Mid-afternoon, traffic inching down Douglas Street. Hot pavement, hotter drivers. Yet another construction project has funnelled two lanes into one, and the funnel is full.
A little drama is playing out at the squeeze point. A man has glided up the relatively empty right lane and now wants into the left, but the woman in the left isn’t having it, not after having been stuck in line through two light changes.
She’s hanging onto the car in front like it’s the last chopper out of ’Nam, so close you couldn’t slip a credit card between their bumpers. No way she’s letting buddy in the right-hand lane budge in — except he forces his way in anyway.
This is when something unbelievable happens: The first driver leans on her horn.
Really, in Victoria.
This has the effect you might expect — a shocked silence. Birds stop singing. Pedestrians turn and gape. Some, uncertain where the jarring sound came from, look aloft. One driver, suspecting catastrophic engine failure, gets out and peers under his hood.
This being Victoria, several among the gathering crowd blame the strange noise on A) the Rumbles B) chemtrails C) Lisa Helps or D) Kinder Morgan.
“No,” says a young woman, a recent visitor to Toronto, “that was a car horn.”
There’s an audible gasp, followed by a muffled scream. Several onlookers make the sign of the cross.
One does not sound one’s horn in Victoria, at least not out of anger. It’s just not done. We treat the horns in our cars in the same way hormonal teenage boys carry condoms in their wallets, neither expecting nor knowing how to use them.
To employ a horn as some sort of audible middle finger is considered an act of violence. Might as well empty a Glock through the back window, or wear white after Labour Day.
Alas, this convention is giving way to congestion these days, drivers’ civility being tested by what feels like unprecedented roadwork and closures.
There are the ongoing projects: the Malahat, the McKenzie Avenue interchange, the Douglas Street bus lanes, the old Belmont site, the Fort Street bike lanes and the not-quite-done Johnson Street Bridge saga (BTW, sorry to report that the jackhammering of the counterweight failed to reveal a body long-rumoured to have been encased in the concrete).
There’s the seasonal work: Tillicum repairs in Saanich, Sooke Road snarls that have sent dodgers scuttling along Esquimalt Lagoon, the darning of the tweed deer fence in Oak Bay.
There’s the downtown building boom, so many condo and office projects that the City of Victoria is back-burnering some of its own capital work — sewers, drains, repaving — just to keep traffic flowing.
Even so, some days the flow is more like an ooze, which is enough to make motorists explode like Rachel Notley at a wine-tasting and honk like a wounded goose.
This is not a good idea. The law is pretty specific about the circumstances under which you should sound your horn (approaching a blind corner on a mountain highway, for example) and none of them say anything about it being a substitute for punching the other guy in the nose.
In fact, doing so ups your chances of being punched in yours. Honking made No. 6 on CBS News’ Road Rage: Nine Ways to Get Yourself Killed list. This month, a Pennsylvania man who honked at a slow-to-turn driver had his car shot in response. A Maple Ridge cabbie was badly beaten with an iron bar after honking at an erratic driver this spring.
I have my own honking story: Many years ago, shortly after Hudson Mack jumped from CHEK to A Channel, he found himself at the wheel of his new station’s float as it approached the platform from which CHEK broadcast the Victoria Day Parade. Not wanting to show its rival, CHEK swung a camera away from the parade and onto me: “Hey, Jack, tell us what’s coming up in the Times Colonist … ”
As I stammered a reply, Mack stopped the float in the middle of Douglas Street and leaned on the horn to drown out my answer, all the while grinning demonically at me over the cameraman’s shoulder.
But I digress.
Irate honking has no place in civilized society, or even Alberta. Give in to that temptation and next thing you know we’ll be living a lawless, dystopian nightmare where roving gangs of feral youth loot liquor stores and ferry queues are jumped with impunity.
Think of the horn as a send button, never to be pushed when angry.