Friday, September 16, 2005
I got a call yesterday afternoon from a City of Humble Police Officer, Walt Evans, a small town just north of Houston. He’d been referred by a car dealerships to duplicate and program some Ford keys for undercover cars they had in their fleet. I went out there this morning and as soon as we shook hands my mind started working on where I had met him before.
“I met you over at Pye’s Auto one day.”, he told me after I brought it up.
“I know; but before that, were you ever a police officer in Houston, say way back in the 70’s?” There was something about his name that had awakened a memory of a really bad day in Houston’s history.
“Yes, but only for a while.” I was right; I had met him a long time back.
“Was it was during the big ammonia truck disaster off of the Southwest Freeway and 610 loop?” I was fishing and the fish were all lined up.
“You sure have a good memory. That was the day my friend and I had gone down to the Academy and signed up. We’d asked, “What’s the best way to see Houston, being from out of town.” The Sergeant we’d talked to at the Academy told us that we could see more if we got on the 610 loop and drove around. That’s when we happened upon the turned over ammonia truck.”
My partner and I had been dispatched to work traffic; divert it from the area as a huge cloud of poisonous ammonia gas had spread out into the valley created where the Southwest Freeway went under the 610 loop. There were many folks who never made it, having their lungs eaten out while others spent months and even years recuperating from the damages they suffered. There were tales of real heroes, folks who happened to be passing by and, without concern for their own well being, they went down to help extract drivers from cars at the edge of the cloud. I can still remember seeing how all the leaves and grass had been destroyed, leaving a perfect line to show where the cloud had rested on the ground.
Officer Evans, who had called me to make duplicate keys, was one of those heroic individuals. He was not a police officer at the time; being an applicant to the Department, and yet he had the mindset of service. We talked about the memory of that day and I was reminded that his friend, O’Connor, the one who’d applied to be an officer with him, had sustained serious lung damage from the fumes and was unable to pursue a career with the Houston Police Department.
I completed the task of programming the keys and we talked some more, bringing up names from out of the past. “Do you remember Sergeant Wingo?”, he asked.
“J. C. Wingo, oh, yea, how could anyone who’d met him forget him.” Another memory flooded my mind as the years peeled away. “I had weekends off back then and every time the President (George Walker Bush) would come home for a visit our days off would get cancelled so that we could work traffic and security. I was Scoutmaster of our Boy Scout troop at church and we had planned to leave for Summer Camp on the same day the President was to come. I asked Sgt. Wingo if he could see his way to letting me go early, seeing as how there were always twenty or so positions that were not really all that necessary, at least not in my book.
“No, and don’t ask again.” Sgt. Wingo had other things to worry about and the scouts getting up to Summer Camp was not even on his list. I was assigned to drive one of the old Harley Three Wheeler motor cycles to an isolated spot several blocks from the Bush residence. I was to park it there and look at the concrete until further orders. Several hours ticked off and I was constantly looking at my watch and wondering how I was going to keep my promise to haul those scouts off to camp.
Captain Higgins, in my immediate line of supervisors, came by in his car in an attempt to get closer to the President’s home. There was no way he was going to maneuver through all the Secret Service vehicles that took up the whole street as he eyed my three wheeler.
“Do you mind?”, not really asking as he mounted, cranked it up and drove off down the street.
Sgt. Wingo came by a few minutes later and wanted to know what happened as I explained that the Captain wanted to borrow my bike. I mentioned that I could still make it in time to help the scouts if he could see clear to getting me relieved. There was no answer as he looked over the roster of assignments.
Captain Higgins could be seen driving back around the curve toward us, a large piece of fiberglass fender hanging down on the one side. I don’t think Captain Higgins was ever checked out to ride a three wheeler and had discovered some of the handling features inherent in that monster machine. In a flash it came to me as I reached into my pocket and took out a dollar bill. Captain Higgins had an interesting look on his face as he silently tried to express what had happened to the fender.
“You were right; he did wreck it just like you said he would.” I handed Sgt. Wingo the dollar and waited for his reaction as he sucked air. I smiled and grinned as if we had actually had such a discussion, all the while Sgt. Wingo was waiting for Captain Higgins to explode. It never happened and Captain Higgins got into his car and drove off.
“Take that bike back to the motor pool and have them fix that fender; call it “old damage” and I’ll sign off on it. No need in picking up another as by the time you got back this will be about wrapped up. You might as well take off early; maybe even get home in time to do your Boy Scout thing.”
I read that Captain Higgins died not too long ago and I don’t suppose he’d be embarrassed by my having brought up the past. It was nice to have remembered so many things this morning, and all because of a couple of duplicate keys.
Posted by T. F. Stern at 12:24 PM