Blowing Your Own Horn
On a good day, I can drive downtown from my office in Norcross in about 25 minutes; but this was not a good day. I was running late, on my way to a luncheon gathering at the World Congress Center with several hundred other people. I had taken a wrong turn once I got off the Downtown Connector and was slowly and impatiently winding my way back to where I should have gone. I stopped for a light behind a late-model sedan whose driver did not accelerate immediately once the light changed.
Without thinking, I did the unthinkable - I blew my horn at her. I was horrified, ashamed, contrite.
The thing is, you simply cannot hate hornblowers any more than I do. You cannot have thought or said worse things about people who hit the horn the instant the light changes than I have. The rules of the auto-horn game are unwritten but crystal clear. You do not blow a horn unless you have given the lollygagging driver a respectable amount of time to notice the light change on his or her own.
Only if you are in danger of having to sit through another five-minute-long red light or if you are driving yourself to the emergency room can you even consider touching your horn. And it had better be a light tap, not a blast.
But there I was, having become what I hate - a hornblower.
I could see the driver's head jerk up. She was obviously startled by the horn, probably feeling annoyed and a little embarrassed as she moved swiftly through the intersection. I wondered if she thought to herself: I bet that person behind me never blows her horn unprovoked. I bet she's normally a thoughtful driver and a good person. How terrible of me to have pushed her to the brink. Probably not.
It soon became apparent to me that the other driver was headed for the same destination I was. I pulled into the parking lot right behind her, but made sure the parking space I found was not too close to her. I wasn't ready to make eye contact, but I kept her in my line of sight as we both made our way to the bank of escalators that would deliver us - late - to our lunch.
At that point I made the decision that I would seek her out and apologize for being such a jerk, for blowing my horn at her.
I have come to value the good old-fashioned, direct, plain-vanilla style of apology - the kind that starts and ends with "I'm sorry." Not those that seek to shift the blame from offender to offendee, those that start with, "If you took offense ... " and end with some self-serving ramblings about how the offender is actually the victim in the incident.
I'm tired of watching public figures, force-marched by their lawyers and handlers to a podium, who hem and haw their way through a contrived "photo-op" apology for the primary purpose of avoiding a lawsuit or taking any real responsibility. I'm tired of apologies that aren't apologetic.
So, meanwhile, back at the World Congress Center, feeling like a stunt double in a Hollywood chase scene, I went from trying to avoid the woman at whom I had blown the horn to trying to catch up with her - without injuring anyone else (to whom I would also have to apologize) in the process. I scurried up the last few steps of the escalator and finally, at the top, I caught up with her.
"Excuse me, ma'am," I said.
She stopped and turned. "Yes?"
"I was in the car behind you at the stoplight, and I'm the one who blew the horn at you. I'm so sorry."
She looked wary, distracted, puzzled. She said simply, "It's all right," then moved away, apparently anxious to put as much distance between us as possible.
So clearly one woman's apology was another's annoyance. It would have been nice if we had had a little chat about good manners and good drivers; but I was in no position to force such an exchange.
Perhaps, in the overall context of the daily hustle and bustle, one little horn beep was less troublesome to that particular driver than a forced public encounter with a stranger. Maybe she thinks a little extra noise is a small price to pay for privacy. Maybe people blow horns at her all the time and she doesn't even notice. Maybe she thought I was a lunatic - but, I hope, a polite one.
Susan Percy is editor of Georgia Trend. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org