By Hal Collier
The following stories are true. I use to change the names to protect the embarrassed, but since I have not been paid to be quiet, I’m going to use real first names. Of course some of these stories are 30 years old and my memory is only so good.
I figured since we’re in a dry spell, I would write about some incidents I had working in the rain. Now, most of my non-police friends like the rain. At night or on weekends, they would cuddle up in front of a fireplace or pull the bed covers up tight at night. They would listen to the sounds of the rain and drift off to sleep. Hell, they even sell machines that have the sound of rain to help people fall asleep.
To a patrol cop working during a storm, it can be a day from hell. Southern Californians can’t drive on dry streets. Add a little water and the thought that they are going to be late and it’s a disaster in the making. Traffic accidents increase and burglar alarms on every closed business are activated.
These all cause a patrol cop to get out of his car and get wet. Think about standing in a flooded intersection, directing traffic for thirty minutes. The streets are blocked and some citizen pulls up to your flare pattern, rolls down his car window a 1/4 inch and says, “Can’t I drive through, I always go home this way?” Your mind is racing: can I drag this dumb ass out through that 1/4 inch opening and will anyone see me if I do.
In the late 70’s, I was working A.M. Watch (grave yard) and we expected a storm. My partner, Randy, and I loaded up on sunflower seeds and prepared for eight hours of being wet. Only rookies wore a clean, un-mended uniform on a rainy night. Sometime around midnight it started raining. Then, it rained harder than I have ever seen it rain. We had to a pull into an elevated parking lot. The streets flooded. Worse yet, our sunflower seed source, Lime-Lite Liquor, had three inches of water inside. This was getting serious.
The entire city went on tactical alert. Laurel Canyon was a raging river. There were reports of citizen being swept down the street. We were designated as the Hollywood Damage control car. We responded to calls of stranded citizens, houses sliding off their foundations and closed streets. The damage was enormous. Cars were stacked five deep at the bottom of Laurel Canyon. They used a skip loader to move mud, rocks and cars to check for missing motorists.
Two officers, Dave and Dale, were assigned to traffic control at the top of Laurel Canyon at Mulholland Drive. They were standing in three inches of water at the top. It was rumored that an actor gave the officers a small bottle of brandy to fight off the cold. At 3 P.M., we were told to go home. This eight hour day turned into a sixteen hour marathon. When I took off my uniform, my white J.C. Penney’s t-shirt and underwear were LAPD blue. I had to work that night so I was back at work at 10:30 P.M. My boots were still soaking wet.
A few days later I was working with Dave. We were assigned damage control and security for some of the abandoned houses due to slide damage. There was one house high in the Hollywood Hills that was wide open in the rear. The slide covered the back yard as well as knocking a two foot hole through the back of the house. Actually, a hole was not an accurate description. The two feet was all across the bottom of the rear of the house. There was 2 feet of mud inside the house.
Dave and I were checking on the house to make sure no one was walking away with the resident’s valuables. It was midnight and very dark as we walked through the side gate. We were halfway in the back yard, ankle deep in mud, when I froze in my tracks. I spotted a swimming pool filter in the corner of the yard. Oh crap, somewhere under this mud there was a swimming pool. I don’t know if mud over a water filled pool would make quicksand, but I didn’t want to be the “Breaking News” story. We backtracked our steps and left.
A few nights later Dave and I were driving northbound Cahuenga Boulevard where it parallels the Hollywood Freeway. There’s a section where the road drops down then rises to enter the 101 freeway. Where it drops down, water collects if the drain is clogged. The city put up some barricades so sober folks wouldn’t drive into Lake Cahuenga as we dubbed it. The lake was about five feet deep and sixty feet across.
Dave and I drove up Cahuenga to make sure the barricades were still in place. The barricades were missing and we could see the roof of a submerged car. I hoped no one was inside, I was wearing my last dry uniform. As we approached we could see this man bobbing in and out of the window of the car. We called him over to dry land and he badged us. That’s right he was a Deputy Sheriff with the L. A. County Sheriff’s Department. A lieutenant at that.
Dave and I fought to hide our amusement, but it was a waste of time. The Lieutenant’s story went like this. He met this girl in a bar in North Hollywood and he was giving her a ride home. He was southbound on Cahuenga when he drove into Lake Cahuenga. As the Lieutenant and his female companion swam out of their car they saw three guys laughing and driving away. The guys had removed the barricades and stuck around to watch the fun. The Lieutenant was bobbing for her purse in the front seat. We arranged for a tow truck.
The lieutenant asked us if we could drive the young lady home, which was two blocks away. His bigger request was that we not tell anyone in the sheriff’s department. We agreed. A few days later we got a phone call from the Lieutenant. He wanted to meet with us. Uh oh, now what. We met at the scene of the crime. Lake Cahuenga had been drained by then, the fishing sucked anyway.
The Lieutenant showed us a large proclamation, promoting him to Commandant of a U-Boat in Lake Cahuenga. He told on himself. He asked about his lady friend and we told him that driving into the lake was the best thing that happened to him that night. Oh yea, he tried to bribe us with two bottles of cognac.
This might have been an honest mistake, but I have my doubts. It had been raining on and off all night. About dawn a short police pursuit occurred in Hollywood. The suspects fled on foot and were hiding in the neighborhood. The rain had let up and the sky was clearing. We removed our rain coats and we were formed into search parties. I was one of the senior officers and led my group. The helicopter was overhead directing officers to likely hiding places. The helicopter observer directed me into a back yard with a huge weeping willow tree in the corner. He said the suspects might be under the tree. I walked under the tree with gun drawn. The helicopter dropped lower, I assumed to watch me.
Ok, do you know how much water collects in a weeping willow tree after a night of rain? Have you ever stood next to your dog when he shakes after a bath? The prop wash from the helicopter immediately dropped all the water in that tree—you guessed it, on me. I might as well have taken a swim in Lake Cahuenga. Another day with blue underwear.