A friend of mine named Laura who works in Beverly Hills was in great distress the other day. For the first time in her life, she had honked her horn at another car.
That may not seem like a big deal to you, but to Laura it was a devastating incident. Not only had she honked her horn but she had leaned out the window and shouted a mild expletive at the driver who had just cut her off.
I believe she called him a bonehead.
"Hell," I said, trying to comfort her, "that's not bad. I've shouted a lot worse from my car and once or twice have even gone so far as to flick someone an obscene gesture."
"You don't understand," Laura said. "I am a good Christian woman who believes in turning the other cheek. I don't honk at people. I don't holler at people. I am patient, I am understanding and I am not aggressive."
"I know," I said, "but you also have never driven every day in Beverly Hills before."
For those who have not experienced the pleasure, driving in Beverly Hills even for one day is the emotional equivalent of punk-dancing in a mine field.
Driving in Beverly Hills every day is punk-dancing in a mine field while being pursued by a mob of Libyan terrorists who have mistaken you for the commander of the 6th Fleet.
About two months ago, Laura took a job as secretary to an investment broker off Wilshire Boulevard. In addition to simply getting to and from work, she is required by the nature of her job to drive around town to banks and lending institutions.
"At first," she said as we lunched on Beverly Drive, "it was no big deal. People in Lincoln Continentals honked at me for no reason, but I never honked back.
"People in Porsches and Jaguars cut in front of me, but I never raised my voice. Then something began to happen. . . . "
"Don't tell me," I said. "Trembling hands? An inclination to drool?"
"Dear God," I said, "the Rodeo Drive Effect."
RDE, as the affliction is known, is an insidious form of emotional stress believed to create involuntary movement of both the mouth and the hands after prolonged exposure to traffic-negative situations on any street north of Wilshire Boulevard.
The disease is most pronounced during holiday shopping seasons and has a period of gestation usually lasting three months.
In the first trimester, a person not previously exposed to the Rodeo Drive Effect finds himself generally able to absorb the rudeness of Beverly Hills motorists without noticeable impact, although subtle transformations are taking place in the body chemistry.
One is not so quick to smile or offer an after-you gesture as one might, say, in Culver City.
During the second trimester of the developing syndrome, a victim's hands begin to tremble slightly at the sight of a Mercedes-Benz and, in the final days of the period, there is a tendency to salivate at the sound of a Ferrari's horn.
The Rodeo Drive Effect comes full blown during the third trimester in stages that reveal a tendency of the hands to slap suddenly at the wheel, a subtle inclination of the mouth to shape obscenities and a vibrating sound from deep within the diaphragm that is faintly like a growl.
The final stage is an almost overwhelming urge to curse wildly, honk without reason and, finally, in the syndrome's terminal phase, to throw oneself into the path of a Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud driven by the anorexic wife of a furniture store owner.
It is a horrible way to die.
"My God," Laura said, her hand to her mouth, "I think I may be in the first stage of the final trimester! Is there no hope?"
"Well," I said, "there is an untested cure developed by a Japanese gardener and a Mexican domestic who realized that if they were going to survive in Beverly Hills, they were going to have to pool their wits and their resources.
I explained to Laura exactly what they did, and she agreed to give it a try.
About a week later, I was crossing Rodeo Drive and was almost run down by a woman in a red Lamborghini Countach with a horn sound-boosted to at least 20 decibels above normal. I had to leap into a gutter to escape.
"I did it!" the driver shouted at me as she sped by, honking at a '79 Chevy van operated by a Baldwin Park refrigerator repairman who had wandered into Beverly Hills by mistake.
I smiled as I picked myself up off the street, for I had instantly recognized the driver of the Countach as my good friend Laura, who was well on her way to being cured.
She had taken out a loan and mortgaged her honor to raise enough money for a down payment on the jazzy red car and was realizing the surge of power that comes from being behind the wheel of a vehicle that costs more than most homes.
Laura was becoming just as arrogant, rude and impatient as the other expensive-car drivers in Beverly Hills. That's the cure. If you can't survive them, join them.
As they say around Neiman-Marcus, she honks best who honks last. And loudest.