The Good Ol’ Days: Saturday night fervor
In the fall of 1966 I was a freshman at an inner-city college in Minneapolis, located close to a tough Cedar Avenue neighborhood. One late Saturday night some of my dorm buddies and I drove to a nearby fast-food place called Henry’s Hamburgers, where burgers cost 15 cents and you had to line up outside to order.
Suddenly a large man appeared in the crowd, moaning that he had been stabbed and needed to go to a hospital. He was 40ish, had long greasy black hair, smelled like a brewery and wore a bulky plaid shirt against the cool autumn evening.
Everyone in line suddenly turned into statues, like Lot’s wife. Nobody seemed to hear this guy pleading for a trip to triage. I suddenly remembered the commencement address at my Class of ’66 graduation the previous May. The speaker had urged us to “…transport all wounded strangers to the nearest hospital” or something like that. I really don’t recall exactly what he said as I was too busy at the time laughing over how our new principal had absolutely butchered the pronunciation of many of the names of my fellow graduates. For all I know, the speaker could have said, “Onward and upward to the heights of glory” or “Let’s go to the moon together” or “How ’bout them Bison?” I dunno.
The Good Samaritan in me spoke up as I told the man, “I’ll take you!” My dorm buddies started to melt away and said, “Okay, Bill, you go ahead. We’ll, um, walk back to the dorm.”
“Oh, no,” I replied. “You’re coming with.” They gulpingly agreed and we got the fellow into my two-door hardtop Chevy. It had a bench type front seat, so we put him in between me and another dorm mate and one or two other guys sat behind and would prop him back up whenever he toppled sideways after we rounded a corner.
I was still new to the Cities and had no idea where a hospital was. There wasn’t the good signage that we have today, and GPS was still on the drawing boards, so I just headed to the heart of town, my heart pounding, and my Bad Samaritan sitting on my shoulder saying, “Now look what you’ve done! You’re gonna get us all killed (and you didn’t even pick up the hamburgers).”
As we approached the downtown area, we came to a stop light. The injured man would occasionally moan and I kept looking at his torso, trying to see if he were really stabbed. He probably was and had put on the plaid shirt afterward.
As we waited for green, I looked to my right and saw what appeared to be an unmarked police car with two men who apparently were plainclothes detectives.
I jumped out of the car and ran up to the 4-door sedan (which had blackwall tires, a sure mark of unmarked police cars in those days). The driver looked at me without emotion and rolled down his window. “Are you guys cops?” I asked. “Yes, we’re police officers,” the driver coolly replied. I told them that I had a man claiming to have been stabbed who needed to get to a hospital.
The driver simply said, “Okay, follow me,” and we raced off in a Saturday night fervor. The driver didn’t have a flashing red light, but he did have a spotlight next to his side view mirror that he flashed back and forth to signal that we were coming through. Oddly, I remembered discussions in the noontime hot lunch line many years earlier about people who got into trouble for using such lights to “spot rabbits” at night. At this point, I was just hoping to spot a hospital.
We arrived shortly at Hennepin County General, as it was then known. I was expecting to be met by smartly-dressed white-capped nurses with concerned expressions pushing a gurney, but there was no such fanfare. Instead, we just helped the man out of my car and he tottered into the emergency area on his own power. There apparently had been a gang fight earlier in the evening, as wounded, bleeding, moaning young men lined the freshly-waxed linoleum hallway. Our man would have to wait his turn. Welcome to the big city.
One of the detectives smiled at me for the first time and said, “You can go, son. You’ve done your duty. The guy was probably stabbed by his wife. Thanks.” And that was it. I think Henry’s was closed by the time we got back, but we weren’t hungry anymore.
Bill Gronvold is a 1966 graduate of Rugby High School.
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