I’ve mentioned before on this blog that when I was younger I wasn’t the Einstein that many confuse me with today (honestly, I hear ‘Way to go Einstein!’ fairly frequently which only goes to prove my point). One of my greater deficiencies was the inability to choose a career path. I mean, I thought I made a lot of decisions, but my dad said that making a lot of decisions wasn’t the same as making the decision. That was dad: he could deflate a brick if he was of a mind to. But one advantage to being clueless is the opportunity to seek out and discover a wide variety of potential careers you suck at.
Which is what I did.
I tried dish washing. I sucked at it, hated it and, truth be told, wasn’t very good at it. It does not bode well when you have a small epiphany and realize you suck at one of the most menial jobs available.
I tried installing floor covering: I sucked.
Sheetmetal apprentice: I sucked.
Salesman: I really sucked (check out my ‘If I, Will You?’ blog post).
Shipping/receiving clerk: I sucked.
Welding supply store manager: I sucked.
Heavy steel construction: I sucked.
I think you’re getting the idea of the pattern I established early on. Yet there was one career I checked into where a strange thing happened: I didn’t suck. Unfortunately, many of the people within the career sucked, but in various ways.
I decided I would pursue a career in law enforcement.
The idea of wearing a uniform, feeling like I belonged, and helping others appealed to me. I liked the honor and nobility of it. All that and I could carry a gun. I mean, how cool is that?
I had visions of being in uniform smiling down at some little kid who would be reaching up to touch my gun and me saying in a deep, kind voice, “Don’t touch that, sonny. It’s dangerous.” Of course I also had visions of being in uniform and some hot chick reaching over to touch my gun and me smiling and saying in a deep, sexy voice, “Go ahead and touch it. It’s dangerous.”
I went down to the local cop shop to check into it. They suggested I go on “ride-alongs” with some of the patrolmen to get a feel for the job and decide if I truly wanted to pursue it.
Well, I say no problem, but I always had to go with the late shift, which put me home about 2:00 a.m., but hey, I’m not a morning person anyway.
My first night on a ride-along was dull as hell. I sat for six hours listening to the patrolman (I’ll call him Bob) bitch about his previous two wives and how this third one wasn’t much better and ‘what the hell is wrong with women?’ I almost said, “Hey buddy, if you’re facing your third strike, you might try checking your swing instead of blaming the bat.” But since it was my first night, I kept my mouth shut.
The second night we had excitement. Another officer was in pursuit of a motorcycle traveling at a high rate of speed. Officer Bob hit the party lights, picked up his mike, gave his code and said, “We’re on it.” We’re on it. I felt like I was part of the squad already.
We raced to cut off the motorcycle which the other cop judged was traveling somewhere between 60 mph and instant death. Far up the road we saw a single headlight. Before it got to us though, it veered to the right down a side street. We raced up to the side street, looked and saw nothing. Then we slowly cruised around the neighborhood until we finally ended up down a back alley. We were barely rolling behind a house when I saw a motorcycle.
Me: “There’s a motorcycle.”
Bob: “Yeah, but there’s nobody on it.”
Me: “Yeah, but he could have gotten off of it.”
Bob (shrugging his shoulders): “How ya gonna know?”
Me: “Well, I could hop out and go see if the engine’s hot.”
Bob (after some short, false reflection): “That might work. Go check it out.”
I did. The engine was hot. I went back and reported to Officer Bob.
Me: “It’s hot alright”
Bob: “Okay, get in.”
Me: “But aren’t we going to go knock on the door and check it out?”
Bob: “Nah. My shift is over in a half hour and I don’t want to be stuck at the station for another two hours filling out paperwork. The guy was only speeding anyway.”
Me: “He was also eluding a police officer, endangering other motorists, riding recklessly.”
Bob (his eyes narrowing): “Get in the Goddam car.”
I got in the car as instructed and that ended our night of fighting crime.
The next night, Officer Bob drove right through an accident scene. I pointed out the obvious.
“Um, Bob, an accident just happened at this intersection.”
Officer Bob rolled the window down and called out, “Is anybody hurt?” A few people shook their heads and Bob yelled, “Hang tight. I’ll have another cruiser right here.” We continued on our way and he called it in. I asked him why we didn’t stop to see if help was needed.
