Wednesday, 6/29/02: Honku Peace Plan

Well, I just returned from a trip to the Middle East where I visited Amman, Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian Territories. I could say a lot about the trip. But for now, I'll leave it at this: The honking in the Middle East is outrageous.

In Amman, drivers use their horns both as "Don't Walk" signs and as a substitute for braking. If a driver sees you on the sidewalk getting ready to cross the street, he honks to warn you not to cross. You could be looking the guy dead in the eye, but he still honks. It's like he's doing you a favor. Fortunately, they don't really have those big Ford horns like we do here in the U.S.. They just have little tooters. So, the street life of Amman is filled with endless little toots.

The streets of Jerusalem were about as quiet as I've ever seen them. People are really keeping away from restaurants, shopping malls and all public places. Saturday night was eerily quiet. During the day, however, people are still using their cars. And if one thing is entirely normal it's the maniacal honking of Jerusalem drivers. My hotel room had a window right over an intersection and it almost felt like I was back in Brooklyn.

Ramallah demands some sort of U.N. intervention -- just for the honking. I have never seen or heard honking like the honking I heard at the Calandia Checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem. You've got 25 truckers sitting in line waiting for their turn to get through the checkpoint. No one is moving. It's hot. It's dusty. The air is thick with diesel exhaust. And they are ALL just leaning on the horn. It'd be difficult to construct a more heinous human environment. The amazing thing about this is that it's clear that the soldiers at the checkpoint can't hear the truckers honking. And even if the soldiers could hear the honking, it wouldn't make them move vehicles through the checkpoint any faster (except, perhaps, for ambulance. I saw the Israelis let some ambulances through to Jerusalem pretty quickly). The truckers aren't stupid. They must know that the honking will not move the line any faster. Nevertheless, they honk at each other. The honk at themselves. They honk at everything. They honk at nothing.

Here in Brooklyn I've often had the suspicion that for a great number of people, the car horn is the only voice they've got. This voice is very occasionally used as intended, to say, "Hey, be careful!" On the rare occassion of a sports victory it's used to express joy. But the vast majority of the time, the car horn is used to voice anger, frustration, and "Get the f**k out of my way. Jerk." In fact, the driver's seat might be one of the only places where anyone's actually allowed to express those feelings publicly. And, wow, are folks ever taking advantage of that. Especially in Ramallah.

On that note... Let's hear it for the new theme song:
"New York New York" as performed by Wendy Mae Chambers' Car Horn Organ.