Friday, January 2, 2009

Little Lifestyle Changes In North Minneapolis (Join The Club)

Photo By John Hoff

I haven't used a "car club" since I was stationed in El Paso, Texas, in the army. Though, technically...

...the wheel-locking device I bought for $19.95 plus tax isn't the famous "Club" device, but a cheap knock-off. But, really, this post is just an excuse for two stories, one of which has a transvestite street walker, and the other story has a car club, but both stories involve my tendency to drive really crappy cars.

The Day I Became An Auto Theft Legend

In El Paso, Texas, car theft is so common there are actual conspiracy theories about local authorities and businesses being involved, but most of the stolen vehicles end up across the river in Juarez, Mexico. Steel "Club" devices are easily foiled, not by being picked but by another method.

I'm not going to publicize the method. Not only is it too easy, but it's environmentally unsound. The whole point of a "Club" is most thieves will simply move to an easier target. If somebody is bound and determined to steal your car, they will.

But because "The Club" is the cheapest and easiest anti-auto theft device, and also the most easily foiled, it's commonly said thieves will steal a car but leave "The Club."

One fine army day, while I was still driving a piece-of-crap blue Bonneville (I think) which had no window on the driver's side, I received orders to transfer to Korea. (Yes, I said "Korea." I understand there is a North and South Korea, but it's an army thing. When I was in the army, we just said "Korea.")

This was an exciting and interesting time to transfer to Korea, since there was a crisis with the North. I remember during that time North Korea said something like, "If the South continues its bellicose aggression, we will turn them into A SEA OF FLAME."

And I thought, "Wow! A sea of flame. How cool is THAT?"

How, I speculated, would you swim in a sea of flame? With your blackened skeletal arms doing the backstroke, I imagined, until you just float away as a dark ashy film on a pool of glowing lava, your skull the last to go, grinning an eerie skeletal grin.

A few months ago, I saw a book in the University Bookstore about this crisis with North Korea, and how it was defused by brilliant minds in the Clinton Administration, and I keep meaning to buy this book and read it and see how I--a little army green cog--fit into this grand military design, with my sudden orders out of nowhere--like many, many other soldiers who were suddenly in the same boat--and the whole time the authorities assuring everybody they were NOT increasing troop levels to Korea. (Yeah, right...flying out empty planes is what they were doing, sending in new transfers but keeping the old ones in place)

Yet what these sudden military orders all came down to was the fact I needed to buy another car for my then-spouse, since she didn't have the mechanical aptitude to keep dealing with the kind of glitches I simply tolerate in my vehicles, until one day they just "glitch out" and have to be traded to one of my relatives for scrap and parts. Yes, I needed to get my wife a DECENT car, something she could drive until I established a home in Korea and sent for her to come and live with me in the City of Pusan, (South) Korea.

(Soldiers told me sending a married man to Pusan was the world's biggest waste of perfectly good orders to Pusan, but we won't go there)

So I went to a local auto dealership and made some arrangements to purchase a vehicle, trading in my old Bonneville. For some reason, there was a delay between picking up my new vehicle and trading in my old one. I was going to have to wait an additional day for paperwork or something.

Well, that was fine. I simply retrieved my "Club" from the vehicle and began walking home along Mesa Street.

I had only gone a few blocks, when a mechanic from another garage came running out to speak to me.

"DUDE!" he shouted. "Did they steal your car and leave The Club?"

Oh, no, I explained, and I went into detail about the transaction with the cars. Everything was fine. No auto theft, not this time. His reaction seemed...disappointed. He informed me "The Club" was crap. Everybody knew that. Everybody knew thieves would steal the car and leave "The Club."

I had only gone a block or two further, when a guy came running out of a convenience store. He was "Anglo," like me, and probably helping me because we were both minorities in El Paso, and we could always feel how we stuck out in a crowd.

"Oh, man!" he said. "Somebody stole your car, huh? Do you need a ride?"

I thanked him for his kindness, but explained my car hadn't been stolen at all. I was just in the awkward position of walking down the street, carrying a "Club" brand anti-auto theft device.

There was a long walk along Mesa Street to that first bus stop...blocks and blocks of desert where feral dogs roamed amid prickly pear...and it seemed like a lot of cars were HONKING as they went past. When I finally got to the bus stop, the other people waiting for a ride just stood there, looking at me. One woman was slowly shaking her head.

"Those Clubs," she said. "They're not worth the money, huh?"

Finally, I gave in. I knew what my pre-ordained role was in this little civic drama. And so I ranted. I raved. I cried out to the heavens about the utter worthlessness of "the Club," and the savage, bitterly ironic, yet all-too-common contemptuous gesture of local auto thieves: stealing a car, but leaving "the Club" on the ground, so useless it wasn't worth throwing in the back seat of a newly-acquired vehicle.

And everybody nodded, because they knew it had to be true. They'd all heard of SOMEBODY in a similar position, perhaps a cousin's friend's uncle once-removed, or a guy who used to ride the bus every day (according to the driver) or maybe the lady who once lived in the apartment downstairs, accoring to the guy who lives UPSTAIRS.

