Honk if you still know how, but it could bring on bout of road rage

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Ask not for whom the horn honks. It honks for thee.

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-- John McCarthy

Almost nobody honks their car horn anymore.

I know I don't. I realized this Friday while sitting in the 15th Street turn lane at Walton Way. The green arrow suddenly began to glow, but the car in front of me just sat there. And sat there. And sat there.

Three seconds seemed like an eternity, so I reached up to gently tap my horn. Only then, I realized, I didn't know where it was.

I quickly began pounding the padded steering wheel, looking for the pressure point. It took three punches to get a "HONK!"

Still the guy didn't budge ... until the light turned yellow and then he screeched off like a bat, leaving me at a now-red light, prevented from chasing him.

Maybe that's the other reason people don't use their horns -- road rage. Just as sure as you try to express urgency or danger, your mild "honk" will be misinterpreted by someone in a nearby vehicle as "H-O-O-N-N-N-K-K-K-!!!" And it will the be the capper on a day that included a job loss, a girlfriend breakup and a lunch that disagreed with him.

It's because of this -- which I guess is one of the good things to come out of the road rage trend -- that people don't honk so much.

Another reason could be that with the increasing volume of traffic, you never know who the occasional "honk" is for.

I have been stuck at a light with a half-dozen others around me, when suddenly a nice, clipped, polite "Honk!" sounds. Only, nobody seems to know who did it, or what the message could be.

Well, almost no one.

The rather frightening looking woman in the beat-up truck to my left, apparently thinks it was me, and I'm suggestively trying to get her attention. She smiles, and rolls down her window and motions to me to do the same. I shake my head apologetically and hope the light turns green.

Which gets us to another problem -- what does the "HONK" mean?

Is it a threat, a warning, a greeting or something else. And I can think of no better example than my late grandmother.

The last car that she drove was a copper-colored Chevy Nova, undistinguished except for its "Honk If You Love Jesus" bumper sticker.

Like many in their 80s, my grandmother was a creature of routine. It served her well, except on Sunday mornings.

That's when she always took the same familiar route into town to go to church, where she was treasurer, Sunday school teacher and a backup piano player. If she was not out of town visiting her grandchildren, she would be heading to that little brick church.

Now, while my grandmother's habits rarely changed, the town around her church was not so consistent.

A revitalization effort in the 1970s had changed many of its two-lane streets to one way -- an alteration she seemed incapable of acknowledging.

The result -- swing lo, sweet chariot -- was a sweet, old lady steering her copper-colored church-mobile the wrong way through the lightly trafficked Sunday morning streets, provoking some modest swerves and predictable honks.

She thought they were reacting to her bumper sticker.

"This is certainly a Christian town," she once explained happily to her oldest grandson, who sat in wide-eyed shock in her passenger seat.

He said a quick prayer, promising, if he survived, he would one day write about the adventure as a warning to others.

Reach Bill Kirby at (706) 823-3344 or bill.kirby@augustachronicle.com.


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