I spent last Christmas in the aqua-blue archipelago of Trinidad and Tobago. I spent last Christmas in a rusty van in the aforementioned archipelago, driving up and up through tropical mountains. At night, when oncoming vehicles announced their presence with glowing headlights (or headlight), the hairpin turns weren’t too bad. During the day, every turn necessitated a friendly warning honk of the horn. Other things that necessitated friendly honks were cows, children, drunkards, and potholes. I didn’t think much of it at the time, and returned to the straight cold quiet streets of the rural Midwest a week later, to find that Michigan cars don’t talk. They have eyes and mouths and names and genders and bumper stickered points of view, but they are curiously muzzled. I believe in horn honking: frequent, unanalyzed, loud, horn honking.
The Michigan citizen spends a large percentage of his time thinking about the best way to not offend anyone or be noticed in any manner whatsoever. Each tries his best to get It right, the clothes and house and yard that is expected. The subdivision down my street actually has an enforced no-clothesline policy. This is how it goes in my part of the world. Every person is expected to have a beige house, a clothes dryer. In this atmosphere of self-censorship, horn honks are considered a grievous offense, a social gaff reserved for the folly of teenagers, given up in adulthood when people are expected to be more reserved and when problems are expected to be internalized. And maybe it is just my own teenage folly, but I feel, with each boisterous honk of my horn, that the veil of melancholy which gathers about my town each winter is lifted a bit. Letting people know when the light is green, honking at friends from their driveways or at the guy who just pulled out in front of me, I prefer a moment of confrontation to the frustration that comes from, well, keeping my Camry’s mouth shut.
Our horn happy Trinidadian bus driver wasn’t filled with road rage. He was a farmer, actually. “What do you harvest?” I asked him. “Oh, I don’t harvest anything,” he replied. “I tend to the crops, but I leave them for the birds and the animals.” He wasn’t wealthy, but no one had thought to tell him that he should be unhappy. No one had thought to tell him that the aqua blue Christmas lights he had strung up in the shape of a heart were crooked. No one had though to tell him that clotheslines are visual blights and that the sound of a horn is a rude and unwelcome distraction. Somehow, though, despite all this, his small home seemed infinitely more inviting than any large Midwestern box, and his wave and even his horn seemed preferable to the cool remove of Midwestern drivers in their silent automobiles.
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