Burning Down The House

Stop Sign

Stop Sign

I’ve got to assume the statute of limitations has run out on this story. I hope so, because I don’t want to get anyone in trouble.   Either way, I’m not naming names.  Back in 1987 I would travel to school early in the morning.  I had a 0 period.  Yes, our High School was rather strange like that.  Don’t bother just creating an 8th period, instead make it so students have 0 through 7th period.  0 period and 7th period were somewhat optional–you had your choice.  You could start early or stay late.  I took early so I could have a class I really wanted.  But it was early.  I would arrive at the High School around 6:30 in the morning.  As I walked to school that foggy morning, I couldn’t see beyond about five feet.  If you’ve ever lived in Holllister, CA you know exactly what I am talking about–it was a January pea soup fog that was thick, cold and clammy.  By the way, San Benito Joint Union High School, as it was known back then, has State Route 152 that runs right though it.  Yes, you read that right.  There is a CA state highway (freeway, whatever) that runs right in between two blocks of my Alma Mater.  To facilitate the movement of students between the two sides of the HS, the school employed three crossing guards.  They rotated through the day.  And on one side of the road, they had a little guard shack.  Little as in maybe four feet by four feet.  It was about seven feet tall, had a pitched roof as well as a little window the guards could look out of and see if there were students coming that needed assistance crossing the streets. The guards would stand in there to stay warm.  I think they kept their coffee in there.  Probably some notes about disrespectful students and such.   If you crossed the street without the assistance of one of the guards it was an automatic misconduct.  A misconduct was four hours detention to be served at your leisure.

As I approached the road that foggy morning, I realized I had arrived before the crossing guards.  I reached the sidewalk opposite the guard shack.  Through the fog, an unbelievable sight met my eyes. The shack was on fire.  And not a little piddley fire.  To my eyes, it seemed that a pillar of fire had come down from the heavens.  The flames were at least fifteen feet high.  Within minutes, the shack was no more.  At the time, I had no idea who would have done such a thing.  But I admit, I felt a bit of a thrill being witness.  You must realize, our school was run like a penitentiary. The three crossing guards doubled as security guards.  Detention was handed out like candy on Halloween.   I witnessed one mouthy student receive 128 hours of detention in less than five minutes.  I once received a four hour misconduct for crossing the street an hour and a half after school had ended.  I was on the other side of the road–doing my own personal stuff.  The school was absolutely insane.  So I felt a thrill of joy at seeing someone take a stab at “the man”.  After enjoying the fire, I walked on to my class.  Later I heard who had done it.  He was a friend of a friend.  I knew they guy–but not real well.  I just knew you didn’t want to mess with him.  Story has it that one night, in a fit of anger, he went out on his front lawn and sledgehammered a car for eight hours straight.  Just because he was mad.  But the story becomes even more strange.

A couple of days later, said student was walking down Main Street in Hollister.  If you must know, it isn’t actually Main Street–instead it is San Benito Street.  But everyone local calls it Main Street.  He was walking down Main Street up to who knows what kind of mischief and runs across the only bag lady in Hollister at the time.  Everyone had seen her, but I’m not sure anyone actually knew who she was.  She steps up to him.  And then whispers, “I know what you did.”  And with that, she walked away, pushing her stolen grocery cart in front of her.  I often wonder what feelings of worry the student had.  Was he nervous she was going to blackmail him?  Was he worried the police would find out?  Who knows?  What I do know, is that when that little guard shack burned, there must have been three pairs of eyes watching.  The perp, the bag lady, and me.

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