Officer Bob: “’Cause there’s a shoplifter to pick up at Wagner’s Grocery and I want to get him.”
Me: “Why? It seems like the accident would be more important. There could be people injured. The store is holding the shoplifter. He isn’t going anywhere.”
Bob: “Yeah, but if I get to the shoplifter I’ll get to take him down to the station to the booking agent and the booking agent is hot! Actually, I’m talking beyond hot. She’s scalding!”
Me: “To protect and to serve, huh?”
He glared at me for a few seconds and didn’t say much the rest of the night.
The next night I was paired up with Officer Fred. Fred had recently moved to our small town from L.A. He seemed like a good guy and we got along pretty well, until we were driving through a fairly affluent community and a kid with a group of other kids waved at us.
Officer Fred dove for the floorboards and actually started pushing the gas pedal with his hand. I hadn’t experienced this driving technique before so was a bit concerned as to how he could pull it off without looking to see where we were going.
Me: “What the hell are you doing?” Officer Fred sat up again, sweating and panting a bit.
Officer Fred: “Sorry. It’s just that my last job was in East L.A. and when a kid’s hand goes up like that you don’t know what they’re throwing at you. I know this is a small town and that stuff doesn’t really happen. I just need to…I guess ‘retrain’ my instincts.”
We made a routine traffic stop a bit later that evening. Officer Fred called in the plates and then leaned toward me, his head below the dash. His face was invading my private space a bit more than I cared for, but then he whispered, “Okay, if any shit goes down, you scrunch down to that floor board as much as you can. You get all the way down there. But whatever you do, you do not scrunch down on the floorboard on this side.”
Me: “Okay. Because the pedals will get in the way, right?”
Officer Fred: “No. ’Cause I’ll be scrunching down over here and I don’t want you invading my personal space.”
He went on to tell me that the car, an older piece of crap that was lucky to be rolling, was a ‘throw-down’ rig. When I asked what that was he explained it was the kind of car that low-lifes drove and if something prompted shooting and they ended up being unarmed, you’d need a throw-down gun to toss in the car so the shooting would be ‘righteous.’
I decided to just stay on the floorboard while he went and wrote them a ticket for going through a stop sign at ‘walk speed.’ The floorboard wasn’t too uncomfortable and it was somewhat emotionally comforting after all of the paranoia Officer Fred instilled in me.
My last night of trying ‘ride-alongs,’ I was once again paired with Officer Bob. He was in a jovial mood compared to my other rides with him. I soon found out he had solved all his problems with his third wife.
Me: “Wow. Good for you. So you two straightened everything out?”
Officer Bob: “Nah. But I’ve got a girlfriend now, so I can pretty much ignore the bitch from hell.”
Me: “Wow. Good for you? I don’t know what to say. Congratulations?”
Officer Bob: “You can meet her a little later if you want.”
Me: “Nah, that’s okay. Maybe next time. You don't have to go out of your way.”
Officer Bob: “Not a problem at all. Don’t worry about it.”
A couple of hours later we were flying down a back road about ten miles out of town –and the area we were supposed to be patrolling. I knew we were going pretty fast, but couldn’t see the speedometer with all the cop crap between us.
Me: “We’re going a little fast, aren’t we Bob?”
Officer Bob: “Yeah. It sure doesn’t feel like 110 mph though, does it?”
I felt my butt cheeks scrunch together to hold onto the seat (yeah, like that would help if we hit anything).
Me: “Um, Bob? If it’s okay to ask, how come we’re going so fast?”
Officer Bob: “’Cause my girlfriend lives fifteen miles from town and we only get a half-hour break.”
Officer Bob: “Well, there’s that and we’re leaving our area of patrol, so I’ll have to get back before they find out.”
The short time that Officer Bob was with his new girlfriend in her single-wide, I scrunched down on the floorboard. I’m not sure why, but it felt a bit more comforting there. And as I wadded into a fetal ball it occurred to me that once again I’d tried a career and failed. But this time when I added it to my list it would read:
Police officer: They sucked.