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An Old Cop

Updated on November 17, 2015

An Old Cop

That Friday was one of those days that started out so well. I had woken up nice and early, got up, brushed and flossed my teeth, dressed for the day, then headed out the door.

I was bound for the small town of Lake Mills, WI, 18 miles east of where I currently reside in Madison, the state capital. I had lived in Lake Mills for almost 5 years, and was planning to have breakfast at the Family Restaurant with my friend Jon and his regular morning group like I do every once in a while. I was also planning to drop off some scrap metal that I had at my friend Bob’s farm-he collects and sells scrap, then swinging down to the Wal-Mart in the neighboring town of Jefferson for a service card to re-charge my phone for the next 30 days.

I wasn’t due at work until 4 o’clock that afternoon, so I had all the time in the world to enjoy a leisurely drive in the early morning still, making good time traversing the 18 miles down I-94 East towards Lake Mills.

Jon and the guys were glad to see me, we enjoyed a good breakfast together, swapped some good jokes, and had fun trying to answer the questions in the daily Wisconsin State Journal quiz which Jon would read off to the group aloud. As always, I saw several people from town that I knew, such as my former landlord. He was there as usual for breakfast with another businessman from the community, occupying the same table that they always do. There’s just some things in life that never change, as regular as clockwork.

So breakfast over and good-byes said, I made my way to Jefferson, and got my phone card from Wal-Mart, My phone been out of commission for one day due to the service days running out before payday. I entered the PIN number on the card and waited for the prompt telling me that my phone was re-charged. It was at this point when my perfect day started to go south.

No sooner had the prompt beeped than a missed call message came up on my screen. It was from my landlord/roommate Mario. He normally doesn’t call me unless it’s something important, so I hit the “send” button to his number to see what he wanted. He told me that work had called, saying that I was supposed to have been there at 8 AM. Apparently there had been a mix-up in my scheduling AGAIN.

This was far from the first time. Two weeks prior to this, on my birthday, I had gotten a call to come in just as I was sitting down to watch the Town and Country Days Parade in Lake Mills. A day off which I had requested and he had approved a month before. I hadn’t even answered the phone that day. Now THIS. With a heavy sigh, I called work.

The assistant manager that answered insisted that the GM had verbally spoken to me of the schedule change from 4 PM to 8 AM. I told him that was the first that I had heard anything about it. He just told me to get there ASAP, which translated into my terms meant taking my time and stopping out at Bob’s to drop off the scrap metal. Plus I would have to go home and change into my work uniform before coming in, so they would just have to wait. I wasn’t going to run around like a chicken with my head chopped off. The rules of my workplace state that if your printed schedule shows that you were posted for a certain time and they call you to come in early, they can only request that you do so, not demand. So I was going to take my good sweet time.

I continued with my schedule as planned, swinging out to Bob’s and dropping the scrap metal off, then finally got on Hwy. 12/18 West back to Madison. My mood was far from pleasant, I had planned to spend the whole morning working with my writing, and now this.

I had no lunch for work and didn’t feel like making one at home. So I decided to stop at the Jimmy John ‘s sub shop just down the hill from work. I went in, ordered a club sandwich , got back in my vehicle, and prepared to exit the parking lot. That’s when a bad day went to as much worse as it can get.

As I came to the exit of the parking lot, I signaled to turn right out onto the street that ran between the lot I was exiting and another one directly across from it. This was all part of a mini shopping complex. A lady was coming from the right in her car, putting on her blinker. The street was narrow and she was hogging the road to the center, effectively blocking my right turn. And I was blocking her from turning into the lot that I was leaving due to the exit being narrow.

This was it, the final straw of an already rotten day. Or so I thought, as I tromped heavily on my accelerator into the parking lot directly across from me, angrily squealing my tires. Intending to go out the far exit and loop back around to come back onto the street I had been trying to turn onto.

No sooner had I stepped on the gas than I realized that something was wrong. I let my foot off the pedal and the vehicle continued to charge forward-my accelerator was stuck!!!

I can think of no other situation while driving where one feels so helpless and unable to do anything to control impending disaster. Looking back in hindsight, it’s easy to say that I should have merely shut off the key to kill the engine, but when you are actually caught in the heat of that moment, it’s something else totally, believe me.

