag and blowing a horn.” Sadly, the flag-wielding-and-horn-blowing-dude niche went the way of the dodo when automakers cut out the middle man and installed the first in-cabin horns and bells.
Designer horns would follow, including the Sireno, which was publicized as having a “one-mile signal,” and the Godin, whose advert read: “You press as you steer and your pathway is clear.”
Oh, the good ol' days.
I never thought I had a problem with honking until a Brit I was dating asked me, “Do you always drive like that?” I didn't know what he was talking about, but following his line of vision, I noticed him staring at my hands. My left was properly situated at 10 o'clock, while my right was smack in the middle, hovering over the horn area, ready to strike.
Growing up in Tijuana, where the term “defensive driving” has a definition all its own, honking is second nature to me. On this side of the border, however, it's damn near blasphemous to honk at another vehicle.
Still, old habits die hard, and I choose to exercise my right to honk freely.
Being on the receiving end of a honk can be jarring and extremely annoying, and, yes, it has the potential to spark all manner of reactions, including the classic hands-in-the-air-while-slowly-mouthing What?! On the flip side, horns serve a purpose. Just ask Max, an 11-year-old chocolate lab who last year saved his own life by repeatedly honking the horn on a sizzling Philly summer day after his owner had forgotten she'd left him in her vehicle.
The question for us two-legged creatures not about to die from heat stroke is this: How long should I honk? In my book, a brief one-tap conveys the message “Green means go, Bub.” A two-to three-second sound means “Should I curtsy? I didn't know I was in the presence of royalty, queen of the road.” Meanwhile, the TJ border-crossing staple of a drawn-out, five-seconds-or-longer honk isn't directed at you, but, rather, the car in front of you. The longer the honk, the further the recipient.
A horn-honking-etiquette entry on Squidoo.com takes a far more diplomatic approach, advising motorists to never use the horn to express frustration, as you wouldn't want the driver next to you to get “so angry they violate the terms of their parole.” The post also warns that honking at a car emblazoned with a “Honk if you love Jesus” bumper sticker might send the good Christian into a tizzy “before they figure out that you were just giving them a fellowship honk.”
Perhaps honking is something embedded in the national psyche. Curious, I went to the international Cottages in Balboa Park on Sunday for an informal survey, asking people from different countries for their take on the matter.
“It's rude,” a demure lassie in the House of Scotland told me. Her Danish counterpart agreed.
“I lived in Iran for a while, and there they honk if they breathe. It's loud and downright obnoxious,” a person in the House of Germany told me.
An answer from representative of the House of Israel was downright philosophical: “I've been to Mexico City, Vietnam, the Philippines, and can tell you people everywhere honk. When your roads in life get blocked, and you want people to move, you have to let them know.”
On my way home, the driver in front of me was lollygagging, so, taking a cue from the wise man's thoughts, I gave in to my knee-jerk reaction and experienced a moment of shock when my car emitted a sound resembling an elderly, bronchitis-afflicted goose.
Yep, I'd actually worn out my horn—either that or my mom went under my hood Gremlins-style when I wasn't looking and tore it up herself.
Regardless, I felt emasculated and later looked up DIY alternatives. I came across Hornblasters.com, a site that offers “the loudest train horns money can buy” and describes its kits as “simply ridiculous!” “Does your truck have a bad-boy look but fall short with a wimpy horn?” its manifesto asks.
“Yes!” I replied. Unfortunately, hornblasters' top-of-the-line kit, which comes with a disclaimer stating that ear protection must be worn when using it and apparently “wakes the dead,” costs a whopping $1,500.
Like my dreams of a private island and health insurance, it, too, shall have to wait.
So, if you happen to see me on the road, go ahead and cut me off, get in my lane without signaling or just sit there when the light turns green. I won't honk at you.
Write to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. Enrique blogs at elzonkeyshow.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @enriquelimon.