One of the bravest things I have ever seen right before my very eyes wasn't in the military or wasn't performed in the act of battling criminals. This particular act of incredible courage was performed by one officer, Glenn Bell at the secluded, police gasoline pumps on a Texas city service complex. I worked very closely with Glenn for several years back in the 1970s. He was a fastidious, do-gooder and the senior officer on our squad who really did take responsibility for the shift and I mean seriously. This night it almost rendered him into a ball of fire. We had to keep this heroism secret for decades. Decades! Until now, whereupon I reveal it right here…
Not many citizens know that before the end of a patrol shift, just about every patrol car in the country, perhaps the world, has to go to a particular place to get gas. Most agencies drive to a city, county, state, federal complex or compound to refill their fuel. Or, they have a credit card arrangement/or some form of credit arrangement with a commercial gas station. This way the next shift takes over the car with a full tank of gas. If its take home police car, then the officer can refuel at his or her desecration.
When I worked patrol in the US Army in several states and countries, not only did we fill er' up, but we were expected to hose er' down. Clean the car. Unless the temp hit freezing, we grabbed a hose at the "Mike Poppa" – the motor pool – and did a quick clean off of the car when getting gas.
At first, these chores were a personal affront to my immature, ignorant, self back then. Starting in the military police in garrison patrol duty, (garrison duty as in police work like in a major city, not in the "field") I perceived myself as an armed and elite agent of the law and thought for sure, subservient, attendees would flock to my squad car and service it when I pulled into the motor pool. Gas. Wash. Oh, not so. We did it all. In my next assignment in South Korea, 90% of it was foot patrol, or standing around looking cool at various assigned places. When we used a jeep we actually did have such caretakers from time to time, like Koreans with their palms out for cash, to either drive us around most of the time, or spit-shine the jeeps. To you young-uns' out there? These were not the Humvees of today. Oh, no sir. These jeeps were right out of an old War World Two movie. I have had a misadventure or two in these jeeps but those are the fodder for other stories. And I still have a fondness, a nostalgia for them.
By the time I went to work in Texas, the Hochheim "elite-ness" had been totally kicked and spit right out of me. No longer was I special and delusional about my position in the universe. You realize in the Army that you are a totally, expendable, grunt. With this lot in life, I learned to whistle gladly as I pumped my own gas, and hummed contently as I took the squad through the hosing or car wash whenever it was needed, for I was a professional in both social sanitation and vehicular maintenance. I just wondered what part of the totem pole I was? The part under the dirt? Or the part just above the dirt? No matter what, it involved dirt.
These petrol fill-ups are usually within one hour of the shift's end. And, on evening shift and certainly midnight shift when the world was blissfully in stage-three-REM sleep, these fill-ups are often congregations of squad cars getting gas, and, or waiting in line at the same time. This invariably leads to gossip sessions, comedy corners, bullshit speeches, major league complaining and many crazy shenanigans like stun gun duels, baton fights and If the fuel compounds were remote enough? Trick shooting and target contests, Many “cool” sergeants just joined us in this sessions, but some anal retentive patrol sergeants would watch these gas pump meetings from afar with binoculars, hiding in the dark, taking notes and charge officers with wasting precious, city time. I mean, come on! What harm could a little 6 am, on-duty, trick shooting contest bring? Even with shotguns! Hey, come on! We replaced the ammo, Lieutenant? Captain?
Generally speaking the local, Texican police colloquialism for such horse-play at our pumps was a simple, catch-all phrase – "grab-assing." Grab-ass became an official term connected with the gas line, but could be inserted when needed when officers foolishly misbehaved and were caught. You had to be caught at it of course, else it never existed. We learned this institutionalized nomenclature from the periodic and official warnings in squad meetings from the staff.
Solemn looks and wags of the finger and –
"This grab-assing at the pumps has got to quit."
"No more grab-ass at the pumps."
"We are setting up surveillance at the pumps to put an end to this grab-assing."
"This is the end of this grab-assing."
"If we catch you grab-assing at the pumps, we'll…"
And the occasional, soon ignored mandate –
“THree car limit. No more than three cars at the pumps at any time, to cut down on this grab-assing.” (We would groan at this because we needed at least four to party.)
The Einstein algebriac equation seemed to prove that cosmic, grab-assing statistically begins at the collection point of four officers. Its just science! Now, you understand that no one was officially, actually, really grabbing anyone’s real ass, (though there were incidents of male and female huckle-buckling in the further, darker reaches of the gas pumps, service compound. I wouldn’t know ANYTHING about this huckle-bucking!) But, a scientific combination of three or more of us congregating there at any time meant the potential for…grab-ass.
The Night in Question….
Near the end of one unforgetable, midnight shift, at about 5:50 am, four of us wound up getting gas at the city pound at the same time. FOUR! Me, Glenn Bell was there, and two other officers. One name I forget. One, I will change his name to Ron Bapkins because his damn fool move is about the only, really super dumb-ass thing he has ever done, (well then again, I have seen some of the women he's chased…but I digress). Anyway, our numbers – now four – was one person over the department commandments for the official possibility of grab-assing.
I happily hummed a Waylon Jennimngs tune as I started pumping gas. Glenn was pumping his gas at the next row with this other officer waiting nearby. Bapkins was behind me in line and leaned against the front end of his car. Bapkins, a smoker, was holding a book of matches. Yes. And he was striking them for…fun…and tossing them on the ground. At the gas pumps. For…fun!
Yes…gas pumps…while gas being pumped…lit matches. Yes. Yes, I know what you are thinking. But remember, we are not ourselves. We had entered into the bleak and twisted, mind-dumbing, twilight zone of Pump Station, Grab-Ass.
I started to complain to him. He taunted me.
