Griffs Notes 5/18/07

There’s a War on Terror, War on Poverty and War on Drugs… and for the poor plebeians of the Washington area, there is also a War on Traffic – and the motorists aren’t winning according to a recent article in US News & World Report.

Washington, DC has apparently landed (not surprisingly) again among the list of “The 10 Worst Commuter Cities” in America. And having lived here for the last 15 years, I think we may have even created a new class of road warrior citizenry who consider their “aggressive reckless driving” as a badge of honor and rite of passage to becoming a “local” in this transient town of power brokers.

Only Los Angeles consistently tops the Nation’s Capital for the number one spot on the Gridlock Billboards – and it is my sincere belief that there is genuine envy about this along the banks of the Potomac. (Fortunately, US News & World Report predicts that Washington would wear their crown by 2030.)

There are two forms of communication while commuting in the Washington area: the horn and the middle finger (aka The Bird).

And it is this first weapon of Road Combat that has inspired me to write today about the enlightenment of endless automotive congestion: Life without a horn.

It isn’t exactly living the life of Thoreau at Walden Pond, as I did not voluntarily decide to eliminate my horn. A high wind storm several weeks ago landed a tree on the hood of my car and the end result aside from the cosmetic damage was a horn that began firing at will causing both humorous and embarrassing moments – so I had the thing disconnected. Suffice it to say that I have become by default the modern day Gandhi of Gridlock.

In an effort to better understand my situation, I sought the wise counsel of an old friend, Lon Anderson, who is AAA’s Mid-Atlantic Director of Public and Government Affairs.

The first thing out of Lon’s mouth was: “You’re not driving if you don’t have a horn around here!”

Anderson also affirmed my suspicions of excessive horn activity saying that “the horn is to driving what oxygen is to breathing… ergo, the horn is an integral part of breathing!”

Lon told me that a survey a few years ago determined that 15% of respondents admitted to using their one finger salute (what the Brits apparently call a “rude digital gesticulation”) in traffic. Thus the logical conclusion is that the other 85% are honking like mad.

AAA predicts some 38.3 million folks will hit the road in pursuit of holiday happiness this Memorial Day – a small increase to last year. I will be among them with a 5-year old and a 1.5-year old in the back seat and I haven’t decided whether I’ll get the horn fixed or not by then.

I’m kind of liking the perspective I get from the constant realization that we place far too much time, energy and anger into a totally irrelevant and daily event like driving – although I will confess I still hit the steering wheel from time to time fully aware that the gratifying sound will not be heard.

Lon got me thinking too about how we ended up being such bad drivers in the first place. “Parents typically wait until their kids are about 14 to clean up their acts… So when we try to figure out who’s to blame, you have to consider that the kid’s been a student of YOUR driving all these years,” he said.

So I’m leaning towards continuing this social experiment and not having the horn returned to its original glory. I am going to try to conduct myself with a greater level of dignity in the bumper-to-bumper parking lot known as I-95 South next weekend.

But if I come back from the trip with a serious case of anxiety and uncontrollable twitching, then I just might have a “General Lee” horn like the one from the Dukes of Hazard installed and a new license plate made that reads: INFIDEL.

Let’s hope that doesn’t happen – and let’s all remember the golden rule of the most important road of Life: It’s the journey that matters more than the destination. Try not to be in such a hurry.

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