The Notorious Car Alarm Incident

Guardian editor faces DWH charges – Driving While Humiliated

When Miles B. McSweeney established The Hampton County Guardian in 1879, when Hampton County was barely a year old and still in diapers, he had to overcome a few minor inconveniences: polio, tuberculosis, muddy pot-holed dirt streets, Reconstruction, invading carpetbaggers, people paying their bills with eggs and livestock instead of cash, etc. But all of these trivial worries would pale in comparison to the hardships I’ve endured during my tenure as editor of this fine institution, primarily my automotive troubles. In fact, I’d be willing to bet my last lug nut that if Miles B. would have had my mode-of-transportation luck, his horse would have suffered a massive seizure before dropping dead with colic and collapsing on top of him right at the end of Main Street. Sprawled across the railroad tracks. With the 4:30 from Brunson coming full steam ahead….

 I could tell you about the 1997 GMC Yukon I recently purchased from an individual of good standing in the community who meant well, which blew out its motor four days after I drove off with it “as is,” no warranty. But the wound is still too fresh, and I haven’t found the humor in that scenario yet, so let’s use as an example the time I went to pull out of the Hampton Town Hall parking lot in my squeaky, rusty red Ford Thunderbird and my right front tire – as if it were too embarrassed to be seen with the rest of the junky car – suddenly detached itself from the front axle and rolled off into the street. In case you have ever wondered, a vehicle with only three wheels will drop and grind to a sudden sideways halt, sparks flying and metal grinding on asphalt. Luckily, the Honorable Mayor and a quorum of the esteem Town Council of the Town of Hampton were stepping out the back door just in time to witness my public, noisy, fiery humiliation. I hear they still laugh about it behind closed doors, you know, in executive session where no one can hear them snorting.

But that fiasco, I later discovered, was only just the beginning of my public humiliation behind the wheel. In full disclosure to the person who buys my 1995 Buick Riviera: the heater, air conditioner, radio and car alarm do not function anymore. The climate controls were broken when I got it, my toddler broke off the radio antennae and chased his brother around the yard with it, but I confess that the car alarm is my doing.

You see, this particular alarm on this particular car had a malicious habit of sounding off all on its own, randomly, at the most embarrassing and inopportune times. Rather like a drunken husband that just starts blaring at dinner parties or in front of the in-laws and you can’t shut it up quick enough.  For example, this possessed car alarm went off at the precise moment I was picking my kid up from school in front of all the cool kids and the girl he likes (the kid later threatened to put me and the car in the same nursing home).

But it uttered its final honk the day it sounded off in front of the county government building. The Chamber of Commerce was having its regular monthly meeting, the Economic Development group was having an executive session, and the water authority board was having a special emergency meeting, when the old editor in his old car pulled up, lights flashing, horn honking like a gaggle of geese on steroids and microphoned for sound, as if the evil car was screeching, “Hey look at this old fool in this piece-of-junk car!”

I don’t know what was more humiliating, the amused stares out of windows, the finger pointing, or the Honorable Mayor of Hampton standing on the front porch laughing and asking if I needed a new alarm to go with my new tire.

“Google how to fix the problem,” my wife said over the phone. But I could barely hear her over the musical rhythmic blaring of “car alarm! – cuss word! – car alarm! – cuss word !– car alarm!” – besides, this was no time for Google, dammit. There was no time to find fresh batteries for the key remote or even to locate and extract the proper fuse. There was time, however, to snatch the alarm and half of the electrical system out of that hunk of American-made steel and then go for a scenic drive. Maybe the view overlooking Sanders Branch would be relaxing as I drove it into the murky dark waters…

Yeah, I’d bet old Miles had it pretty easy. The most embarrassing thing he ever had to worry about was his horse suffering a violent gas attack while visiting with his advertisers. But I guess I shouldn’t dwell in the past. Say, anybody interested in taking over the payments on a 1997 Yukon, or perhaps I can interest you in a couple of “fixer uppers” that have most of their wheels and most of their electrical components. And don’t worry; if you’re low on cash I’ll accept eggs and livestock instead of cash.