Monday, September 12, 2005

I'd rather be driving a Dauphine

The highway sign reads:

WARNING: SLIGHTLY MUNDANE COMMUTER POSTING AHEAD NEXT 16 COLUMN INCHES
Flagstaff’s a mighty small town sometimes. Most of the time, actually. Granted, it’s not as small as the previously-mentioned Ash Fork, Arizona, but it’s no New York City. Or even York, Pennsylvania. Around 60,000 people call Flagstaff home, either including or not including students at Northern Arizona University, depending on which set of boring statistical analyses you read.

Um, anyway, I was reminded of how small Flagstaff is on the ride to work this morning, and then again on the ride to an appointment with the pediatrician a little later in the morning.

I’m what you might call an East Coast Driver. I don’t necessarily confuse the horn with the brake pedal, but nor do I hesitate to use the horn in appropriate circumstances, like when someone is experimenting with the concept of creating a two-way street where only a one-way street exists, or when a driver is holding a cell phone in one hand, a Big Mac in the other, and is paying more attention to both those objects than the fact the light has changed. Or when the Red Sox win the World Series.

So I was pulling up to a light in a right turn lane this morning, and there ensued an East Coast Driver’s appropriate horn-blowing circumstance: The green arrow was lit and shining boldly down on Butler Avenue, but alas, the pick-up in front of me appeared unfamiliar with the driver’s responsibility when he is in a right turn lane, signaling a right turn, and the green arrow is lit – namely, to turn right. The situation was just approaching the cusp of a horn blast (the arrow had been green for a mere five seconds or so), and truth be told, I was only getting ready to issue the mandatory horn blast. But the steering wheel on my ’87 Golf was feeling especially touchy this morning, and my horn broke the stillness of the morning (a stillness that was only previously broken by the sound of the traffic at this five-way intersection, the nearby train tracks, and the toilet paper factory just down the road).

I felt a little sheepish about issuing the horn treatment so early on a Monday morning, a situation exacerbated when I passed the pick-up and it turned out to have been driven by someone I know – and who happens to be one of the nicest people in town.

The best solution, of course, would be to trade in my ’87 Volkswagen for a 1960 Renault Dauphine. The Dauphine had the disadvantage of not being able to start if the conditions were too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry, or too pleasant. But it had the advantage of possessing a two-tone horn (a so-called “city horn” and a so-called “country horn”), which would have enabled me to make more of a “friendly suggestion-style” honk the next time such a situation arises.

I’d still employ the city horn, however, for the woman driving the pick-up that cut me off at two separate intersections later in the morning, by employing the Clueless Flagstaff Driver technique of using her imaginary turn signal. She then proceeded up the street in front of me at 5 mph below the posted speed. So after following her for more than a mile, naturally it turned out she was heading for the same pediatric office that I was. And naturally, that meant my 15-month old wandered straight up to her in the waiting room, which for the sake of setting a good example, meant that I couldn’t employ my East Coast Conversation Skills.

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