Matter of Laugh or Death
By Bill Dunn
Interesting observations on this thing we call life
HONKING HORNS AND FLIPPING BIRDS
I spend a great deal of time traveling in the New York metropolitan area. I’ve discovered that having a good car horn is more important than having good brakes, although not quite as important as having a stereo system so loud the “boom-boomba, boom-boomba” sound waves can knock over garbage cans from forty feet away and cause bricks to shake loose from five-story buildings and fall to the sidewalk.
Everyone in New York drives with their car horn. It’s often the only time many motorists touch the steering wheel at all.
I also use my car horn a lot, but it is very frustrating. Every once in a while the message I’m trying to communicate is sincere and friendly. The problem is car horns have very little flexibility. You really have only two options. If you punch the steering wheel in rapid succession, you produce a short, staccato burst of sound: “Beep-beep-beep-beep!” If you press the button and hold it down, you produce a long wail: “Beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep!!!”
Either way, the message from your car horn sounds the same to anyone who hears it, loosely translated: “Hey jerk face! What’s your problem?!” Which is why the automatic reply to a car horn beep in New York is to flip the bird.
Recently I passed a guy on a street corner who looked just like Joe Torre. I immediately beeped the horn trying to say, “Hey, are you Joe Torre?” A little later on I drove through a puddle and accidentally splashed mud onto the habits of three nuns waiting for a bus. Again I beeped, this time sincerely trying to communicate the message: “Oh, I’m so sorry! I’ll send you a donation as soon as I get home!”
But in both cases, my car horn message was interpreted, “Hey jerk face! What’s your problem?!” which caused the middle fingers of Joe and all three Sisters of Perpetual Compassion to pop up instantaneously at me. (I don’t know, I might be jumping to conclusions. Maybe Joe was simply reminding me that the Yankees are still Number One, and the sudden mud shower caused the good sisters to forget that the peace sign requires two fingers.)
It’s too bad car horns are incapable of communicating our true feelings. I’m sure there would be much more cooperation and brotherhood out on the highways—or at the very least, a few folks might be a bit less tempted to grab a 9mm pistol and put a few slugs into the head of any driver who accidentally cuts him off. (A bit less tempted…maybe. Don’t forget, we’re talking about New York here.)
I’m sure the technology exists. We now have cars with pleasant computer-generated voices that offer important messages to the driver: “Right rear door ajar.” “Oil level low.” “Tires currently being stolen.” “Squeegee guy now throwing up on windshield.”
Why can’t auto manufacturers make a car horn that instead of the usual boring honk offers a pleasant computer-generated voice over a loud-speaker? A little keyboard on the dash, right next to the all-important jumbo coffee mug holder, could activate pre-programmed messages.
In addition to greetings for baseball celebrities and apologies for dripping nuns, I would also like the following message options on my car horn system, delivered in a cheery, sincere voice:
Despite these sincere messages, I imagine in each case the other people still would be inclined to flip me the bird. However, my primary goal is to keep them from reaching for their Smith & Wessons.
There might be other drawbacks to this high-tech car horn system, especially in New York. The messages would have to be available in 37 different languages, and if the dashboard computer could store only 36 different languages, the first one to be dropped and the least likely to be needed, of course, is English.
If car manufacturers do not make this kind of car horn system available soon, I’ll have to go to Plan B: install a “boom-boomba, boom-boomba” stereo system and communicate by knocking people over with sound waves.
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