So, with my vehicle raging out of control across this parking lot, I reacted the way most average stooges would when caught in these dire straits-I shoved my foot down on the brake pedal as hard as I could. This was about as effective as trying to restrain a roaring lion or a charging bull elephant with a dog leash. Now instead of charging across the lot, my minivan was SKIDDING!!! The tires squealed, the smell of burned rubber filled my nostrils.

I turned the wheel to the left, swinging the van around in a loop-straight towards a parked car. There was no way I could turn again in time to miss this vehicle without flipping mine over, I was locked on a collision course. I braced myself for the impact……SMASH!!! Actually, it was more like a WHUMP!!!

But whatever the sound, the result was the same. The driver’s side corner of my minivan scored a direct hit into the parked car’s passenger door. The accelerator was still stuck, now my front tires were shrieking madly, still spinning as they discharged white smoke. The burning rubber odor was almost unbearable

In a state of panic, I threw the shifter into reverse. This caused the entire vehicle to jolt severely as the transmission struggled to co-operate with the raging motor before throwing the vehicle backwards. OK, this isn’t working, throw it into neutral. This caused the engine to rise in volume to a fever pitch as there was no connection to the transmission to keep it in check. It sounded like a connecting rod or piston might blow at any second.

That’s when my senses finally came back to me and I finally thought to do what I should have done right away-kill the motor. The action of raising my right hand to reach around the steering wheel and grab the key to turn it off seemed an eternity, but finally it was done. “Click”-the raging motor FINALLY stopped.

You would think that at this point I would have started screaming, crying, or something, but that wasn’t the case. I suddenly became very calm. OK, you hit the car, now to call the police and report the accident: my mind went into mechanical mode now, running down the checklist of steps to follow in this situation.

I dialed 911 on my cell. “Hello 911, what is the nature of your emergency?” “My throttle stuck and I just hit a parked car.” “Anyone injured?” “No, I was the only one involved in the accident.” “What street is that on?” ” I don’t know the name of the street, it’s in a shopping center, I don’t think this street even has a name.” “Sir, I need a street address.” “just told you that I don’t know.” “Sir, that won’t do, I need an address to type into my computer.” “I tell you there’s no way-wait, there’s an address on the building.” I read it off to her.

FINALLY, the 911 operator was satisfied and an officer was on the way.

I looked at the sorry state of my minivan, the cracked windshield, the driver’s door held shut by a ratchet-strap, the body just plain ready to fall apart. Oh boy, this cop was going to have a field day with this jalopy, I wouldn’t be surprised if he red-tags it and tells me the same thing the state trooper told Jackie Gleason in “Smokey and The Bandit”-to “get this piece of **** off my highway.”

Such were the thoughts that raced through my head as I called my insurance agent’s office to report the accident to them, opening the hood and fiddling with the stuck throttle (it was a sticky cable that had caused all the trouble, it un-stuck easily after I wiggled it a little. Have to try to oil it up when I get home or just replace it outright) and then there was nothing to do but just sit there after that, waiting for the cop to come…..

I saw him (or her) coming in the distance, down the hill on the side street adjacent to the parking lot I was in, driving a SUV.

Oh boy, here we go. Shoot, my driver’s license and proof of insurance-he’ll need that. I reached in my pocket and pulled out the Ziplock bag that was serving as my wallet until payday, looking for my driver’s license. My proof of insurance card was sitting safely in the kiosk of what was left of my dash, safe in it’s little plastic envelope along with my agent’s card that his receptionist had given me. Couldn’t find the license, the cop was pulling up. I could see it was an older guy with a mustache, wearing sunglasses. I walked over to his squad with what I had, aware of my beating heart.

Stepping out of his vehicle and removing his sunglasses, my first impression of him was that of an old western marshal, straight out of “Gunsmoke.” He seemed pleasant enough, when I told him that I was looking for my driver’s license, he said no rush, take your time. Nothing hard-nosed about him so far.

I told him what had happened, he nodded his head in understanding. We started walking towards the vehicles. I nervously explained to him that I knew my van wasn’t much to look at, but it was all that I had. He simply said “Well it gets you where you’re going, right?” Nothing about my cracked windshield or hanging door. This guy was turning out to be all right.

Now for the million-dollar question: “Tell me if I’ll be getting a ticket.” He mumbled a “no” as he was writing on his clipboard, it was a parking lot accident and I had certainly not asked for the throttle to stick, so as far as he was concerned, no citations were in order. My rotten day was starting to look a little brighter.

