Thursday, April 27, 2006

To Honk or not to Honk? Depends on Which State You're in

My mother-in-law just sent me a hilarious e-mail about driving regulations in Massachussets. The first rule, it said, was, "It is tradition in Massachusetts to honk your horn at cars in front of you that do not move three milliseconds after the light turns green."

In my years of being married to a Massachussetts native, I've seen a lot of similarities between Kansas City and Boston: friendly people, loyal sports fans, families that stick together. But driving isn't one of them.

For instance, someone once honked at my uncle in Kansas City when he didn't obey a green light fast enough. He sat there until the light turned yellow. Then he sat there a little longer. Just before the light turned red, he burned rubber through the intersection, leaving the teenagers in the car behind us to sit through another red light. He was teaching them a valuable lesson. You don't honk your horn in Kansas City.

There's only one exception to that rule. It's not when someone is driving so dangerously that they are likely to kill someone. No, that situation calls for tilting your head to the side and making a smart aleck remark, like, "Lady's and gentleman, welcome to amateur hour on Wornall Road."

No, you can only honk if you think you know someone in the car in front of you.

Example: "Is that Margaret? Her hair is different but I think it's her car. When did she get a dog? I'm going to honk and see if it's her. Beep. Beep. Oh, no. It's not her. That woman's going to think I honked at her because she ran the red light!"

Why the difference in honking rules between Kansas City and Boston? It's a matter of dialect. In Boston, honking is a kind reminder to someone that he drives like a horse's ass. However, in Kansas City it means something stronger. Something along the lines of, "I wish you were never born."

So in Boston, honking is intructive and in Kansas City, it is mean. No one wants to be mean. Therefore, you can drive as inconsiderately or obliviously as you want in Kansas City without getting honked at.

My grandmother, Mume, God rest her soul, used to drive in 40 mile an hour traffic along three-laned Ward Parkway and come to a complete stop to show me where a lady she knew lived. And that would be okay except that she would sit there and gossip about her for 15 minutes. People swerved around us. Stared at us. Cursed us. But no one honked.

In Kansas City, you could cross three lanes of traffic with no turn signal going 20 miles under the speed limit, throwing banana peels at the cars behind you and people would show their disapproval by rolling their eyes and muttering, "Look at this lady."

And if someone honked, you'd think, "What the...? Oh, I'm sorry. I guess it's my fault that I realized at the last minute I needed to turn left and my turn signal was broken. You know, maybe my car isn't as fast as yours and maybe I can't stand the smell of banana peels for as long as you can. But at least I'm not rude."

I think I speak for everyone in Kansas City when I say we've all been in that situation. Or maybe it's just me.

Another rule in the e-mail said, "In Massachussetts, flipping the bird is considered a polite salute. This gesture should always be returned."

Now this is actually true in Kansas City, too. I can't tell you how many Kansas Citians have flipped the bird at someone who cut them off only to realize it was their Aunt Virginia. They raced home to call her and say, "Did you see the new ring on my middle finger? I tried to show it to you in traffic today. No, of course I wasn't flipping you off. Why would I? You should cut people off at a moment's notice going two miles an hour. That is your God-given right."

I almost thought I ran into a second exception to the no honk rule the other day. People conducting a small peace rally on Ward Parkway carried various signs along the lines of, "Honk if you want to outsource Bush."

Now, Missouri is a swing state, so about half the people should be honking, right? But because of Kansas City's no-honk rule, there was total silence. Then someone honked.

Just as I reached for my Missouri driver's manual to jot down the new rule: "Honking in support of/disdain for political protesters is now okay," I saw the protester's absent minded wave grow more vigorous. She smiled and shouted something to the honking driver.

Something like, "How is Bob's mother doing?"

For all I know, the driver that honked loved George Bush.

Some rules were not made to be broken. Except for by Mume. She honked at everyone. Especially when cars zipped by us like we were sitting still on Ward Parkway. Which we were.


Anonymous ma said...

I was following Mume out to her apt one night. Rich was in the car with her. She was going 15 mph down Wornall. I couldn't stand it any longer and pulled around her to go 35 to wait in her parking lot at the apt. She said to Rich, "What's she driving like a bat out of hell for?"
I agree with your point - funny article!!!

8:34 AM  
Anonymous Sondra said...

I thought that people in Mass. honked a lot until I moved to Rhode Island. These people honk when they see someone they know, mad at a tourist, if the light is green, if the light is red, if someone is in the road or thinking of crossing, they honk hello and goodbye and get out of my way. It's out of control here!

hooooonk honk
(that's goodbye in Rhode Island)

9:16 AM  
Anonymous mary said...

Good blog Bridge!
I like the part about asking
your aunt if she had seen the
new ring on your middle finger.
I'll have to remember that one.

2:23 PM  

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