I must be getting soft in my old age.

Some lady in front of me wouldn't barrel her Toyota away from a red light the other night. So I put my palm on the horn and gave her "the treatment" -- not a quick tap, not a passing grace note, but about three seconds of wall-to-wall noise.

And then I felt guilty.

Not over the fact that I had beeped. After all, I did have a message that needed sending, and I'm not the first harried urban urchin to have honked first and asked questions later.

No, I felt guilty because my horn is so raucous, so hostile and so loud. It would have been nice if my beep had been more bearable. Slow as the lady was to accelerate, she didn't need, or deserve, busted ear drums.

Bob McArtor of Alexandria agrees, eloquently. Return with him now to the days of yesteryear -- when horns didn't shout.

"It took a passing car with a North Carolina license plate to jog my morning-fogged mind back into the real world today," Bob writes.

"That jog took me back quite a few years to the days when automobiles had horns that were designed to communicate our needs and feelings.

"The plate simply spelled out the old-timey horn sound, 'ARUGAH.'

"Now that was a horn, a horn that said, courteously, 'Watch it, please, I'm coming through.'

"It allowed one to say 'Hi' across the city streets and to whistle at a pretty girl. It seldom got angry and never used profanity.

"Something irretrievable was lost when we graduated to the 'beep-beep' class. But even that gave us the latitude to chirp out a quick 'Hello' to a friend or a 'shave and a haircut' to anyone who would listen.

"Then Detroit gave us "The Blare." . . . . With this new weapon we have learned to insult, browbeat and overpower our enemies on the public byways . . . .

"Wouldn't it be nice if all cars came with an extra horn?

"Even in German or Japanese, a warm friendly 'Arugah' would say: 'It's okay to merge into my lane now,' or 'Thank you.' "

You listening, Detroit? Don't give us Cougars and Hornets with horns that snarl. Give us a chance to toot with a little more subtlety and feeling.