The other day I was waiting at a stoplight at the intersection of Union Avenue and Gay Street in downtown Knoxville. In the car in front of me, a woman was leaning over to her right doing something on the floorboard of the passenger side. Maybe she was looking for lip balm; maybe she was locating her roach clips. I’d rather not know.
The light turned green, but she couldn’t see because her head was below the dash.
Thinking I would toot my horn to let her know that the light had turned, I pressed the center of my steering wheel. My ’98 4Runner, also known as “The Beast,” is thirteen years old. Whatever nuances that the people at Toyota built into the horn have long since disappeared. My truck no longer toots or beeps. It only honks.
A car horn is our only audible means of communication, unless of course you drive an emergency vehicle or an ice cream truck. In case of the latter, I’m more worried about the children in your town than your horn.
Honks express irritation, anger, or fear:
“You almost hit me, you idiot! Wake up!”
“That’s what your turn signal is for, moron!”
“Holy crap, Semi-Truck Jerk, you can’t just merge whenever you want to! Are you trying to get me killed?!”
Honks are the exclamation points and expletives of automotive punctuation. My horn only knows one phrase: *&%^ @#$! It makes me sound like I have road rage and could explode into violence and litigation at any second.
Toots, on the other hand, notify other drivers about some change in evolving puzzle of driving from one place to another:
“The light’s green.”
“Please move. You can catch up with your friend later.”
“I’m behind you. Don’t back into me.”
Beeps tell dumb dogs, suicidal squirrels, and disoriented deer to get off the road before they become furry grease stains. Beeps say hi to a friend in another car or on the sidewalk or “Coming through” to a group of people standing in the way.
I had no choice but to honk at the Camry in front of me. The woman shot me a dirty look in the rearview that says, “Geez, settle down, Mr. Anger Problem!”
I wanted to explain myself, but I couldn’t roll down my window and yell, “That’s not what I meant! I wasn’t even mad. I just wanted to be considerate of the other people behind us who might not make the light if you searched too long for your roach clips”?
Here’s what I have to remember: that lady glared at me, but she probably forgot about my egregious offense in fifteen seconds.
I was taught to be nice. “Nice” doesn’t necessarily mean “kind,” “gentle,” “funny,” “empathetic,” or “hospitable.” It’s a catch-all descriptor that has been run through the wash so many times that you can’t remember its original color.
Some nice people never use their horns, as though it was taboo like cursing in church or dating your roommate’s ex-girlfriend. “Unjust” honking is one of myriad ways to ruin someone else’s afternoon, and ruining someone’s afternoon is bad manners. “Nice” is a bland, generic adjective that we use to describe people when we’re either too lazy to be more precise or the individual doesn’t have any personality traits more remarkable than being non-offensive.
Regardless of the feelings that it conveys, honking can prevent terrible accidents on the road. Pressing into conflict can prevent terrible wrecks in our hearts and spirits.
I’m honking my horn as an exercise in being not-nice. I’ve decided to use it more, not less. Nice people don’t honk, they just bottle their resentment. The cork is taking the moral high road and avoiding conflict.
I don’t want to be that person anymore, so I’m unlearning some crippling people pleaser habits. I don’t want to be nice. I want to be bold and good and tender-hearted, not bitter and resentful.
I’m not going to be passive. I’m going to honk my horn, and let the woman in the Camry interpret however she wants. More people make it through the green light that way.