Monday, May 22, 2023

Turns out Mike was a Camel


Each morning, to get started on the right foot, I take my vitamins.  As part of this ritual, I tear off a page from the calendar which acts as a checks and balance later on in the day.  If the page on the calendar hasn’t been changed then it means I forgot to take my vitamins.

The calendar rewards me with a piece of trivia printed on the pages.  For instance, the other day I learned that a Chef’s Hat has 100 folds in it that represent the number of ways an egg can be cooked.  That’s the kind of information that might be found on the old Trivial Pursuit game.

This morning’s information had me chasing a memory from way back as I read, “Camels can hold a grudge and wait patiently for their opportunity to take revenge.”  I’ve never owned a camel; had dogs and cats over the years; but never a camel.  The idea that camels can hold a grudge and then wait patiently for the opportunity to take revenge; now that’s diabolical. 

While working day shift as a police officer there was a Mobil gas station located on Westheimer at Commonwealth that offered shade from the sun and good company to chat with.  It was a great location to set up for red light violations since Commonwealth was a one-way street, making it safer to begin the pursuit of a violator.  The owner of the station enjoyed having a police car present on the property and Mike Koetting, one of the mechanics working there, had a warped sense of humor that matched my own.

One hot summer day while Mike had the hood up on my patrol car checking on something that was making an odd noise, I flipped on the siren to prank with him.  Mike hit his head and flinched, a natural reaction to being startled.  He grimaced and let me know he’d get even.

Each time I’d set up under the gas station’s awning, looking to catch a red-light violator; but in the back of my mind was the warning, a gentle reminder that Mike would find a way to get even for having been startled.  As the days passed it appeared that Mike lost interest in getting even.  Weeks became months and eventually I forgot all about having pranked with Mike.

A year later to the very day, I’d settled in under the awning enjoying a slow traffic day.  While relaxing in my thoughts, comfortable knowing I was surrounded by friends, Mike came up from behind with an air ratchet that he used on my elbow which was casually hanging out the window of my patrol car.  Had I not been wearing a seat belt I might have exited through the window.

“Gotcha!  Now we’re even.”  Mike had penciled in the date on his calendar, the day to get even.  All this time I thought he was a mechanic; turns out Mike’s a camel.

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Police Public Relations


In the mid-1970s while assigned to the Montrose area of Houston, the City posted a series of No Left Turn signs at the behest of the local Neighborhood Watch group.  There was a pattern of traffic which had cars continuously circling through residential areas, back onto the main thoroughfares and then back through the residential areas.  Basically, these individuals were looking to ‘hook-up’ with like-minded individuals, I’ll let you draw your own opinion.

The Department didn’t want to unnecessarily upset the more ‘tolerant’ segment who regularly frequented that area and so the first week after the new traffic signs were installed, with the intent to alter the annoying traffic pattern, I was sent to provide warnings rather than issue traffic tickets to anyone who failed to comply with the new traffic signs.

I’d no sooner arrived when I observed two vehicles simultaneously make a left turn off of Montrose Boulevard onto Lovett Street.  I stood out in the middle of the street and flagged them over to the curb. 

When I approached their vehicles, I asked each driver for a driver's license and they handed these over to me.  The lead vehicle had been driven by a Catholic priest wearing the customary black shirt with the small white collar.  I explained that he probably hadn’t seen the brand-new traffic sign and asked that he be more aware in the future as I let him go.

The second vehicle was driven by a more ‘progressive’ individual who might have attended Woodstock gauging from his appearance.  The idea popped into my head, have some fun with this guy.

I explained that I only had one ticket left in my book and that it was obvious that, "I couldn’t write the priest, so I had to let him go".  My words landed on his ears and settled in as I pulled the traffic ticket book from my back pocket as if I planned to start writing.

The veins in his neck immediately began to swell, “You can’t do that! You…you can’t do that!” There was a form of righteous indignation attached to his vocal cords as the words came out.

“You’re probably right”, was my reply as I reached into my pocket and took out a quarter.  I flipped it in the air, caught it and then slapped it onto my wrist.  “Call it, heads, or tails.  This way you have half a chance.”

“You can’t do that!”  He was turning red faced, “You can’t do that!”  I let him vent for a moment of two longer as I pulled out my traffic ticket book, showing him I had plenty of blank tickets that could be used.  “Please be more careful and pay attention to the new traffic signs”.

