Thursday, March 31, 2011

'Toot!' Cut Right In!

"Why did the Crucian honk his horn?"

I looked over at Tori, in the passenger seat. She was staring straight ahead, with that smile that said she'd come up with a good one.

"I don't know, Tori," I said. "Why did the Crucian honk his horn?"

"Because he was driving."

Honking horns are nothing new. In lots of places people seem to steer with their hands plastering down on the horn. But in almost everyplace else in the world, it's either aggressive, impatient or a warning. "Get out of my way, jerk!" "Can't you see the light has changed, idiot!" "Don't even think about pulling into this lane you moron! I'm drivin' here!"

On St. Croix, and probably elsewhere in the Caribbean but this is what I know, it's different.

First, you have to understand that there is only one multi-lane road on the island. The Melvin Evans Highway boast two lanes east and two lanes west. All the rest have room for only one lane in either direction, and many don't really have that much room but they painted a line down the middle anyway.

The point being, the roads can get crowded and if you're on a side street waiting to get acoss traffic or just turn into traffic, there are times and places - especially early morning or between 5 and 6 p.m. – where you could be waiting a
long time.

Except for Crucuan driving courtesy. You can pull up to a stop sign on a cross street of a busy line of traffic extending out of sight, and can rest assured that someone will stop, toot their horn (or flash their lights, but horn tooting is far more common) and let you go. Honestly I think it's very rare that I've had to wait more than a minute, no matter how heavy the traffic has been.

I can't do the horn toot. Whenever I've tried, it sounds to me a little too loud, to aggressive. So I go wth the light flash. Tori does the horn perfectly.

And, yes, I have heard an aggressive, "the light has changed, idiot" car horn once in a while – three times, maybe four, in the almost three years I've been here. Usually, almost always, the tooting of car horns is the melody of the road, a polite musical accompaniment to the morning commute.

So at various times a car horn honk can mean:

Go ahead and cut in front of me please.

Thank you for letting me cut in front of you.

Hello friend! I haven't seen you since yesterday!

Look! My car is equipped with a horn!

Sometimes someone will stop to let you turn in front of them or cross traffic when there's no one behind them for a quarter mile. All they have to do is pass on by and you can do whatever it was you intended to do in perfect safety. But the whole driving courtesy is so engrained in them that they can't not. And it does no good to wave at them or blink your lights to suggest they have the right of way. They will not move until you turn out. Not always, but it happens at least once a week to me.

Because they just want to be polite. And really, there's nothing wrong with that.

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