Honk Honk!

A friend of mine who, like me, is an impatient type-A personality, moved from Maryland to Seattle in early 2014. I finally caught up with him for the first time since the move a few weeks before Christmas. I asked him what the biggest difference was between suburban DC and the Pacific Northwest. I assumed he’d say things like “it’s much rainier out here,” and “the coffee snobs are more snobby out here.” But, to my surprise, he said, “people are more patient out here.” Being the analytic, data-driven type, I asked him what metric he was using to gauge that. He said it was simple – just time how long it takes people to honk at you at a stoplight if you don’t accelerate the instant the light turns green. He told a story of how he was trying to figure out his route by reading the map on his phone at a stoplight (translation: reading text messages about the Seahawks game) and missed an entire green light cycle. The patient motorist behind him never honked once. For an entire light cycle! While I must confess that the story strained credulity just a titch, I also agree that the metric is a fair one to gauge a person’s (or a region’s) patience.

Ever since he recounted this story to me, I’ve been very conscious of my own “honk time” when a motorist in front of me doesn’t have his or her foot poised on the gas pedal like a drag racer when the light turns green. It has made me very self-aware. Here are my observations:

  1. I’m crazy impatient – OK, no big revelation there, at least not for anyone who’s known me more than an hour.
  2. Any time I don’t accelerate immediately is totally justified and anyone who honks at me at any time should expect to see one particular digit extended upward.
  3. My thumb moves from the rim of the steering wheel to the horn at the 0.5 second mark after the light changes to green.
  4. I start applying gentle pressure to the horn at the 1 second mark.
  5. Depending on my assessment of whether the driver has realized the light is green and is about to go or is still clueless, the actual honk starts somewhere between the 2 and 3 second mark.
  6. Any car with an Obama bumper sticker gets the honk literally as soon as I can get to the horn.
  7. Ditto all hybrids, especially Priuses (sorry mom), under the assumption that the driver voted for Obama.*
  8. Old people (if I know this information) get a 2-3 second grace period.
  9. Rule #8 doesn’t apply to Priuses or cars with Obama bumper stickers (again, sorry mom).
  10. Cars with conservative political bumper stickers or bumper stickers supporting DC sports teams get a very short grace period, though I reserve the right to suspend this grace period if I am in a hurry or otherwise grouchy, which is basically all of the time.


*I live in Montgomery County, Maryland, which voted 82% for Obama. I know very few conservatives that drive Priuses. Thus, by my math, the statistical probability that a Prius driver in my county voted for Obama is about 99.999%.

About Bruce Robertson

Bruce Robertson is an amateur writer and professional provocateur
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2 Responses to Honk Honk!

  1. Drivers in Wisconsin exhibit a similar patience to your friend’s, which seems like alien behavior to someone (like me) who has lived in NYC most of his life. In NYC, the honking starts as the opposing light turns yellow. Also, while I didn’t get my driver’s license in NYC, I suspect the correct answer on the NY exam to the test question “What does a yellow light mean?” is “accelerate.”

    The real problem in WI is the issue of the left turn. As your vast readership will recognize, turning left on a two-way street in a traffic situation is always annoying, and the health of any particular civilization can be measured by how it approaches this thorny problem. In the case of my adopted state, the picture is not pretty. Drivers approaching their left turn (this applies to Prii, which are numerous, and Subarus, which predominate, and Romney voters, who don’t exist in Madison but are a theoretical possibility) linger IN BACK OF the intersection, with nary a nose inserted into the box. When the light turns yellow, the car in the front of the line cautiously advances. Yes, one car per cycle makes a left turn.

    Conclusion: civilization is rotten to the core.

  2. I think what you’ve proven is that anything on the LEFT is a problem!

    Sorry, but if you’re going to throw belt-high fastballs, I’m going to turn on them!

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