Modine's New OrleansWhat do you do if your car has a honking problem? I ask you that.

I am driving my mother-in-law, Ms. Larda, to Rouse’s in Metairie for her New Year’s resolution supply of Weight Watchers food.

We stop at the McDonald’s for her last pre-diet Quarter-Pounder and we’re sitting in the drive-through line when my cell phone rings. It is this girl from my old high school, Celibacy Academy, wanting a donation for the rebuilding fund. I say, “I’m sorry, but …” and my car horn starts blaring like I’ve gone berserk. I ain’t touching the horn but the people in front of me must think I’m a starving maniac.

Ms. Larda leaps into action. She whips a white handkerchief out her purse and waves it out the window and bellows “Emergency!” and says to me “Head for the hospital.” I pull out of line and we honk our way to the East Jefferson Hospital emergency room. Then I stop, yank the key out the ignition and the car shuts up. A bunch of people in scrub suits are running up but Ms. Larda yells, “I’m OK! It was just heartburn.” One guy is about to pull the door open. “Never mind,” she says to him, “I got no health insurance.”

 I start up again but I ain’t gone 50 feet before this car throws another honking tantrum, so I stop in the parking lot and yank out the key again. Well. Ms. Larda goes to find the hospital coffee shop to get something to eat and calm her nerves. I call Awlette, my old friend since high school. Her gentleman friend Snake drives a tow truck. She says they’ll be right over.

While I’m waiting, I decide to call Celibacy Academy back and tell them to send me a pledge card.

When Awlette and Snake show up, I start the engine to show them. It purrs like a kitten, no noise at all. Snake says I must have hit the panic button on the car keys by mistake.

Awlette gets quiet. Then she says, “Remember what Sister Gargantua said?”
“That we should never forget Celibacy Academy,” I say. We both make a quick sign of the cross.

I got to explain. Sister Gargantua once ruled our lives. Among other things, she made us learn Latin and algebra – which I have found no good use for to this day – and she stopped me from wearing my slinky red dress to the prom. She said I looked like a streetwalker.

A few years back, she plopped over dead at a spaghetti dinner.

Snake is looking at us like we’ve taken leave of our senses. I don’t blame him. But this car does have a weird expression around the headlights. And I wish it wasn’t black.

It’s a new car. New to me, anyway.

When my kids were little and gas was cheap, I hauled them around in a van the size of a FEMA trailer. My late husband Lout loved this van. He said the beauty of van ownership was that we could fill it up for years before we ran out of room. We had beer cans. Magazines. Baby strollers. Carnival beads.

He put our old washing machine in there to take to the dump but then he found out the dump charged for dumping. So that Maytag stayed with us. Wherever we went, it went. It went to Disney World. It went to Dollywood. It went to the City of Snakes and Reptiles. And when the van got stolen, it went too. It is probably still seeing the world.

With the insurance money and most of our savings, we got another van.

I had that one until God and Mr. Go forced me to downsize. When I landed in the Quarter after Katrina, I had to trade my van in for something smaller or abstain from parking entirely. So I got this cute little black Volkswagen Beetle, secondhand. Until the honking attack, the only problem it had was with the windshield wipers, which sometimes don’t work until you get out and give them a little push.

Anyways, three days later, I’m running errands and the car gets another honking attack, right in front of the St. Jude Shrine on Rampart. I’m only a few blocks from home, so I swerve into the first parking spot I see, yank out the key and scuttle away before the people who live there come after me.   

When I get home, I fill out the Celibacy Academy pledge card that had come in the mail that morning and put a check in the envelope. I walk back to the car, tell it what I’m doing and it quietly drives me to the main post office.

You’d think that would be that.

But no, this car is truly psycho. The next night, I’m driving home just after dark, wearing my sexy red Christmas sweater. It starts raining. I flip on the windshield wipers. Nothing. At the next red light, I jump out to start them. And the car doors lock themselves. Just like that. Now I’m standing outside my car at a intersection, and cars are honking at me.

And then a Good Samaritan comes out of nowhere and says he can open my door. He is just getting it open when a lady sticks her head out of her car as she swings around me and she yells that she called the police for me and they are on their way.

The Good Samaritan says, “Police?”

And he jumps in my car and drives away.

I am pretty hysterical when the police get there but I got to give them credit. They do a good job covering up that they think it’s funny.

Anyway, it solves my car problem.

The insurance money and all my savings got me another Beetle. This one is red.
Streetwalker red. It works fine.