Assessing the damage to both vehicles, he said that he didn’t think it was even a reportable accident, I’d probably done no more than $500 maximum

Things went along pretty quickly after that, he got the license plate number of the other vehicle and radioed it in, wrote up his report, and gave me his card with the report number on it as well as his name-Officer Jay Wilson. We talked a little bit more, I asked him if he might have grown up on the farm. He said no, he had grown up in town, but his parents were just plain simple working folk, and he knew perfectly well what it meant to get by on what you had. Just a great guy.

We shook hands, then I got into my van and drove off, we exchanged goodbye waves as I departed. “Boy”, I thought to myself,” I’m lucky I got me an older cop, there’s not too many of those guys left around anymore.”

An older cop. It was then that my mind went back in time to other experiences I’ve had with cops just like this guy in different places at different times. Guys who’ve been around the block and have nothing to prove to anyone. Just cops trying to do a tough job and doing it well. And maybe making someone’s day a little brighter, like Officer Wilson did for me.

There was the time where I’d pulled out of a YMCA lot up in Eau Claire and turned the wrong way onto a one-way street, right in front of a cop, of course. I had caught my mistake right away and pulled into a side street, but he had seen me and had to stop me. Another older cop, nice as hell. The first thing he said when he came up to my window was that I was not the first and wouldn’t be the last person to make that mistake from that parking lot, lots of people had done it.

He said that he’d just run my driver’s license as a matter of course to make sure that I was valid to drive as well as checking for wants, warrants, etc. The standard traffic stop procedure. I remember asking him how long he’d been on the force, he said twenty-some years. He just smiled when I told him “So you’ve been around, sir”, fully understanding the meaning of my statement.

Then there was the cop in Wausau, WI who had pulled me over on one of the main thoroughfares of that city at night. Another seasoned officer, this guy was smoking a Sherlock Holmes style pipe as he came up to my window, the sweet tobacco smell was very strong. He only said one thing before turning away to head back toward his squad-“turn on your lights.” I hadn’t even realized they were off! When I blurted that I guess that I just wasn’t thinking when I did that, he turned around again to make one more very short comment: “You’re behind the wheel, you should be thinking every second.”

Old cops. Been around, nothing to prove, treat people like human beings. Be respectful to them, and they’ll return the favor, more apt to give out warnings rather than tickets. Piss them off, and they can make your whole day a living hell real fast.

These are the guys that know and understand people like me that can’t afford brand new SUVs or sports cars and just run what we have. The cracked windshields and the rusty fenders, the worn tires, the cobbled-together exhausts. They may not be able to let a loud muffler go, but they can and will just tell you to get it fixed as soon as you are able to, no 5-day warning ticket, no nothing except trust that you will act on your own recognizance in complying.

I have a cousin who was police chief in the small town that I grew up in, he even looked a lot like Officer Wilson, very old-westernish in appearance, same type of “block under the nose” mustache, as my mother used to say when speaking of him.

He had been very well-liked and respected during his time as Police Chief, when he was still the Assistant Chief and a Patrolman before that. Everyone respected him, even the hell-raisers in town, because he had a way of treating people decent. He had told my mother once that he hated it when he had to arrest someone, it was probably the most unpleasant part of his job.

It showed to the whole world that he had been brought up in a Christian home by my aunt and uncle, who were wonderful people that had worked hard to instill their moral values into my cousin and his sister. The fact they were a farm family with the children had been taught the value of hard work at a young age showed as well. After retirement, this man and his wife had gone up to Alaska as missionaries to share their Christian faith with I believe members of the Eskimo population up there.

To this day, whenever his name comes up in any conversation around my hometown, the people there speak of him with nothing but the highest praise. He was indeed a well-liked man and community leader.

So the next time you see those red and blues come on behind you, or you’re in some other situation requiring you to have contact with a police officer, don’t start sweating and thinking the worst right away. You just might get an old cop who’s been around the block. Who just wants to inform you that you’ve got a burnt-out blinker bulb or taillight that you weren’t aware of. Who just wants to be of assistance, wanting to “protect and serve.”

By the way, as a final note, when I got home immediately after the accident, the owner of the car I had struck told me that he appreciated my honesty in reporting it and not to worry about anything, he was not going to be making a claim to my insurance company. Talk about a bad day going good again…….

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