“Wha? Ho Che Mein? Chicken? CHICKEN are ya?”
Bapkins grinned, possessed by the Evil Specter of the Grab Ass. and he started tossing lit matches closer and closer to me.
“Are you nuts, are you…” I yelled at him, but it was too late. A tossed match came too close. Too close! For some reason as it flickered through the air the entire rear side and trunk of my car sort of…blew up before me. The air actually became a rolling ball of flame before my eyes.
I jumped back, pulled the pump handle out with me, and thank goodness, releasing the gas pump handle shuts the gas flow off, but not before I shot some gas over the back of the car. I know a potential, freaken fireball when I see one! And – the gas cap WAS OPEN! The rear of my prowl car seemed to be on fire, like a layer of fire in a redrish wave. The fire dancing around the gas cap and back trunk area of the car.
If the car blows up. One pump station blows up. Three other pump stations blow up. I could see that in one primal, instinctive instant, the whole outfit would explode in something right out of spy movie.
I swear my eye lashes were singed! My ape man brain said "Fire! Run! Run! Foolish primate! Face on fire! " and I took off at a dead run.
Bapkins took off at a dead run in another direction
Officer Unknown took off at a dead run in yet another direction.
But Glenn? No. Glenn, senior officer on the scene, feeling responsible for my car and the other three sedans, the pumps and who knows what all next that would explode, charged in, at a dead run! He obviously had an evolved brain beyond ours, I guess?
My keys were in the ignition. Glenn jumped into the driver’s seat of this flaming car. He started the car and stomped the gas pedal. The engine roared. Over my shoulder, I saw him, driver's door held open for quick escape (perhaps the blast would throw him clear?), roar my fiery car across the compound parking lot some forty or fifty feet. He jammed the car in park and dove out of the car, hit the pavement, rolled and ran for his life. He somehow drove my flaming car away from the gas pumps! I think that Glenn knew he would be blamed for the mess.
Bapkins got his fire extinguisher out. We jogged to my car like a grunting pack of monkeys, unable to speak, thinking the rear quarters and trunk would at least be irreparably charred. He dosed the car.
As we paced and mumbled like nervous chimps, the flames that licked the back of my car slowly…slowly…extinguished. We were amazed.
"Fire…gone!" one of us mumbled. Indeed, the fire went out.
Officer Unknown got an emergency blanket from his trunk and wiped the deck lid. The charred black came off! Wiped right off and the pure police white goodness remained and shined though. We exchanged glances and mumbled. Oh, oh but to return it to this pure, police state again! Especially poor arsonist Bapkins wished for this! Whose fault doth lie upon his window break! He'll have his Shake-speared but good! And with the scientifically proven, Grab-Ass Equation of four or more officers present?
Alas! We too shall roll with this tide as once again, we are proven to be little more than mischievous monkeys stuffed into polyester blue, playing with matches near 1,000 gallons of gas and staring curiously down the barrels of our guns, tempting fate itself on a daily basis.
But can monkeys accidentally type an encyclopedia? Glenn wanted us all to avoid these slings and arrows. He told me to get to a car wash fast, as dawn was breaking. He would join me and we would see what we could clean off before being summoned in for day shift change. Quarters? Did we have quarters? Yes, we pooled our quarters.
Perhaps…just perhaps we did not need to report this mishap to the supervisors! This would save us from the indignation of reporting to the police chief's office next morning and having him…yell at us…”on the carpet”…and wag his finger at us…and…and suffer the psychological damage of this horrifying experience! Save us from the walk down the day-shift admin hall, that hall of shame gauntlet and have everyone sneer and whisper and cluck their tongues at us and, and…oh, the horrors! The charge against us?
"Grab-assing" at the pumps!” Almost blowing up the damn pumps. And after so many warnings.
Fearing this shame and embarassment, and creating a legend for story-tellers, Glenn and I raced to the nearest car wash and plunked in quarters. As senior officer, Glenn took control of the wash wand as the severity of the clean-up job was not to be left to a mere patrolman such as myself. Too much was at stake. This job required zest, zeal and experience and he was clearly the Tarzan of the group. And I'll be damned if the black soot didn't come right off the squad car! It was somehow as good as new. Pristine again! Oh, wonders of wonders.
Car and souls again washed clean, at 6:50 am we turned over our squads in to the next shift and no one was the wiser that Bapkins almost blew up my car and the surrounding compound. And that Glenn Bell had performed one of the most heroic, selfless acts I had ever seen. And it had to be held top secret.
Secret Until now. For you see, the Grab-Ass Statute of Limitations is about 35 to 40 years. Even if none of us work there anymore. The regime in charge itself must have either passed away or at least be in assisted living facilities before the event can be revealed. Their power! You don't understand their long-lasting power! One or two of them, I fear, will be positioned at Pearly Gates, in the admission process! We kept this heroism secret for decades!. But now you know. The world knows.
Glenn told us the next day or so that he discretely talked to some buddies at the Fire Department. The FD experts said they guessed only some of the gas was affected/lit and mostly gas fumes were actually on fire. The fumes would produce this look, linger on the car while it flashed away, and explain the soot that we wiped off. But, great balls of fire were great balls of fire and the potential was great.
While me, Bapkins and Officer Unknown, Misters See-No-Evil, Speak-No-Evil, Hear-No-Evil were busy dashing for our primal lives. I remember seeing Glenn blasting away from us in my flaming car, trying to outrace destruction. (That's me in the middle).
Oh and you want to know some irony? Years later, Glenn became the fire chief of a smaller city. I’ll bet he did a fine job too.
Now, pass me a banana. Hey, which end does the bullet come out of this gun thing again?
Hock's email: HockHochheim@ForceNecessary.com
These types of stoires and more in Hock's Don't Even Think About it
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