Politeness and profanity at the four-way stop

Jan. 2—We arrived at the intersection at roughly the same time, as synchronized as a quartet of Esther Williams clones.

All of us stopped, which was a bit of a miracle. There's always at least one driver willing to view a stop sign as a suggestion, briefly slow and then barrel on through to the din of blaring horns and shouted profanity.

But this was a rule-abiding quartet, evidently, and although I could personally attest to wanting to get on with my business as quickly as possible, it was heartwarming to be in the company of fellow sticklers.

With our arrivals being near-simultaneous, I was unsure who among us should kick off the continuation of our respective journeys. Although I couldn't say for certain, if pressed, I likely would have said I rolled up to the crossroads just milliseconds after my fellow travelers. Therefore, the onus of permitting us all to sally forth certainly wasn't mine.

It seemed, however, I shared my assumption with my fellow drivers.

Traveling via automobile has a way of altering time — stretching seemingly short distances into mini-eternities or constricting so that the daily commute into something that just occurs as your mind wanders — so it was difficult to tell exactly how long we sat there waiting for someone else to make the first move. Likely, it was just a few seconds; for an impatient and also socially awkward driver like myself, the wait seemed interminable.

The towering pitch-black Hummer directly across from me flashed its lights, presumably signaling that its driver was refusing any claim he might have to being the first to arrive at the four-way stop and therefore also the first to leave. Which, of course, didn't help me much. His refusal to move first pretty much guaranteed that I, too, would be waiting until either the blue Accord to my left or the battered red Grand Am to my right cleared the intersection.

I turned toward the Pontiac, met the driver's eye, and offered her a conciliatory wave of my hand. The soul-dead look on her face told me her patience had been worn to scrim by the bustle of the holiday season, but she must have had just a touch of that old Christmastime generosity left in the tank to not only refuse to take me up on my offer, but to return the gift with a conceding hand wave of her own.

The Honda to my left had apparently grown weary of its fellow four-way-stoppers' deference to one another because it started beeping its tiny, tinny horn in rapid bursts ... the automobile equivalent of saying "please" but in a tone that actually made it more like a profanity-laced direct order than a polite request.

Perhaps motivated by the baying of the Accord or maybe just tired of waiting, both the Hummer and the Grand Am started forward, then abruptly stopped when each realized that the other had the same idea. More waving ensued, followed by another round of honking from the Honda. Moved by such melodious sounds, both the Hummer and the Grand Am joined the chorus, transforming the intersection into an impromptu concert of staccato beeps and braying honks accompanied by a flurry of interpretive hand gestures.

"Let's get out of here," I told the interior of my unassuming Toyota Yaris. It silently assented.

As I slowly rolled through the intersection, my fellow travelers serenaded me with blaring horns and shouted profanity. I smiled and waved politely before continuing on my journey.

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ADAM ARMOUR is the news editor for the Daily Journal and former general manager of The Itawamba County Times. You may reach him via his Twitter handle, @admarmr.