Some Friend You Turned Out To Be…
As some of you who know me may know, I worked for a chain of convenience / dairy store called Cumberland Farms for three years after I got out of high school. That would have been from 1973-1976. Cumberland, which still exists today up here in the Northeast, had something like 1800 stores in New England / NY / NJ area and more in Florida at the time.
I worked mostly in their inner city Boston stores during my three years with them, occasionally working at saner stores just outside of Boston. At some point in 1974, I became the manager of one of their stores located in the Roslindale neighborhood of Boston. It wasn’t a bad neighborhood, a bit poor and blue collar / working class on the Southwest side of the city.
One problem I had to confront was that the convenience stores in the area, which became known as Stop and Robs, were getting held up all the time, and my store was no exception. There were several other Cumberlands in the nearby area, as well as competitors such as White Hen Pantry and Li’L Peach stores. We were all regularly being clobbered with armed robberies. It was so bad that the Manager of a nearby Cumberland, also in Roslindale was shot and killed during a hold up on Christmas Eve Day. Also during that time period a customer in the Cumberland Farms in the nearby town of Dedham was shot dead during a hold up. He walked into the store during a hold up with the intention to buy some model airplane glue to use with his son on a model at home. Wrong place at the wrong time. As for me, I was an unfortunate veteran of a few armed robberies by that time, including the two that I have previously wrote about on this site.
The Boston Police Department was under a lot of pressure to take action to curb these robberies. They came up with a solution. The old Tactical Patrol Force (TPF) was a special city-wide unit within the BPD. They were the department’s ass-kickers, and sent in to tackle problems and stop the bleeding (figuratively and literally) in high crime neighborhoods. Not long after this event, they were disbanded due to their reputation of being a bit heavy handed, if you know what I mean.
The TPF came up with a solution. It was an alarm system. They selected convenience and Mom and Pop type stores in a close, geographical area that had been targets of robberies. They placed them in the stores at no charge, with the consent of the owners. The alarm had a clip which was placed into the $20.00 bill slot in the cash register, and a $20.00 bill placed into it. If the bill was pulled out, the two metal clamps would make contact, which signaled a hold up alarm. It was transmitted out of the store electronically through a flat antenna, which was inconspicuously placed near the register on the wall. It was unremarkable and unnoticeable to even the most experienced stick up man. No buttons to press or step on. When the robber ordered you to give him the twenties, once you complied it set off a silent alarm. Remember, this was back in 1974.
What was unique about this alarm was, that is tied into an alarm console which was placed in the back seat of an unmarked TPF cruiser, which was assigned to patrol the immediate area. The alarm didn’t go to an alarm company, or to a police district. It went right to a couple of well armed plainclothes officers that were usually nearby. So, in addition to the alarm consul in the unmarked cruisers, the cars themselves became virtual war wagons, with well armed policemen to confront and deal with these stick up artists who were often violent.
The system began to pay dividends immediately. Sometimes alarms came in when the TPF car was just too far away, but other times they got alarms while they near by the hold up and they started to make several apprehensions at the scene. I myself was robbed four times in this store, and on two of those occasions the police made arrests on the spot. Those are all separate stories in themselves, possibly for another time.
I grew up with a kid from my Quincy Point neighborhood named Mark. We were very close friends he and his family eventually moved to a quiet town, south of Boston. However, we stayed good friends and he worked a full time job just north of Boston. I don’t remember which of us came up with this bright idea first, but, I had a need to hire a couple of part time people, including one I could trust to work a few evenings a week and close and lock up the store. I had the brilliant thought that Mark might want a decent part time job. My store was sorta / kinda located between his job and his home, and anyway, driving from his job to his house during rush hour everyday was not fun, so the nights he worked at my store, he only had to drive half the distance, and when he was done rush hour was over, and he drove the rest of the way to his home. What a match I thought! A dependable friend I could trust, and I could do something good for him with the job. A classic win-win situation, if there ever was one. As it turned out, maybe not so much for my childhood friend.
Anyway, Mark agrees to go to work for me. He worked a few weeks, maybe even a month or two, I don’t remember how long. It was working out well, for me anyway.
When Mark came to work for me I trained him and we already had the TPF alarm in place, and the possibility of becoming an armed robbery victim never really seemed to bother Mark too much. That stuff always happens to other people, right? Looking back, I realize I should have told him it was likely that he would become a robbery victim at the store, especially working nights in that neighborhood. But, I never lied to him, and told him about some of my exploits. Anyway, it didn’t seem to bother him.
Well, one evening, Mark was working, and sure enough some guy comes in, points a pistol in Mark’s face and told him to give him the money. All the money. Mark complied and also gave him the $20.00 bill, which tripped the silent alarm. The guy took the money, and was gone in a matter of seconds. Typical convenience store robbery, if there is one. In and out, in seconds. That normally would have been the end of it. But not this night. Not for Mark.
The store was located on the corner of Hyde Park Ave. and Mt. Hope Street. Unknown to both the unfortunate robber and Mark, the TPF cruiser happened to be about a block away from the store, actually on Mt. Hope St.when they got the alarm. The robber turned left out of the store and then left on to Mt. Hope Street. The cops, by then on foot, ran Up Mt. Hope St. towards the store. They ran into each other on the corner, outside the store and a pretty hefty shoot out occurred. Blam, Blam, Bang, Bang! Shotguns and pistols were unloaded. They were within feet of each other. They couldn’t miss.
Meanwhile, Mark is inside the store while all this shooting is going on outside the door. Bullets flying and pinging around, around, cops and robber yelling, screaming, cursing, all while Mark dove onto the floor in fear for his life and made himself as small as he possibly could. And, that’s no exaggeration. I’m not sure, but I think while Mark was ducking he was doing a bit of cussing himself, and I’m sure he was cursing me as well.
Suddenly, the shooting ended. Almost as quick as it started it was over. Final score, no hits, no casualties, one robber under arrest, and he was pretty shaken up and amazed he was still alive. Too good for him. The Boston cops had no compunction against blowing this guy away, but it wasn’t in the cards for any of them that night.
The arrest and experimental program was widely publicized in the days that followed. Later that week, the Mayor of Boston Kevin White and the then Police Commissioner Robert diGrazia held a press conference in my store. The Boston TV stations were all present, and I was interviewed along with the Mayor and Police Commissioner. I was on all the Boston stations. I was there, plus the TPF guys who made the arrest. The only one not there was my friend, Mark.
As far as Mark goes, considering the circumstances, he took it all in good stride and good humor. Although he wasn’t laughing at the time it happened. He told me the story that night, as he did several times to the police and company officials. But, in the end, Mark turned over the store keys to me and told me thanks for the job, but, no thanks. He valued his life a lot more that the $2.25 an hour (or whatever it was) I was paying him. As he handed the store keys to me he said, with a strange smirk on his face, “Some friend you turned out to be! Please don’t do me any more favors.”