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B-B-B-Benny and the Beeps

So I’m tooling up I-5 doing 70 in the slow lane from L.A. to my spiritual home, which is San Francisco, listening to Elton John doing B-B-B-Benny and the jets when I hear a horn beep-beeping in that very same rhythm.


I say to myself that it’s one of God’s coincidences, relying on my scant knowledge of God to accept whatever I don’t understand as one of his miracles. It is my Catholic upbringing. But then it happens again and by that time John has moved on to another tune and there’s no reason for the All Mighty to beep in rhythm that way.

I look around to see why someone would be honking at me when I notice that the guy in a car in front of me is giving me the finger for no apparent reason. There are a few out there within my sphere of influence who don’t like me, I’ll admit, but they do not usually throw me the bird on the freeway.

Beep, beep, beep, beep.

A car passes and the woman inside waves. In fact, the whole family waves, mom, pop, Uncle Leo, and the twins. I smile and wave back. I don’t know who they are but they seem nice enough and think they know me.

I am confused why in relatively the same short expanse I am first given the finger and then honked and waved at when I hear beep, beep, beep, beep again, exactly four times. By now I have turned off the CD player and try to figure out who’s honking at me. And then I realize. It’s me.

I have no idea why I would be honking at me, but it is something over which I have no control. My car, a reliable 2008 Camry Hybrid, is doing the honking. Like Hal in the movie “2001” it has assumed a life of its own. I keep driving hoping it’s not a case of demonic possession. I have heard about such cases but they have mostly been in Fords and Chevys.

Beep, beep, beep, beep.

I don’t know what to do so I don’t do anything. Then I figure maybe the horn is stuck and needs to be rebooted as they say, so I push at it manually. It honks just fine but then an angry woman thinks I am honking at her and glares. She is driving a new, pineapple gold Mercedes and will not allow anything less than say a BMW to honk her way. I have offended her sense of placement and nod my head in apology. She shoots on by.

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I have Blue Tooth technology, which is a strange name for a communications system, but crazy or not I use it to call my mechanic. He has taken care of my cars for 25 years but won’t touch anything that has to do with telemetry, he says, in a voice that clearly indicates I am annoying him. You need expensive, high tech equipment to fool with car computers and he doesn’t charge me enough to buy one.

OK, I say, I’m sorry to have bothered you. Next time I come in you can charge me extra for a tune-up due to the inconvenience of my call.

The car continues to beep four times and I begin to realize that it does that every time I hit a bump; not just any bump but a certain kind of bump. Like a scientist studying the evolution of a worm, I prove my hypothesis by connecting the beep to the bump for the next 150 miles; bump/beep, bump/beep, as regular as a metronome.

No question that it’s a bump that does it, but I still don’t know what kind of bump. After another hundred miles of beeping I don’t care. I am embarrassed even more than I am when I have more than two martinis and trip over a table that knocks over a lamp and sends me sprawling over the hors d’oeuvres. It beeps when I stop for lunch and beeps as I pull into a service station for gasoline. I smile wanly and shrug. The looks that I receive range from fear to sympathy, with maybe a little homicidal rage thrown in.

I finally reach San Francisco, get to a mechanic by beeping into the Van Ness District and he says it’s not a Toyota part that has gone wrong, it’s a part from another company that has been installed. I have to call the manufacturer. He sees the crestfallen look on my face and says oh, hell, I’ll just turn it off, and he does. We kiss.

No, actually, we don’t kiss because I don’t do that with men, but I am grateful and touch his arm. That’s as far as I’ll go. He has in effect disarmed the security system that beeps and blares when someone I don’t know touches the car at night, which is OK with me. I know it is disabled because a red dashboard light that has been on suddenly ticks off, like the last blink of a dying man.


We have killed my security guard, but as George Bush might say it was necessary to maintain life in America as we know it. May it rest in peace, and in silence.

Al Martinez
Al Martinez on Everything Else

Al Martinezis a Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for the Los Angeles Times, author of a dozen books, an Emmy-nominated creator of prime time television shows, a travel writer, humorist and general hell-raiser. Try him. He's addictive.

Republished with permission.