Posted December 24, 2006

There goes the neighbourhood!

Every year as the weather warms up and Christmas draws near, an important and time honoured Australian ritual of car maintenance is observed before we take the family on the annual summer holiday.  And so it was that I duly had the car serviced – she got the works; oil change, plugs, points, radiator coolant, some new tyres…I was safe in the knowledge that despite the heat and distance the car was prepared for anything… or so I thought.

On a 37-degree day I headed out early to get ahead of the crowds and do my Christmas shopping. En route the first sign of trouble came when I stopped at a railway crossing, part of a long line of cars waiting for the trains to pass. Without warning my car horn began tooting unbidden in prolonged aggressive bursts. It reminded me of a scene from Spielberg’s film “Duel”. People in front of me were visibly alarmed, glancing in their rear view mirrors to locate the menace. I thumped the centre of the steering wheel in an attempt to stop the erratic honking but to no avail. After what seemed like an eternity the boom gates lifted, the cars began to disperse and inexplicably, my car horn finally fell silent. Relieved that the malfunction had apparently fixed itself, I continued on my way.

Once at the baking hot shopping centre car park I looked for a spot as close as possible to the entrance. As I waited in traffic an elderly lady with her shopping jeep ventured onto the zebra crossing in front of me. Suddenly my car horn released another volley of loud, sharp bursts, like a Spitfire with a Messerschmidt in its sights. I tried to apologize but with my voice drowned out by the noise I received only cold glares and sneers from the people at the bus stop as they watched the old lady struggle to escape the barrage. I soon realised just how hard it is to gesture an apology without words.

With the Christmas shopping done I returned to the car with my mind racing. I couldn’t get the vision out of my head of that little old lady jumping into the air. Now I knew what a false sense of security meant. When would it blow again?  About 500 metres down the road as it happened. On a skinny two way street behind a mother with two children in a small Japanese sedan it released its sonic assault. She looked worried (and I didn’t blame her) as I lifted my hands into the air and mouthed the word “SORRY” before she made a desperate manoeuvre to slip down the first available side street. Its work done, again the horn fell silent. Now it wouldn’t even toot when I pushed it…finally it was in total control.

I’d had enough and decided to head straight to the auto electrician and get the problem seen to, but not before stopping behind a large council truck with five burly blokes sitting ‘not so squeezy’ in the cabin. My mild mannered family wagon let them have it right between the taillights. The traffic lights seemed to stay red forever as the horn screamed a continuous warlike death cry while I held my hands in the air and stared out the window shaking my head and murmuring a few little prayers and expletives.

On the green light I took off, driving through the suburbs like a demented ice cream van. By this point I had become oblivious to the horn’s endless blaring and desensitised to its evil, impartial choice of victim. Past crowds of glaring, staring pedestrians and motorists I drove until finally I reached the workshop all guns blazing.

Work stopped as mechanics, secretaries and customers alike covered their ears and gathered around the open hood of my car while I shouted my predicament to the auto electrician. Calmly he reached in and expertly disconnected the horn. Silence. “You’d have been a popular fella this morning then? You should’ve just yelled out Merry Christmas every couple of hundred metres,” he said with a grin to the giggles of the small but appreciative audience. “I wish I’d thought of that!” I agreed wearily. "Next time I’ll wear my Santa suit.” Merry baaaaaarp Christmas! - Robert Lastdrager

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