I Punched Out The Rat Pack
by Steve Heilig, February 10, 2010
It was the first 'oil crisis' and I was in high school and had my first VW bug. To control demand for gas, the policy was that you could only get fueled up on even or odd days, depending on your car license number. People would park their cars in line for the gas pump overnight and come get in at opening time for fueling (at, I recall, about 35 cents/gallon). I was planning a trip up the coast, to Big Sur I think, and needed a full tank so parked my bug about tenth in line by a gas station on the coast highway in old CdM. I walked down at about 7:30am and got in, and the station opened and things proceeded in an orderly fashion, each driver filling up and the line moving up - until my turn came.
Just as I was putting it in gear to pull up to the pump, a long black car, maybe a Cadillac, lurched in off the highway and up to the pump, jumping the line. A guy with dark hair in a dark suit got out and headed for the pump. I honked my horn and I think some others behind me did too. But Suit Man ignored us and reached for the pump. I got out, said “Hey, there's a line!” and walked towards the guy. I was not very tall or big but neither was he. When I got close, he said 'fuck off, punk' and before I could even think, reached out to shove me. Also before I could think, I ducked his hand, and punched him hard in the gut. He doubled over, then stood back up and made a move as if to try to hit me back, but by then there were two or three other guys, older, coming up and yelling at him too. He looked me in the eye and sputtered something incomprehensible, red-faced, and I smelled stale booze and tobacco. He got in his car and peeled out of the station and down the road.
“That was amazing!” said one of the other guys. “But do you know who that asshole was? That was Joey Bishop!” Bishop was the least famed, or talented, of the Sinatra/Dean Martin/Sammy Davis “rat pack.” He was a lousy comedian/actor who had his own TV show, briefly. There was a place called the Newporter Inn nearby where they sometimes hung out; it was the one fancy joint in our little burg with supposed Mafioso ties and funding. My dad liked to drink there but all I ever did there was sneak onto the golf course at night and drive carts into the ponds.
“I'd watch out if I were you now - but again, that was so cool!” said the other guy, who looked like he might still be half-drunk too. But I never saw Bishop again. I guess there just wasn't room enough in our town for the both of us.