Thursday, July 31, 2008


Copyright 2008 Elliott Joseph
August 2008

Fuel injection, power steering, automatic transmission, computerized maintenance programming -- today's automobile is an engineering masterpiece.

Except for the horn.

As articulate beings we can go into detail about our trip to the Grand Tetons.

We can debate a constitutional issue. But with our automobile horn all we can say is, "Hey!" "Look out!" or "Get the hell out of my way!"

Imagine my surprise on the highway the other day when I heard this pleasant, "tap, de-te-tap" behind me.

It was the horn of a small blue sedan that wanted to pass. Its friendliness seemed to talk to me, and I moved over quickly.

The driver, a woman in her fifties with a strong profile, rosy complexion and short, straight gray hair touched her brow in a salute of thanks and drove on.

A little while later I found myself next to her on a local street, waiting for a light to change. I motioned for her to join me for a moment, and we pulled into a couple of parking spots.

I complimented her and asked if she had a special horn installed in her car. She said no, it was simply the way she used it.

"Can you show me what you did on the highway?" I asked.

"You mean, 'Excuse me, I'd like to pass you, but I assure you this is no reflection on your ability to drive, your age, your looks or how much money you make '?"

"Yes," I said, excited. "That was it!"

She hit the horn with a quiet touch of the heel of her palm and some delicate taps of her middle finger.

Fascinated, I asked if she had any other horn calls.

She thought for a moment. "Here's one I've used a number of times on weekends," she said, playing a series of staccato beats. "It's, 'Don't look now, but your dog's nose is caught in your right rear window.'"

Realizing I had found a sympathetic ear, I bewailed the way some drivers lean on their horns for the least little thing.

"Yes," she agreed, "and horn talk is really so easy."

I wanted to hear her entire repertory. She said she had to get on, but would run through a few.

Exhibiting an eloquence I had not thought possible with a standard equipment automobile horn, she played:

-- I know I'm in the wrong lane. I'm trying to get out of your way.
-- I'd like to get into my garage, please.
-- I'm blowing my horn a bit louder than usual only because I know you're hard of hearing. No offense meant.
-- Can you move forward about three inches?
-- Love your car.
-- After you.
-- I'm driving this slow because I have a wedding cake in the back seat.

"I wish I could play the horn the way you do," I said, "but it seems complicated. I bet you could make a fortune writing it all down and getting it programmed."

She smiled. "All you have to do is feel what you want to say to be able to get your horn to say it."

Suddenly we heard a loud, four second horn blast from a pick-up truck that had pulled up alongside us.

"Let me interpret that," I volunteered. "He's saying, 'Hey, are you leaving or are you going to spend the night there!?'"

A young man wearing a purple and white peaked cap backwards rolled down his right hand window.

"Hey," he said, "are you leaving or..."

I cut him off. "No, we're spending the night here."

He sped away, giving us a much longer blast. My new friend and I laughed.

She wished me good luck, said goodbye and left. I got into my car, sorry I had not asked her name.

At that moment a man pulled up in a Porsche. He was about to back into the vacant spot. I tapped my horn twice, then once more.

"Sure," he said. "I'll wait while you get out. It'll be easier for both of us."

I took off, feeling I had found new strength.

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