By Duane Preimsberger
I’d been assigned to patrol duties at Firestone Station in South Los Angeles for about three months when I met Scooter Man for the first time. It was about 3:30 in the morning when the majority of the people on the street at that hour were, according to my training officer- Almus Stewart, burglars and bad women. Although I kept my eye peeled for those breeds mostly what I saw were trash truck operators, delivery people and folks who worked an early day shift at the local manufacturing plants.
We’d stopped at the Boy’s Hamburger stand at the intersection of Holmes Ave. and Florence Ave. The building was constructed in the early 1950’s as a walk up fast food facility and it was showing it’s age. The dirty brown stucco walls were cracked and broken and the concrete walkways were stained with the many years of spilled food and foot traffic. The Boy’s was open 24 hours a day and at 3:30 it was the only place available in our area. Almus and I were there to have the early morning watch equivalent of a balanced meal, a chilidog with chopped onions, french fries and a medium Coke. I usually followed these delicacies with a handful of Certs so that I wouldn’t burn out the nasal hairs of the next person I spoke with.
We were standing under an open air patio cover close to our patrol car so that we could hear the radio through the open passenger side door when I felt something bump the back of my heel. As I turned to see what had happened, two things occurred; Almus broke into a large grin and a gravelly voice said, “Hey asshole, buy me onea them shitty cheeseburgers.”
The voice came from Scooter Man, a double amputee who had lost his legs inches from the hips, his mode of transportation was a 2’ x 3’ wooden platform with industrial swivel wheels on which he balanced what was left of his body. The platform allowed him to scoot across the ground using his gloved hands and arms to propel him on his journeys and he had become expert at doing that.
Scooter Man’s persona almost defies description, he’s one of those creatures that you have to see, hear and smell to believe.
He was without question the foulest talking individual I’d ever
heard. My years in the County Jail had exposed me to many profane individuals but Scooter Man won the prize. Mothers would clap their hands over children’s ears when he was around in an effort to protect them from exposure and that was the least of his shortcomings.
He was dirty, not just a little dirty but so filthy and grimy that his face and neck, the only skin areas visible, were caked with an accumulation of debris that included dirt, plant material, grease oil, and things probably best left unidentified. He was clothed in layers and layers of stocking caps, shirts, jackets and pants. The empty pant legs acted as padding for his platform. All of the clothing was soiled in a similar fashion as his skin and the odors that emitted from this sad human being and his accumulation of filth was sickening and overwhelming.
In a matter of a few seconds, Almus had moved twenty feet away, on the opposite side of a picnic table and was beginning to laugh.
Scooter Man, who apparently had noticed my reluctance to be his host for a cheeseburger was busy getting even. He’d exposed his private parts and was busily urinating on my boot as I looked down in disbelief. “Piss on you, asshole, your rotten ugly wife, them little snooty nosed pervert kids you got. I hope you die choking on a giant dog turd, you cheap bastard.
I tried, unsuccessfully, to shake my boot dry as I moved toward my partner. “Almus, can’t we take this guy to jail?”
“Buddy, if you think that our station jailer or anybody for that matter is going to greet you with open arms when you show up at the booking cage with him, you’ve got another thought coming. You arrest him! You search him! You do the paperwork! Nobody else at the station is going to help you with him, including me!”
“He’s an unfortunate fixture out here. He’s been arrested God only knows how many times, mostly for drunk and a few days later he’s right back. My advice is learning your lesson and just stay out of his way. If he victimizes somebody else we may have to do something but you, you don’t count. You got your shoe peed on, so now you smell like a cop, no big deal.”
As we drove away, Scooter Man wheeled himself to curbside and flipped me off with both hands and yelled, “You cheap rotten, no good son of a whore bitch, I’ll piss on your grave!”
As I learned more about the area I learned more about Scooter Man, his haunts and habits. He lived in plywood, lean-to shack behind a small Mexican church and some of its parishioners maintained it and left food, clothing and other necessities for him nearby. He never acknowledged their kindness or compassion. However they seemed exempted from his foul tongue and maybe that’s as close as Scooter Man could come to saying thanks.
