From the emails and voice mails:
HIGH-OCTANE WARNING – Laura Overton emailed to tell me about witnessing something one day last week that could have become tragic.
She stopped for gas at the Costco in Turlock, pulling up next to one of the pumps only to see gas overflowing from the tank of a Honda parked a few feet away.
“Where was the driver who should have manually shut off the pump?” she wondered, then answering her own question: “Sitting inside the car to keep warm.”
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She began honking her horn, getting the attention of the attendant and also the driver of one of those big gas delivery tankers.
“They immediately ran over and shut off the pump,” she wrote. “The driver got out of her car to see what the commotion was all about. The employee handled it well. He instructed her to put her car in neutral and he and the tanker driver pushed it out of the way. He proceeded to clean up the spilled gasoline.”
Couple of basics to remember at a gas station:
“Pumps and shut-offs are mechanical and can fail without warning,” she wrote. “Drivers are warned by labels and common sense should prevail. Do not re-enter your vehicle while fueling. This is a classic reason why warnings matter. If you are cold, do jumping jacks!”
I frequently see people smoking cigarettes at gas stations. They ignore “No Smoking” signs. Granted, I can’t remember the last time I heard of a gas station catching fire because someone spilled gas and then threw down a lit cigarette. Still, it defies logic.
SCAM-O-RAMA – My column Thursday dealt with how scam artists seem to have stepped up their efforts, including the old U.S. Treasury scam, in which the caller tells people they have tax problems and will go to jail unless they send the scammer a gift card.
This go-round, the scammer claims his name is Steve Martin, same as the comedian. After the column appeared, I received more than a dozen calls from readers who received calls from this wild and crazy guy. And when I posted it on Facebook, there were 27 “likes” and nearly two dozen comments.
The calls most likely are coming out of the Philippines or India, then are routed through U.S. area codes to at least seem as if they are generated locally. Virtually everyone who reported receiving the calls said the callers had strong and often indiscernible accents.
Previous mentions of these scammers brought comments from some readers who say they keep a referee’s whistle handy. When the scam artist tries to con his or her way into their finances, they blow the whistle very loudly into the phone.
And apparently, Steve Martin realized folks are on to his con. Monday morning, I received a call from one reader and an email from another.
The new scammers’ names du jour: Steve Smith and Julie Smith. Yeah, right. So instead of Steve Martin, we now have the husband and wife team of Mr. & Mrs. Smith, which happens to be the title of a so-so movie starring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.
TECH SAVVY – While exchanging emails last week with former Bee photographer Corey Rich for my Sunday column, it struck me that I was dealing with someone in a tent 2,000 feet above the Yosemite Valley floor, hanging alongside El Capitan. He is among the party supporting and photographing climbers Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson as they ascend the Dawn Wall in what is considered the toughest climb ever.
From his nest on the mountain, he processed digital photos and video, posting it on his Corey Rich Productions Web page. And he read emails, responding to my questions with a voice mail response in a whisper because the exhausted climbers were sleeping in another tent a few feet away and he didn’t want to disturb them. He had also communicated with National Geographic and other publications since joining the expedition Jan. 3.
Techwise, this is a long way from the first newspaper stories I wrote remotely in 1978. I used a 30-year-old Royal portable manual typewriter and transmitted using a telecopier, the ancestor of the fax machine. Then, someone back in the office had to retype the copy into the computer system for publishing.
POLICE BLOTTER – My cousin posted on Facebook this instant classic from Friday’s edition of the Sonora Daily Union Democrat:
8:51 a.m., Jamestown – A man on French Flat Road could not start his car because someone stole his Breathalyzer.”
What does a Breathalyzer go for on the black market these days?
AUTHOR! AUTHOR! – Modesto resident Dick Erwin is the author of “Three Months,” a novel about a young man who calls in sick from work one day and instead embarks on a 415-mile-long adventure. At $24.43 hardcover and $14.79 paperback, it is available on Amazon.com and in the Modesto Barnes & Noble store, and as a Kindle book for $3.99.
Former Modesto resident Stephen Paul Campos has written “Stone Pony,” based on his own story as an Army soldier sent to fight in the Vietnam War in 1968, and his pledge with two others to “die for each other” and to reunite after the war.
It is his third book, available through Tate Publishing for $23.99 paperback and $15.99 digital download.