I’m not sure if this falls under Public Relations or simply Jacking with Folks.

Monday, March 13, 2023

Price Gouging or Fair Market Value


This past week the connection where the city water hose line feeds into our RV broke. Water was gushing out the end of the hose and I shut off the water, examined the issue and figured it would be a fairly simple repair since a standard water hose is connected to a fitting built into the side of the RV. 

I was mistaken; the connection necked down to fit the half inch diameter hose fitting on the other side of the flange.  I couldn’t simply hook the water hose up without the specialty connector which contained a pressure valve.

It was late in the afternoon on Friday, I had to scramble over to the hardware store before they closed at 5:00pm, only to find they couldn’t help.

Not being a regular fix it yourself type guy, I found out you can’t visit the local hardware store, walk over to their plumbing section and purchase an RV replacement part.  The term ‘proprietary’ was used by the owner of the hardware store as she explained the folks who sell RV replacement products won’t sell those parts to hardware stores in order to force folks to purchase these ‘specialty parts’ from the RV outlets.

I understand the use of proprietary marketing, don’t like that it’s done; but that’s how the free-market system works.  It’s the same reason you don’t go to the Chevy dealership to buy a replacement part for your Honda.  You might find an aftermarket replacement part at Auto Zone; but then it might not be an exact fit, so you end up having to go to Honda anyway. 

The next morning we’d planned on going into Houston anyway and would pass by the RV dealership where we’d purchased our 2022 Keystone Bullet.  Perhaps, we thought, since the RV was less than a year old the broken part might be covered by warranty.  The folks at the parts department explained that they weren’t the ones to ask, that we’d have to take that up with management.

I should mention that I’d called their parts department on Friday to see if they had such a part in stock.  The fellow put me on hold for a few minutes as he checked and then said, “Yes, we have them in stock and, depending on which one you need, it will cost between $25 and $30”.

However, on Saturday morning the fellow who greeted me showed that they only had one RV City Water Fill connector and it was going to cost me roughly $54.  He went to look for others that would be in the back stockroom but explained that the one on display was the only one in stock.  I gritted my teeth, reached into my wallet, and paid cash.

I knew I could get the same product on the internet for less than $20 plus shipping and handling; but since we had family in town for the weekend using the RV, we didn’t want to wait a few days for a replacement part to be delivered. 

The replacement job took only a few minutes. The part needed was the black plastic half inch diameter pressure valve connector which was held in place by two flexible tabs to the chrome ring.  Apparently, many RV units used a separate single flange cover for the city water input whereas the newer RV units now have all these water connections under one elongated oval flange held in place with 8 or 10 screws. 

With a pair of plyers, the two plastic retaining prongs were depressed freeing the connector from the chrome flange.  That connector was then pushed through the elongated oval flange plate and the hose on the RV side screwed on exactly as it was designed.  The standard water hose from our faucet was then connected to the brass pressure reducer piece and the job was done.

Thinking back to Saturday mornings adventure, the fellow working at the Holiday World of Willis knew I had to have the part and never flinched as he handed me the receipt.  I checked the mirror in my car as I drove out of their parking lot; no, didn’t see any blood dripping from my nose either.

Fifty-Four Dollars for a part that probably cost less than two dollars to make.  Yes, that’s what most folks would consider price gouging.

Saturday, February 25, 2023

A True MacGyver Moment


My neighbor’s car locked him out after he’d unhooked the battery.  It was then he realized that the mechanical key didn’t open the door, someone having unhooked the important parts of the lock inside the door frame, probably using a ‘Slim Jim’ or similar tool. 

I explained that I no longer had any locksmith tools, having given those away when I retired several years ago.  I still understood how to by pass the system; just that I’d need to be creative, I think that’s the term, in deciding how to attack the challenge.

I had a nice long antenna out in the connex storage building along with some empty plastic kitty litter containers.  I went to the kitchen and borrowed two Teflon coated spatulas to use for wedges and figured that might work.

I cut the kitty litter container into flat sheets and started to insert these one at a time, bypassing the tight seal of the passenger side front door.  Then another and another until the first spatula was able to get past the upright post.  I placed sheets of plastic from the kitty litter container along the edges of the door so the antenna, while being inserted, wouldn’t scratch or mar the door edges.  My neighbor had two small pieces of trim wood that had enough strength to gently pry the door edge, just enough to permit the antenna access to where the door lock was located.