I learned that he made a little money begging and putting on an occasional show that irritated and frustrated the local railroad cops. Scooter Man would sit on his platform on the sidewalk outside of the Bank of America, especially on Social Security and
Welfare check days and harass those cashing checks into giving him their small change. His effort was modestly successful and provided him with sufficient income to maintain a fairly stable alcoholic haze from the bottles of Ripple wine he drank incessantly.
Another income producing feat arose on the railroad tracks that crossed Florence Avenue not far from the Boy’s Hamburger Stand.
Scooter Man would sit on his platform near the train crossing, waiting patiently until a train approached and when the crossing arm gate came down he begin his performance. Screaming and crying, he would launch from his platform and hand walk his body onto the train tracks as on-lookers gazed in disbelief.
The train engineer would lay on the horn and attempt to slow the
train with little or no success as he attempted to avoid striking Scooter Man who stood in the oncoming train’s path. At the very last second he would fling his body sideways and in between the rails and into a scooped out depression in the gravel ballast. Then he’d lay quietly, face up, as the train harmlessly passed over him.
A heart beat later, when the final car had passed Scooter Man would remount his platform and eagerly extort change from the awestruck onlookers who thought he’d been killed. After filling his pockets, he’d disappear into one of his many hidey-holes and stay there until the area patrol car and the railroad cops gave up their search for him.
Weeks later, I finally began to buy Scooter Man an occasional cheeseburger and although he didn’t thank me he didn’t pee on my boots or vilify my family either. I guess I was making progress as I learned more about acquiring the street smarts to work patrol in the area.
Occasionally, if the day watch was short handed overtime would be available to the morning watch troops who would be given the opportunity to work a double shift, then grab a few hours sleep and return eight hours later. Almus and I were ordered to seize one of those opportunities.
The day watch spends most of the early part of the shift taking crime reports and responding to rescue calls as the sick and elderly awaken with medical emergencies. You get to commiserate with those who had their cars stolen or broken into or hold the hand of an elderly person as they watched as a fireman try to restart the heart of a loved one.
As the day progressed, we weren’t overly busy and it was a surprise when our radio came alive and directed us to meet Lieutenant Le Berthon at the intersection of Holmes and Florence.
We were about block away when we first heard the booming voice of Scooter Man cursing our Lieutenant and most of his relatives going back to at least the French Revolution.
The Lieutenant, who was the day watch commander, had been driving by the intersection in a plain car and was in plain clothes when he’d spotted Scooter Man go into his scary train performance. He was outraged and had made a decision to have him arrested. Since we were the area patrol car, the job would fall to us. As we talked to the Lieutenant about his observations I noticed that his shoes and pant legs were wet and that he had a really bad attitude about Scooter Man.
After the Lieutenant had completed his instructions to us he took several watery steps to his car and then drove away leaving Almus and I, Scooter Man and a few onlookers standing near the train tracks. “Well we’re screwed buddy,” said Almus looking at me with one of those hang dog scowls. “We gotta book him and he’s gonna fight. Let’s try to figure out how to do this with the least amount of damage to him and us.
After a couple of minutes of strategy discussion we decided that we’d ask for an additional patrol unit and when they arrived we’d toss a blanket over Scooter Man and two deputies would try to control each of his arms and avoid being bitten by our arrestee. After getting him handcuffed we’d clean out our patrol car trunk and put Scooter Man back there so he wouldn’t destroy the interior of the car or our ability to breathe.
Our help soon arrived and after a brief discussion with them we successfully employed our tactical plan and managed to get our foot wetter and his platform inside the trunk. We secured him to the bolted down spare tire with two sets of handcuffs so that he couldn’t fall out or otherwise hurt himself. The station was only a little over a mile away and as we drove there with the trunk lid open, Scooter Man cursed and vilified every person we passed.
