Beeps of the BVI

One of the joys of island driving is the liberal use of the horn. For those unfamiliar, there is a whole language among drivers and instead of words and sentences, the language is made up entirely of beeps.

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It took me a long while to understand the nuances of the beeps, probably because I learned to drive in Southern California, where the horn utters sounds so rude they aren’t even called beeps. They’re called honks. The Southern California horn, I am not proud to say, is long, loud and always means one thing: “watch it, jerk!”

The BVI’s beeps, by contrast, are varied and sophisticated. Most of them are mild in meaning. There is the friendly beep to say to the vehicle waiting to join traffic that you are yielding so they can come in front of you. Or, there is the equally friendly beep to say thank you to the vehicle that has allowed you to come into traffic on the highway.

Slightly more impatient but still basically friendly are the shortish beeps to let you know that while you have looked away from the traffic light to admire the plumage on a passing rooster, the signal has changed from red to green. The lights stay red entirely too long for this honk to be ignored.

On the hills, there is also the very utilitarian blind corner beep. Especially during daylight hours when headlights aren’t available, this is a great way to make sure that you and another vehicle don’t enter the same switchback from opposite directions. This beep is, by necessity, louder. It’s also saved me from a hill crash at least once.

If you happen to be driving or walking near someone taking a driving lesson, you might hear the pedestrian beep. This is the beep all drivers are supposed to sound to let a pedestrian know a vehicle is coming, in case they don’t realize they are walking on a road that has vehicles on it. This one also has a more personal version, the “hail-up” beep, which is reserved only for pedestrians that are also friends or family members.

I also have one very special beep of my own, but anyone is welcome to it. It’s the accidental beep. Maybe I am trying to get something out of the baby’s bag before I exit a parking space or I have something in my hand or just have bad aim on the steering wheel sometimes, but it I beep the horn sometimes without meaning to. The trick is to style it out by giving an enthusiastic wave at whoever happens to be standing nearby like you meant to beep at them just to say “hey friend!”

This column appeared in the July 5 Limin Times.

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