Honk If You Love Ipswich


I am so scared for you. Please do not move to a big city. Do not move to Chicago especially. You might honk. And you might die.

I have not lived here long, but it is already clear to me that people in Ipswich don’t really understand the device embedded in their steering wheel known as the “horn.” Shoveling snow off my driveway recently, I heard a little beep. I looked up to see a neighbor driving by, waving cheerily. He had used his horn to signal a friendly hello.

Soon, I heard a toot. I looked up to see another affable acquaintance grinning as he drove by. Before I could finish with the driveway, I was amiably saluted by a donk, a porp-porp, a doot-doot-doot, and a painfully cliché bip-bippity bip-bip — boop boop!

There’s an entire car-horn lexicon at work here in Ipswich. There seem to be different honks for different expressions:

Pip! is “Hi!”

Chooop! means “Hello!”

Framp-framp! says “Easy there! Don’t back into me, pal!”

And then there’s Dit-dit-dit-dit-dit! followed by a grin and a finger-wag, which translates to “Surprise! Does your wife know where you are?”

But I have never yet heard someone in Ipswich honking their car horn in anger. No matter how slow the sophisticated gentleman in the Buick Park Avenue may be as he lumbers up Route 1. No matter how long ago the light turned green, while the young lady in the car ahead of you applies her eye-liner in the rear-view mirror. No matter how much of Market Street an SUV is taking up while waiting for the Compact Cars Only parking space. No matter how long you’ve been sitting behind the nice soccer mom in the Volvo stationwagon frantically gesturing to assure the driver who’s waiting to enter the flow of traffic that she really doesn’t want to exercise her right-of-way and move through the intersection, even though vehicles are backing up behind her all the way to Groveland.

Nobody actually “honks.” Nobody signals their displeasure with a donk or a porp-porp or a bip-bippity bip-bip — boop boop. The horn is a friendly little device, like a doorbell or a wind chime or a kazoo.

But say you move to Chicago. You wouldn’t do this just for fun, I realize: but maybe your boss gets mad at you and as punishment your company transfers you to Chicago. So now you’re crawling along in traffic at East 59th Street and Stony Island Avenue, waiting about six cars deep to get past a construction squeeze, and you glance absently to your right. You happen to see your neighbor walking down the sidewalk. (Actually, this isn’t a “neighbor” in the Ipswich sense of the word. Actually, this is the person who lives on the opposite side of the kitchen wall of your 12th-floor Chicago apartment, and whose kimchi odors drift through the building’s heating ducts to fill your world with a nauseating stench every evening at dinnertime. Actually, just by coincidence, you’ve got my former neighbor.)

So what do you do? You’re a friendly sort; you’re from Ipswich. So you tap your horn to get your friend’s attention, to say hello.

Bad move. Very bad move.

The brake lights of the car in front of you now come on. The car grinds to a halt. Which means you have to stop too. Now the door of the car in front of you swings open, and a very large man steps out. He slams the door behind him. He may not be returning soon. He lumbers toward you. He does not look happy.

You cannot drive away. Traffic on either side of you continues to inch along. None of these drivers has the nerve to look your way. They are locals. They know what’s coming. They know you honked.

The neighbor you honked at is no help. He never did look up; he’s gliding on down the street. You’re defenseless.

Having lived in Chicago, I have a couple words of advice for you in this situation.

#1. Roll down your window immediately. Do not make the very large man tap on your window and make a little round-and-round gesture with his very large index finger advising you to lower your window. This will only annoy him all the more.

#2. Do not bother telling the truth. Do not say “I was beeping hello to my neighbor” or “I was just trying to be friendly” or “I’m from Ipswich.” The truth, in this case, is implausible to a Chicagoan. You will immediately be pigeonholed, in the mind of the very large man, not only as a honker, but as a cowardly two-faced scum honker. Which will not help your cause.

#3. Lie. Start with “That was totally an accident, I did not mean to honk my horn, I was scratching my ear and my elbow bumped it,” and go from there.

#4. Shed your pride, your shame, and whatever dignity you think you still have, and plead for your life. I recommend something along these lines: “Please forgive me; I am totally a moron for honking my horn. I absolutely did not mean to offend you, and I will absolutely be more careful from now on.”

#5. If and/or when he walks away, do not indulge in an under-your-breath epithet. Do not risk an expletive, even a very quiet one. I would not even take a chance on rolling your window back up, in case the sound of it happens to come off as sarcastic. Until the very large man is back in his own vehicle, with the door closed, just make like Elmer Fudd and be vewwy, vewwy quiet.

I hope and pray you never need to employ any of this wisdom. Don’t go to Chicago. Stay here, where it’s safe.

I’m staying too.

If you see me, toot.


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