When we reached the back door the jailer was waiting for us apparently, our Lieutenant who had given him a heads up as to what he was going to confront had briefed him. “No one is bringing anybody that dirty and vermin infested into my jail, you get him cleaned up somehow or you take him downtown to the inmate reception center and let those guys deal with him.”
We thought about taking that trip involving a ride on the freeway with Scooter Man in the trunk and the complaints from irate citizen that would surely come from that experience as well as the potential hour and one-half travel time involved and scratched that idea off the list.
“I think I got it,” I said to Almus. But it’s something we need to run by the Sarge before we do it. What would be wrong with putting Scooter Man on the floor of the station car wash bay and hooking up a hose to the sink in there. It’s got both hot and cold water. We could hose him off, have the station trustees cut off his clothes, search them and throw them away in the dumpster. Then the trustees could soap him down with clean rags, rinse and dry him off with towels. Then we could dress him in jail clothes and presto, a clean Scooter Man.
Sergeant Bill Reed listened to my suggestion and then sat staring at me for a few seconds. “Have you taken any hard blows to the head lately?”
“No Sarge, but we’ve looked at the alternatives and this seems to be the easiest, most expeditious and workable solution to booking this guy per the Lieutenant’s order.”
Well, let me tell you guys something, if anything happens to that guy in that car wash, we never had this conversation and your butts will be hanging out a mile! Got it!”
We got four of the stations largest trustees, explained carefully to them what we wanted to accomplish and put them in boots and yellow rain suits and industrial rubber gloves. Then we hauled Scooter Man out to the car wash bay. He went ballistic when he figured out our intentions and he directed a constant, loud and obscene stream of verbiage at the six of us who were close at hand.
However, as we began to snip off his filthy clothes he began to slightly relax and when the last bit of clothing had been taken from him an amazing thing happened, he began to cry and it seemed he’d never stop. As the inmates soaped him down and washed the filth from his body, Almus and I watched a transformation as Scooter Man began to assume a more normal
human appearance. When he was done, he wasn’t perfect but
He was dry, clean, and dressed in blue county jail garb. The inmates had brushed his long hair out and put it in a ponytail and he looked pretty good. We were not able to clean up his mouth however and after he regained his composure he began once again to explain in no uncertain terms how little he thought of or cared about us.
We had discovered $17.52 in his filthy clothing mostly in pennies, nickels and dimes and we took the money and Scooter Man into the station where the jailer now accepted him and his change as a fit materials for one of his cells. Just as we were preparing to begin the booking process Lieutenant Le Berthon appeared and we noticed that he was no longer wearing his spiffy tan tassel loafers but had changed into his shiny black uniform shoes.
“I’ve decided that booking this guy is a waste of time and taxpayer dollars. What you’re going to do with him instead is to take him to the Psychiatric Ward at County General Hospital and have him admitted as a mentally ill person. I’ve already talked to the admissions staff there about him and they think his behavior is well within admission standards. Maybe if we get him some help we can get him the hell out of our jurisdiction."
Almus and I looked at each other knowing that our plan to avoid driving the L.A. freeway system had just crashed and burned. It took us three and a half hours to get Scooter Man to the hospital, have him admitted and return. On this trip, since we’d cleaned him up, he rode in the backseat and made normal conversation impossible because of his dirty mouthings.
The admission portion of our trip was classic Scooter Man. We were directed to a small examination and interview room where we met a young doctor who looked sort of effeminate. Scooter Man took one look at him and launched, non-stop, into one of the raunchiest, most graphic descriptions of what he perceived to be the doc’s sexual proclivities and activities. After just a couple of minutes of listening there was no doubt that the Scooter Man was going to be admitted. Perhaps he’d won the young doctor’s heart.
I never saw Scooter Man again although I’ve often wondered if what we did was of any help to him. I hope it was, he was a tough guy living on the streets with his disability and he fought against some big obstacles in just managing to stay alive. I wish him well, he didn’t know it, nor would he care, but he taught me something of value about life on the street and being a cop. Once in a while when I step in a puddle or get my shoe wet Scooter Man shows up again.