I can always tell when it’s Friday. The building that houses my office is on Varick Street in New York City, a couple of blocks from the Holland Tunnel, so every Friday at about 4pm, the sound of horns honking in backed-up traffic gets louder and more frequent and more insistent, reaching a fever pitch at about 5, a chorus of pointless noise pollution.
I always wonder what people think they’re accomplishing when they honk their horns in traffic. Especially in a situation like this, where everyone can clearly see cars backed up to the horizon line. When you can’t even see the bottleneck, how is honking going to help? Whatever is causing the blockage can’t hear you, and I have a feeling that whoever is at the front of this line is just as eager to get to Jersey City as you are. As is everyone else in this long line, a line with no end and no beginning, a line of desperate souls stuck in the last place they want to be. Nobody wants to be stuck in traffic, and everybody would like to forget about how inconvenient all this is.
But thank you for the reminder, Mr. Horn Honker! For a second there I almost got lost in an interesting conversation with my passengers, or the music on my iPod, or a lively discussion on the radio, or taking in some of the lovely architecture. Thank you for reminding me that this sucks and I should be actively hating it, myself, and everyone around me. Without your help, I might have momentarily forgotten.
I guess it releases a little bit of tension. It feels cathartic to make a loud noise. I get that. It’s almost as good as screaming or something. Unfortunately, the tension you’re releasing is not disappearing into the astral plane, but being offloaded onto everyone around you. When you’re not expecting it, a close car horn will make you jump in your seat, mutter a swear word, and wonder why the spot between your neck and your shoulder suddenly feels tight.
Everyone agrees that horn honking is the worst and most annoying thing about living in a city. I have personally polled everybody in New York and a 98.6% majority agrees with me. Various respondents have offered potential solutions for the problem. Higher fines for unnecessary honking has already been tried, but in a city like this it’s an unenforceable joke (unless all 11 million of us are deputized and armed). The death penalty for unnecessary honking is a nice fantasy, but the ACLU will surely block the way, citing the rights of that perennially abused minority (assholes).
So how do we tackle this problem? It seems to me that some kind of modification of the honking mechanism is required. One of my favorite suggestions came from a friend who said that all horns should come with a finite number of honks in them. I like that one, but it has problems, mainly that it depends on the user to budget their honking, which based on the recent budgeting history of this country is not going to work. So just let them use up all their honks and then they don’t have a horn, right? It’s important to remember that car horns do have a necessary function, which is to avert accidents by alerting other drivers to dangerous situations before they turn disastrous. We can’t leave people driving around with no horn.
So here’s what I propose: modify all car horns so that they are just as loud, if not louder, INSIDE the car as they are OUTSIDE the car.
Think about it: the sound of a sudden car horn honk is jarring, disturbing, and damaging to the ears to everyone except the person sitting in the car that’s honking. So if you’re sitting idly in traffic and feeling impatient, would you be so quick to honk that horn if it’s going to leave your own ears ringing? Not so cathartic now, is it?
And on the flip side, if another car is drifting into your lane and about to cause an accident, you would probably be okay with some temporary hearing loss if it prevents a 9-car pileup.
It’s win-win! So come on, Congress, get to work and start fixing the real problems this nation faces. And when you’re done with car horns, you can get started on car alarms.*
*Car alarms: the most perfect real-world expression of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” Has anyone ever said, “Oh my god, call the police! I hear a car alarm! We have to prevent a grand theft auto in progress!” No. That has never happened in the history of the car alarm. It is the most useless invention in this history of inventions and it’s time to outlaw them.
But the horn thing first.