This was when I started to sing a church hymn, mostly in fun; but I think the Lord was helping all this time, “Guide Us, O Thou Great Jehovah”.  I had my neighbor help guide the antenna’s working end by looking through the window until it landed squarely on the lock’s pivot point.

The whole operation didn’t take that long and it was quite exhilarating to be able to walk in the footsteps of the master of modified tricks.  Thank you, MacGyver, for an inspired moment.

(Image courtesy of bing dot com)

Sunday, February 12, 2023

First Aid Training

This Wednesday the Young Women and Young Men attending the Madisonville Branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints will hold a combined meeting where they will have training on basic First Aid.  This kind of activity will be beneficial since one never knows when such training might be needed.

I was reminded that while working for the Houston Police Department, all officers were required to complete at least eight hours of First Aid training each year as mandated by the State of Texas.  Night shift officers would be asked to show up during the day for this training and receive overtime pay.  This later was changed to where the training was done on night shift at the Police Academy.

There had been a scandal of sorts in the late 1980’s where an officer from the Northeast Substation had been accused of stealing money from those he’d arrested for being drunk.  This was an embarrassment for every police officer as the Houston Chronicle had fun printing a couple of articles painting the entire Department as if it were common practice for officers to steal money from prisoners.

Internal Affairs figured out which officer was involved, set up a situation where he’d be the one to arrest an individual carrying marked bills and let the incident play out.  Sure enough, upon finishing the booking of the prisoner, the officer was found to be in possession of the marked money. 

Hopefully that’s the last time he was permitted to wear the uniform; but what has this got to do with First Aid training?

Upon showing up at the Police Academy building over by the airport, there were about 2 officers from each substation seated around a large conference table.  The First Aid instructor was from Social Services; but not a police officer, and he decided to find out how much each of us knew without having been given training, at least not as yet.

He pointed to one officer, having looked at his name tag, and asked, “Officer So and So, you’re on patrol and come upon a man bleeding severely, his having fallen through a plate glass window.  What’s the first thing you should do?”   That officer gave a reasonable response, and so it went as the instructor made it around the table.

Pointing in my direction he asked, “Officer Stern, while on patrol you come across a man lying face down in the ditch.  What’s the first thing you should do?”

Without hesitating my response was, “Well, if you’re from the Northeast Substation the first thing you do is go through his wallet looking for money.”  A round of muffled laughter broke out around the conference table, that is, all except from the two officers from the Northeast Substation who didn’t think it was funny at all.

Sunday, February 05, 2023

The Hot Sheet


A fellow retired police officer reminded me that at one time patrol officers were handed a Hot Sheet while in Roll Call.  This was a list of currently reported stolen vehicles which could be useful while on patrol.  It must be remembered; this was before the advent of the computer age and most police cars didn’t even have a ‘good time radio’ as they were considered a distraction.

(Image courtesy of Bing dot com)

There were any number of ways to fold these Hot Sheets to make them more accessible when they were stashed above the sun visor.  Since these were printed in columns and there were so many stolen vehicles to be listed, that meant at least two Hot Sheets, sometimes more to be carefully folded to make the most of this information.

When I was a rookie, recovering a stolen vehicle was one of the items on my ‘Bucket List’.  You have to have recovered at least one stolen vehicle to be able to look in the mirror and hold your head high.  Weeks went by and nothing; but each day I’d religiously scan the lists hoping to score.

The senior police officer would drive around to check different known drop locations hoping we’d stumble across an abandoned stolen vehicle.  Some officers seemingly had a magic touch as they’d call for a wrecker almost daily to haul off their find.  I wasn’t that officer.

That day finally arrived, and I remember the feeling of pride.  In my mind, the right to wear the blue uniform had been penciled in.  It felt like a beam of sunshine was created especially for me as I called the listed owner to announce my success.

“Sir, this is Officer Stern with the Houston Police Department calling to let you know we’ve recovered your stolen truck.”  I was awaiting cheers, maybe even some confetti tossed in my direction.

“I bet my bass boat wasn’t with it.”  A dark cloud blocked out all the excitement as his words landed on my ear. Not only was this guy not going to recommend me for Rookie of the Year for having recovered his shiny new Ford F-150, but he was flat out disappointed in how long it had taken to give him the bad news; his prized fishing boat was never going to be found.

The senior officer smiled as he watched my reaction, “You’ll get used to that.”  Becoming a hero police officer wasn’t going to be easy.