Pssssst, ladies: Christmas is almost here. Are you still looking for something to get for that hard-to-shop-for guy in your life?
Chill out! Do what Alecia Johnson did – get that guy a hearse!
Whether it’s Christmas, a birthday, an anniversary or just a “be nice” gift, ask yourselves this: Have you ever heard anybody riding in a hearse complain? Anybody behind the steering wheel, that is?
A hearse is just what Shannon Johnson is driving around in these days, and the guy couldn’t be happier.
“In fact, that hearse has made me the happiest guy in the world,” says Shannon Johnson, Alecia’s husband. “I had wanted one for a long time and I could hardly believe it when I finally got ‘Mimi!’”
“Yes, Mimi,” says Alecia. “When Shannon first brought it home and put it in the garage it was screaming, ‘Mimi’! ‘Mimi!’ After that, what else could we name it?”
“It was just the belts whining and it sounded like it was saying, ‘Mimi’ ‘Mimi,’” Shannon says.
That whining was music to Shannon’s ears. You can tell by the wide grin on his face as he stares out at the monstrously long primer gray 1984 Cadillac hearse parked just outside the window of the St. John’s Coffee House in downtown Covington.
And don’t get the idea that the Johnsons went out and bought Mimi just to jump on the zombie craze that, for whatever reason, is crawling over the nation. Mimi became part of their lives long before the “Walking Dead” ended up as a hit television program. Still, they must admit, the circumstances surrounding the purchase were a little eerie.
“I like to be different than anybody else,” Shannon says, and somehow you don’t have any problem believing him. “And I just like different things … things you don’t see all the time. And I really wanted a hearse. I had that dream for a long time. I wanted to own one before I was 40 years old.” He continues, “I went on eBay and all the rest of the shopping things like that. But I just couldn’t find anything, nothing that I was really hot on anyway.”
So, out of desperation, where would one go to find a hearse?
“Finally, I went to one of the local funeral homes. And there it was, just sitting in the back of the place. I went in and talked to the owner. I fell in love with it – a 1984 Cadillac. I asked the man how much he wanted. What was absolutely the least he would take for it? He said $1,500.”
There was one little problem: Shannon was unemployed and his wallet was suffering from the shorts.
But in a twist of macabre fate, the pieces began falling into place.
“My father was in the military and he had passed away,” says Alecia. “That was at the end of July 2010. I was supposed to get his final retirement check, but didn’t because of some family squabbles. Well, Shannon went back to the funeral home and the man was holding firm on his price: $1,500. We left the funeral home and went to our home and waiting for us in the mailbox was a check for $1,556.36 – my father’s final retirement check. It had to be fate!”
She continues, “I told Shannon this was a sign that you were meant to have this hearse. I cashed the check immediately and handed him the cash and told him, ‘You go over there right now and get your baby.’”
“After I went over to get the hearse I realized it had a few problems,” Shannon says. “I talked to the guy and he dropped the price to $1,300. That’s what I bought it for. I used the extra money to buy new tires.”
Johnson also decked out Mimi with the now familiar official Louisiana license plate that reads “EXPIRED,” biohazard circles placed at strategic spots around the hearse and the words “Zombie Apocalypse Response Unit.” He is also building a big block 454 cubic inch engine to give Mimi a lot more pep.
But, according to Alecia, the odd bond between Shannon and Mimi isn’t about just indulging a grown man’s mid-life wishes.
“Shannon has severe rheumatoid arthritis and he can’t work,” she says. “He has to do something to stay active. He can’t just sit on a couch all day long. When I saw how he fell in love with this hearse, I knew it was just the thing to get him to get up and start moving, stay active. Mimi is keeping him busy – and healthy.”
To be sure, Shannon has other automobiles that keep him tinkering and busy all day long. But in the end, it’s Mimi that has his heart. It is Mimi he chooses to tool around in, up and down Collins Boulevard, back and forth over the Causeway, to the Friday night block parties at the Tap Room in Covington, and don’t forget the charity events such as the St. Jude Hospital and “Trunk or Treat” for kids who can’t get out to trick or treat on Halloween.
“At the St. Jude event, they actually sold tickets to come out and see Mimi,” Alecia says. “We do it all for free … and we love it. And I can’t tell you the number of people who have come up and wanted to buy Mimi or ask if they can rent her for a party or ask to have their picture taken with it. It’s fabulous!”
A middle-aged couple stops on Columbia Street outside the coffee shop to stare at the hearse. The guy, who says his name is John and that he and his wife drove over from New Orleans to visit friends, pulls his camera from his pocket and gets a photo of his wife alongside Mimi.
Shannon and Alecia Johnson have seen it all before.
“We have people following us around all the time,” Shannon says. “They stop us in parking lots to take pictures. They yell and wave at us. They smile and give us a thumbs-up. When you stop and think of it, it’s amazing. Here’s a vehicle, being a hearse that has known so much heartbreak, but here it is in its new life bringing smiles to so many people.”
Not the least of to whom is the man sitting next to her at a table at St. John’s Coffee House in Covington.