Mankind has invented many horrendous torture devices throughout his stay on this earth. A few that come to mind are those virtually invisible Bluetooth phone earpieces that cause you to assume the user is talking to you but of course they’re not – only you don’t realize this until after you’ve already held a 5 minute conversation with yourself, those automated voice response systems on help lines that force you to say words until you are screaming at a robot which only makes things worse…both for your self-esteem and getting the department you so desperately need which is why you called in the first place, and self-checkout lanes with overly sensitive scales that proudly announce to everyone that you have an unexpected item in the bagging area…a dozen times.
No other device, however, can cause as much horror, anger, embarrassment, and fear as a car horn in a traffic jam. I. Hate. Car. Horns.
The victim of the car horn is usually some unsuspecting person who ended up on the wrong side of a red light, trapped in an intersection with nowhere to go while the traffic he is blocking begins playing the well-known symphony, “The Cacophony of Horns,” on their steering wheels. The victim has few options and can either respond with the “embarrassed grimace, hands thrown up in helplessness” ploy or the famous “I need to change my radio station right now for the next five minutes while pretending I can’t hear you” trick. And it’s not as if the hapless victim wants to be doing what he’s doing…he doesn’t want to be there either.
The other day found me in a particularly crowded shopping district. Things were rolling pretty smoothly and I could see the lights lining up in perfect harmonious greenness. Gotta love it when small miracles happen. Imagine my surprise when, instead of rolling through this rare alignment of roadway perfection, I found myself reading the bumper stickers on the car in front of me as we all sat at a complete stop.
From where I was sitting, I could see the green light in front of me. There was more than enough time for the cars to siphon through. The light just beyond my own, the next one in line that you might think would be holding up traffic, was also green, and still we sat. It really only ever takes one person to wreck your traffic day, and I am sure there was someone daydreaming of God knows what behind the wheel or more likely, talking on their cell phone that was snarling the smooth flow of cars. The sea of cars stretched through the intersection creating a virtual parking lot at a line of green lights.
I can easily imagine the actions of the drivers in the middle when the inevitable happened and the light turned yellow. First, they threw their hands up and made a show of yelling something at the cars in front of them. They exaggeratedly leaned over to peer up at the now yellow light, and then to their companion, if they had one, with a show of complete exasperation. The light turned red, as yellow lights do, and now they were stuck.
These hapless drivers were now in the Traffic Trap of Doom. Packed in tight, they couldn’t pull to the side, they couldn’t move forward, and backing up was not an option.
The drivers who were trying to cross the road to get to the shopping center on the other side (a joke about a chicken comes to mind, but I digress) take this as a personal assault on their driving freedoms. The rally cry of “Let’s wait patiently for the light to turn green so the traffic jam can clear up” rang forth. Ok, not hardly. Wait for the light to change? Who has time for that?
The honking started innocently, as it always does. A single frustrated tap from an unknown car to the left. Like a wolf pack on the prowl, that honk was taken up by another driver. And another. And another. Soon, the symphony lifted to the sky and magically, nothing happened.
Not a thing. Despite their best attempts, traffic was still sitting exactly where it was before they started their raucous assault on those of us with ears. The hard lesson learned this day was that a car horn does not summon a traffic fairy to come lift cars out of the way, no matter how loud and long you blare it. Did the honkers expect that their efforts would somehow create an opening, like Moses parting the Red Sea? The only thing these frustrated drivers accomplished was to give everyone a headache.
The victims in the Traffic Trap of Doom continued to pretend they couldn’t hear the honking, cheeks flushed with embarrassment, silent prayers lifted to the traffic light gods that the light would change soon and their five minutes of fame would be over.
Normally I would be just as frustrated as the next person to see a blocked intersection, but in this case, I could see from my position that there was no way the stuck drivers should have expected the cars ahead at the first green light to just stop. It wasn’t a matter of mistimed lights or people pushing to get through a yellow light. They saw the alluring vision of two green lights ahead and assumed they would shortly be moving forward, flowing as smoothly as the rum they would later be pouring into their coffee as they retold the harrowing experience to their family later that night. It’s a natural assumption.
Who knew a distracted driver could back traffic up into the next state just by glancing at Map Quest or porn or whatever it was he was doing up there?
Of course, it didn’t stay backed up for long. The distracted driver got his shit together, and life resumed normally for all involved.
The horn blowers duly patted themselves on the back for the role they played this day; for without them, however would we have survived?
Well played, anonymous horn blowers. Well played. We thank you.
I’m sure your cheeks were not red for that long. bless your heart.
I hate being “under circumstances” in some arbitrary situation that you could never adequately explain to someone else in a way that would make logical sense.
I get upset with the hand laid on the horn but appreciate the light tap of horn as a reminder should I be listening to music and in a daydream state of mind!
Here in LaLaLand we had such problems with gridlock that a decade or so back they made it illegal to enter an intersection unless you KNEW you could make it through before the light changed. More importantly, they got aggressive about enforcing it. You still see it every now and then from a few folks, but for the most part people have gotten with the program.
As for horns, I try to save mine for when some buffoon driving an Urban Assault Vehicle while on his phone and eating and changing the station all at once drifts into my lane and threatens to turn me and my little subcompact into a speed bump. I do think however that they should require horn volume to be in a direct inverse proportion to vehicle size – let semis have a tiny, tinny little tooter, while those of us in glorified rollerskates get the ones that will deafen from halfway across town.