There was a time when, just like the mighty buffalo, car alarms covered the North American landscape. In the morning you awoke to their call. The night was pierced by their cries.
Car alarms were proud. They feared no one and nothing. If you walked too close to a BMW (say, 10 feet), its car alarm would sound. If a squirrel fell from a tree and landed on a Toyota, the alarm went off just in case the squirrel was trying to steal it.
The beginning of this golden age was heralded in 1991 when The Globe and Mail ran a story containing these innocuous lines: “E. S. Electronics of Britain has developed an electronic car-theft alarm that uses ultrasound to detect the presence of intruders inside the car. The Sonix alarm locks on to the car’s steering wheel and emits a piercing, 130 decibel sound. E. S. Electronics says the alarm is sensitive enough to detect a thief’s arm reaching through an open window, but is not susceptible to false alarms triggered by the wind or passing vehicles.”
Today, of course, there are fewer and fewer around. Credit two main factors: 1) car alarms are, in fact, “susceptible to false alarms.” 2) When a car alarm goes off, the only thing that happens is everybody in earshot thinks, “God, I hope that guy’s car really is being stolen.”
A few weeks ago, a car alarm went off on my street between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. I slept through it, but it kept my wife awake.
The incident was a flashback of sorts for my wife, who experienced the epoch of car alarm misbehaviour when she lived in New York City in the 1990s. The morning after the car alarm incident, she recounted the experience like a soldier suffering from shell shock.
“They would go off all the time. All four kinds,” she said, adding. “Beep beep beep beep. Wee hoo Wee hoo Wee hoo Wee hoo. Dddduuuuop! Ddduuuuuop! Dddduuuuop! Dddduuuuop! ECH ECH ECH ECH ECH ECH ECH.”
I went out to corner the guilty horn. I found it and demanded it answer a few questions.
Interview with a Car Alarm
Road Sage: So, you’re a car alarm?
Alarm: “Yep. If someone walks near my car, or if there’s a strong wind, or a very little wind, or if it’s day or night, or if it’s one of the four seasons, I go off.”
Road Sage: “What about car thieves?”
Alarm: “They just shut me off and steal the car.”
Road Sage: “Really, you never give them trouble?”
Alarm: “Oh, once, yeah, a guy was trying to steal my car and I went off – Wee hoo! Wee hoo! Wee hoo! And people on the street ran up and one guy said, ‘Are you trying to steal that car?’ And the thief said, ‘Yeah,’ and the other guy says ‘Well, let me hold your tools for you.’ And then a crowd formed around the car – people yelling ‘Steal it! Steal it! Steal!’ The thief finally drove off.”
Road Sage: “You come from a long line of car alarms.”
Alarm: “My father was a car alarm and his father was a car alarm. They used to tell me stories of the good old days. Drivers would spend small fortunes on their car alarms. Back in 1993, if a car alarm went off, people would rush to see if the car was being stolen. It was a big deal.”
Road Sage: “What happened?”
Alarm: “I’m not sure, but if I had to guess, I’d say people figured out that car alarms are nothing but money-sucking wastes of time that never stopped a single car from being stolen. But that would just be a guess. Whatever it was, we car alarms are going extinct. Some cities are trying to ban us.”
Road Sage: “Are you surprised by the backlash?”
Alarm: “Hey, The Club tried to warn us, but we didn’t listen.”
Road Sage: “So, no resentment?”
Alarm: “Car alarms get a bad rap. I’m telling my kids to get into locking noises. You know, when you lock your car remotely and it goes: ‘Bee-up. Bee-up.’ It’s pointless, there’s no reason for that noise. None. It’s just noise pollution, but people don’t seem to mind it as much. It’s not as glamorous as being a car alarm, but it’s steady honest work.”
Road Sage: “And what will you do?”
Alarm: “Keep going off for no reason. I have no choice. I’m a car alarm. That’s what car alarms do.”
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