Opinion – 2/21/2003

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 21, 2003

The Panolian – "Big Easy" by John Howell Sr.

For additional opinions and articles,
pick up the 2/21/03  issue of The Panolian

Duct Tape’s Not Just For Security

We knew that duct tape was no defense when Miz Glory came down the street walking her dogs and pronounced it futile. For years she’s used duct tape for every imaginable home and auto repair, so when she said it was useless you knew could believe it.

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Of course, we’d already figured as much. These old New Orleans houses are built up off the ground with lots of ventilation, some of which is planned and some not. Miz Glory had already tried to seal up the cracks in the floors and around the windows of her house with duct tape just to keep out the cold air. She’s obsessive like that. Once she gets something on her mind, she can think of nothing else until the idea runs its course. So she taped and taped. Finally, she admitted it didn’t do much good. Her house was still drafty and the floors sweated.
But lately Miz Glory has been more worried about another duct tape failure. She can’t, even with duct tape, repair the brakes lights on her 1980 Ford Granada. Heretofore, the old car’s ailments ? leaking windshield, sagging headliner, cracked taillight lens ? have mostly yielded to her duct tape remedies. Her lack of brake lights was complicated when somebody came along and stole the inspection sticker (down here they call them "brake tags") from her windshield.

Last summer, shortly after New Orleans’ new mayor Ray Nagan took office, he announced a sweeping crackdown in the city’s auto inspection bureau. In Orleans Parish, cars and trucks were inspected at city-owned and operated brake-tag stations. The inspection system was rife with corruption, with inspection station employees accepting bribes to pass unsafe cars. In some cases, people even went to the homes of the inspection station employees and bought stickers without ever having to take their car anywhere. Corruption was so pervasive that the mayor suspended all auto inspections in the city for two months while they tried to sort out the mess. In the interim, no tickets were issued for expired inspection stickers.

When the inspection program was restarted last fall, one of the city-owned stations was permanently closed, shifting inspections to another city-owned station and to several newly authorized private auto shops, like those in Mississippi.

The increased difficulty in obtaining a brake tag has apparently created a black market for stolen stickers. Somebody spotted the sticker on Miz Glory’s old car and helped themselves to it without too much trouble. Of course, that old heap hadn’t been inspection worthy for years, and she had always depended on the old corrupt system of getting her stickers. The theft of her sticker at the same time her brake lights quit created a compound dilemma: how to drive without getting rammed from behind and how to avoid a ticket for no brake tag.

She solved the first because her emergency flashers still work even though her brake lights don’t. "I drive slow, and when I start slowing down to stop, I put on the flashers," she said. "People see that old car going slow with its lights flashing and they figure it’s some crazy old driver and they keep their distance," she continued.

At first, I didn’t think too much of Miz Glory’s decision to drive around without brake lights, but I realized she was going to drive anyway. All she has in the world are her two dogs. Her driving revolves around shuffling them to the vet and driving to buy them dog food and driving herself to the grocery and drug stores. She would suspend driving for the latter before she would the former.

The more I’ve thought about it, the better her logic sounds. If I drove up behind her in that car with its lights flashing, I’d sure keep my distance and not follow too close. She less of a traffic hazard than many of the drivers on these streets, especially some with cell phones. So I believe Miz Glory found her own solution to the problem of having no brake lights.

And the problem of no brake tag? She said she just called somebody she knew and paid him cash when he brought the new sticker by her house. The more things change, the more they stay the same. With or without duct tape.

And that’s the way things are on Laurel Street where the hoods occasionally outnumber the neighbors, but it’s getting better.