When I left you this past month, I was lying prone on the front seat of a car on a pile of barbecued ribs—a situation that reminded me of EMS shenanigans from about 25 years ago. Here’s the story.
Our station was an old three-bay garage behind a house on Middle Avenue. To call it a station is being generous: It was a building with three manually operated garage doors—the back of which was partitioned off as a “crew quarters.” We had bunk beds, a couple of couches, a toilet, a couple of wall gas heaters and an old kitchen table with chairs. But what did we care? We were medics once, and young, and the old garage was home for several years.
Some of us did what we could to make it homey. For example, Bob tried to instill some firehouse solidarity and camaraderie to the shift. That included, naturally, endless juvenile pranks: We taped George to a chair and placed him in the median, taped gloves to the squad’s exhaust pipe, set up elaborate tubing to drip water on Mike’s head in bed … and far, far worse. Unpublishably far worse.
It also included trying to prepare and eat meals together. One time, we drew place mats with name cards and dinnerware on a sheet we used as a table cloth. For a while, we entertained ourselves on quiet nights by playing “ambulance tag,” a game for desperately bored EMTs. One squad would drive to a location in town and provide a series of hints over the radio until the other squad found them. Then it was the other squad’s turn. It was, certainly, among the dumbest games ever invented, but it entertained us for hours. And then there was the “feeding frenzy.”
Across the street from our garage was a gas station/convenience store called InStar. Among the gastronomical delights to be found there were three roller-dogs for a dollar, some kind of burrito thing and a textured mystery meat creation in barbecue sauce. Of course we christened the store DeathStar and the dogs DeathDogs. But hey, this is EMS—eat what you can when you can, and there’s nothing that spoke to our poverty-level salaries like three-for-a-dollar DeathDogs. Nothing, that is, but free food.
One night Tony came back with several full shopping bags from the Death Star. He was beaming. “You won’t believe it” Tony yelled as he came through the garage doors, “they said I could take everything that was left over at closing.” The Star closed at 11:00, and from then on we were there to gather our plunder. And I gotta tell you, there is nothing better than a convenience store burrito that has been in plastic wrap under a heat lamp for twelve hours! Yum!
So in comes Tony with his booty. He brings it into the tiny “kitchen”—an alcove off the day room with a counter and a microwave. “Free food,” he announced. Mike, Bob and I immediately pounced on him. So did we prepare the table and set the delicious repast out on plates? Did we at least put the containers out and get forks and paper plates? Of course not. “Feeding frenzy,” Tony yelled out as we crawled over each other, ripping open the bags and grabbing whatever we could with our hands.
“Ribwiches,” someone yelled.
Five minutes later, four bloated, belching, flatulent, sauce-stained guys staggered out of the kitchen and flopped on the couch and chairs, praying to the gods of EMS to please, please not give us run. The imagination shudders at the consequent miasma that enveloped the claustrophobic confines of the station, but I can attest that we did, in fact, live through it—although, as those who know us can tell you, permanently scarred.
But lest you think this a one-time aberration, I must disappoint. In fact, the feeding frenzy was repeated any time a crew was around the station at DeathStar closing time. Eventually, the Star closed down, and we were left to our own devices for late-night gluttony. But for those of us who were there, and survived, the ribwich feeding frenzy will live on, if only in legend.