July 3, 2015

So, a couple of weeks ago, I was heading south on Military Trail at a decent clip (going the speed limit-ish, read: 5 mph over), passing the Publix shopping center near my house, when a driver pulled out slooowly from the parking lot and drifted slooowly into my lane, as I was advancing quickly on him, and he lingered there the couple of seconds it took for me to reach him. He had three lanes to choose from, but he settled on mine. Settled there as I was basically coming right on his position—

Let me paint a visual. Think of this like a math problem: Car A, which I’m driving, is going about fifty miles an hour down a major South Florida traffic artery. Car B, which the other guy is driving, is operated by a typical South Florida driver who thinks he’s alone on the road and can do whatever the heck he wants whenever the heck he wants because who the freak cares? The driver of Car A (me) travels down the middle lane without any obstruction whatsoever, until he gets to within about a hundred yards of the Publix shopping center’s Military exit. The driver of Car B (the other guy) has no idea that traffic is coming in fast, so he pulls out into it, cutting across the right lane for the middle lane (Car A’s lane) at about fifteen or twenty miles per hour. In this equation, how long does it take before the driver of Car A locates his car horn and blares the life out of it in that universal yet nonverbal language of “Get the hell out of the way, man!”?

The answer is, zero; he doesn’t honk at all, but uses the left lane to swerve around the oblivious (and slow) driver and continues on around the guy, losing no momentum, keeping his sanity intact, and getting back into the center lane, where he’s happy, once he’s past the traffic threat. The answer is, no time is lost, and no one has to have his day ruined, and the oblivious driver can continue to drift on over to his u-turning lane that he’s aiming for without incident, now that he is, in fact, the only one there.

Now, if I were like most drivers, my reaction could’ve been to honk my horn at him because, you know, that’s why we have horns. Or, I could’ve just yelled at him as many drivers would do, even though his windows were up and he’d never hear me. Or, I could’ve just flipped him off (something I don’t do anyway because I’m a decent guy who thinks that flipping others off is rude and pointless), even though any driver who’s so oblivious that he’d drift in front of another car going three times his speed is probably too oblivious to notice the finger that the advancing (and frustrated) driver has flipped at him. But, I didn’t do any of those things. I swerved instead.

Why? Isn’t honking a horn in frustration satisfying to the frustrated? Doesn’t it scream out to the traffic offender that I am the better driver and that, you, sir, are an idiot? Doesn’t it give me that empowering sense of freedom that I can complain about whatever I want however loudly I want and the person causing the complaint has to both listen to me and feel badly about what he’s done? Isn’t that what freedom is about?

Maybe so, but here’s why honking, in my opinion, is stupid:

  1. As stated before, if the other driver is so oblivious that he could ignore me coming at him at three times his speed, then he’s probably got his mind elsewhere—like on that u-turning lane he’s gunning for, or maybe that death in the family he’s just experienced a few hours earlier (you never know)—and the odds of him noticing my horn are probably as low as the odds of him noticing that I’m even there.
  1. I’d have to take the time to actually locate my horn. Plenty of cars have the horn right there in the middle of the steering wheel—they’re imposing pieces of circular canvas, perfectly sized for a driver’s palm—at least they did in the days before airbags became standard. But mine does not have that big center horn. Mine is a thumb-sized pressure plate just inside the wheel designed to effeminate my hotly desired aggression. In order to honk the horn, I’d first have to remember where it’s located. By the time I find it, I could be mashed up against the other guy’s bumper, or at least reduced down to his idling 15 mph, which is not as bad, but still pretty awful.
  1. Even if I do locate the horn in time, I wouldn’t exactly have the satisfaction of smashing down into it. Part of having the feeling that I’m right and you’re an idiot is the joy of expressing it through violence. The horns of old—like the one that my mom’s old 1974 Camaro had when I was a kid—were half the size of the steering wheel and were designed for inevitable abuse. A driver in the pre-airbag days could pound the crap out of that horn through his or her muscle memory because the vehicle’s design made that possible. It took a driver’s aggression into consideration and gave him a safe outlet to express it. Hoooooonk! That’s what would happen when he punched his steering wheel in anger at whatever the jerk in front of him has done. After that, no additional road rage was needed. Aggression released, enjoy the rest of your day. Cars today, certainly mine included, no longer provide that therapy. Locating the horn nowadays is just another exercise in mounting frustration. The world today provides plenty of that even when we’re not driving. No, if I want to startle you with my horn today, now I have to gently press it with my thumb. Screw that. No wonder more people are pulling guns on the highways than ever before (though we still haven’t matched the level of road rage found in a Mad Max movie—my guess is that those people don’t have horns anymore). Yep, we’ve replaced our horns with airbags, and now we’re paying for it. Lame!
  1. If, in the event, the driver does hear the horn and responds to it, there’s a good chance it may startle him to the point that he tries to steer out of my way, then overcompensate when he realizes he’s veered away too hard and too fast, then swerve off the road in response to his miscalculation and cause a chain reaction of vehicular carnage depending on whether he swerves left or right. Or, if he’s not the kind of guy who changes lanes when startled, the sharp noise could cause him to freeze, thus forcing him to slam on his brakes, which would then force me to slam even harder on mine. Vehicular carnage could still occur if my reaction time is off by even a split second (which is five times faster than the time it would take for me to even locate my horn, thus causing this awful mess in the first place). There’s also a third possibility that he might step on the gas in response to the wakeup call and actually clear the path safely, or at least match the speed of traffic, doing what he should’ve done in the first place. But this is South Florida, so that’s probably the unlikeliest outcome.
  1. Changing lanes instead of honking means I get to maintain my momentum while keeping my eyes on the road and not on the steering wheel as I search desperately for the horn that is already too late to honk. It means the oblivious driver can remain oblivious and not cause me or anyone else further grief. It means I can end my day with my head held high, knowing I didn’t add further frustration to my driving experience, or ending it with an accelerated heart rate or new anger issues or a wreck. If, in the event, the driver is oblivious because he’s just a lost a family member, then my swerving out of the way also gives him one less thing to be distracted about. To me, this is obviously the better solution to dealing with this kind of situation.

Note: Point #5 was made possible only because there was no one driving beside me. If the other lanes were taken, then I’d have had no choice but to slam on my brakes and maybe get pissed that I nearly wrecked because someone else wasn’t paying attention. However, that was not the case that day, or in that place. That eventuality tends to happen more often in Boynton Beach if I’m taking the right lane on Congress Avenue (take note, visitors!). Taking that lane on that road has a habit of shortening one’s lifespan at least a week per trip.

Anyway, drive safely this weekend, folks. And have a happy 4th of July. Save me a cheeseburger.