As a native and impatient New Yorker, I am no stranger to honking. Since I began driving at 17, my right hand has gained accurate muscle memory for every car horn I have ever encountered. It has learned the exact location of the horn as well as how to press, palm, or hit it so that I, like most city-drivers, can tell other drivers that they are in my way.
In cars, frustration with others comes quick, and it is all too easy to take it out on the silence. As a mother, on the other hand, I want to teach my children patience. I want them to live in a world where human beings respect one another and allow each other to make mistakes without immediate reproach, where they can grow up unhurried like kids did on The Wonder Years.
Recently I heard someone honk in the Valley. It reminded me that when I moved here seven years ago, after a few months of my normal impatient honking, I noticed that people generally didn’t honk here. It just wasn’t going to be part of my new audible landscape.
When I realized this and all that it meant, I stopped honking. Cold turkey.
It’s not that I stopped noticing that Valley drivers sometimes wait at green lights, make left turns from right lanes, go too fast in residential neighborhoods and too slow on highways. I still believe that the bad reputation of Valley drivers is warranted. I will still honk in a dangerous situation, but I refuse to do it in protest to the small inconveniences of life. Living in a world without honking has such far-reaching implications that it has been worth losing my right hand’s muscle memory.
Not honking in the RGV for me means “I’ve been there. I am not better than you. I make mistakes too, and thank you for not pointing them out every second.” Connecting these dots seven years ago required me to develop a new eye— or perhaps ear— for my new world. Like Dorothy, I quickly realized that I wasn’t in New York anymore, and instead of lamenting about it I realized that my Oz includes a whole lot of kindness, compassion, love of neighbor, slowness to judge, humility, and empathy. I don’t believe the RGV is perfect— far from it— but I became convinced that good silence outweighs bad driving.
I can usually tell when a person is new to the Valley. They tend to complain in public, not quietly, about all of the Valley’s visible warts. I notice them sighing and looking at their watches when the curtain refuses to rise on an orchestra concert, rolling their eyes when a cashier takes too long, and sometimes yelling at wait staff in restaurants about their food. Unless these transplants start training the muscles in their eyes and ears instead of their hands and mouths, they won’t make it here. They will never get to see the precious world created by Valley natives long ago.
Anger grows when we only see warts, and I am sure that angry people are tense and their blood pressure high. On the other hand, I notice that those who have embraced the Valley react very differently to the same exact scenarios: they take the extra ten minutes of waiting time to talk to their friends, to laugh instead of growing irritated at life’s inconveniences. Perhaps they have learned that warts grow on the flesh of every community. Not honking has taught me this basic truth, which I want my children to learn sooner than later. I am proud to live in a community that, by and large, chooses to react to this basic truth with compassion over condemnation. I hope my children choose not to honk.