"The Club" is useless. Thieves will steal your car, but they will leave "the Club" behind. EVERYBODY KNOWS THIS.

After I bought the car...the orders to Korea were canceled. In the meantime, I had developed a serious addiction to kim-chee, the national dish of Korea.

Oh, I should mention what happened to my old "Club" device: an environmentalist dude I knew in Seattle had a vision of starting a "car cooperative" with a mutually-owned electric car. I asked him if he'd like my old "Club" device and he jumped at my offer. So that's why I was forced to buy another "Club"-like device here in the Twin Cities.

CAUTION: Transvestite Crossing Ahead

One of my sergeants was obsessed with road signs. He would take pictures of rare, uncommon road signs: look out for Amish buggies, mountain goat crossing, or the hair-raising sign which indicates a curve is so sharp a big truck could actually TIP OVER, so slow-the-heck down.

It was my sergeant's small, simple dream to be the citizen who convinced public officials of the need for a wholly unique yellow road sign advising of some obscure automotive hazard.

In El Paso, Texas, my sergeant thought he'd finally found the road situation which would fulfill his arcane dream of road-safety accomplishment. You see, there is a very active transvestite community in Juarez, Mexico...or, at least, there was back in the mid-1990s. Wouldn't know what's happened since. Nope, just wouldn't know.

Well, some members of this "tranny" community would cross the river; toting their party dresses and shoes on their heads when and where the river had water in it, but sometimes the Rio Grande is just a trickle, so you just need to hike up your skirt to avoid getting your clothing wet, and not cross in your GOOD shoes.

Now, it should be noted some people make dangerous crossings of the U.S. / Mexican border with the intention of staying in the U.S., but in places like El Paso, there are people who illegally cross the border ROUTINELY and return to Mexico the same day or the next day, ROUTINELY. The transvestites from Juarez just wanted to party and meet friends in the United States. IS THAT SO WRONG?

Until some of the transvestites had the bright idea to start robbing drunken soldiers. A favorite tactic was to snatch gold chains off necks and RUN!!!!!! Word got around quickly of the "tranny gangs" robbing the troops of gold chains, and reaching into vehicles to snatch purses.

But in regard to crossing the border: at a point on the U.S. side, the transvestites would have to dash across a busy highway. And there were a lot of near-misses with vehicles, not just because of people dashing across the highway but...the sheer fabulousness of the distraction.

And that's where my sergeant had an idea: a sign cautioning motorists to look out, this was an area where transvestites sometimes dash across the highway. He was deeply concerned about the safety of the transvestites in this area of the highway, though their safety anywhere else crossed his mind not-at-all. He went ON AND ON AND ON about the hazards to motorists, and to the transvestites themselves, and how much a warning sign was required and justified.

"OK," I agreed. "A sign is needed. But that requires a simple pattern: a black symbol on a yellow background. So how will you convey the fact these are transvestites and not just illegal aliens? Because there is ALREADY an illegal alien crossing sign."

(Side note: no human being should be called "illegal," therefore I no longer use this term, but I used the term back in 1994)

My sergeant explained the "transvestite crossing" sign would have a figure of a person in a skirt, running, but the hands would be large, and the figure would also include a protruding Adam's apple. This, he claimed, would not only make the figure recognizable as a transvestite, but would "educate the public" on ways to recognize a transvestite and thus avoid episodes of homophobic rage and the time that guy in Charlie Company sliced another soldier with a Bowie knife, and the soldier walked to the Emergency Room...using his hand to keep part of his liver from falling out.

My sergeant was nothing if not civic-minded. But his OBSESSION with creating a new road sign trumped everything else. And, according to what he was telling me, the city government of El Paso agreed with his basic concept, oh yes. The only problem was there weren't enough locations to make the manufacture of such signs cost-effective.

One night...and this was before my orders to Korea came down...I was driving my crappy blue Bonneville which lacked a window on the driver's side. I was on my way to the army hospital, where I worked, and sitting at a red light.

As I waited, a street walker approached my vehicle. She was having difficulty walking because her heels were so high and the desert gusts were so strong, but she braved the opposing cross-winds, raising her hand in a classic "Hey, sailor" motion. And that's when I saw: Adam's apple. Big hands. REALLY muscular legs in pantyhose. Some kind of bulge in the skirt where it didn't belong...

The light was red. It was STILL RED. And there I sat, waiting at the light.

It was night. There was no traffic. So, in the heat of the moment, I made what the army would call "a command decision." I floored the gas pedal and went right through the red light.

In my rear view mirror, I saw the figure make a gesture which seemed to say: "Oh, to heck with you. BE LIKE THAT, THEN! I AM STILL FABULOUS!"

At the hospital, I told my sergeant about the incident.

He only had one concern: were encounters with transvestites common at that particular intersection, in my experience? You see, he needed to document a few more areas where motorists were startled by the sudden appearance of transvestites, surprised enough to cause a road hazard, and then he might finally justify the manufacture of several new, black-pattern-on-bright-yellow "transvestite crossing" signs!

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