Half a lifetime ago, I had an existence two or more back from the one I live today.
If you’re young, as you get older, that statement will make more and more sense.
The fact is, our circumstances change so much, that we literally find ourselves living what amount to different lives as we age.
At that time in my life—around my twenty-eighth year—I was a barely-former U.S. Air Force member, working to transition back to life as a civilian. It wasn’t as bad for me as it is for many. The worst I had seen was a couple of “remote tours” in the Republic of Korea. So many today have things a great deal harder.
At the time, I was married and had two relatively young children.
I worked thirty miles from my home, and I worked nights. My trek to the house was through one of the heaviest travelled corridors in Washington state, to wit, I-5 from just south of Seattle to Tacoma (working south of Seattle and living in Tacoma) .
Without getting too into details, I was responsible for ensuring my children had a ride to school (I could have let them walk, but I’m just not “cut from that cloth”).
I was headed home, along I-5 after a night of work in a now long defunct computer operations center for an equally no longer existent major swanky department store.
Being the age I was, and more importantly, the person I was at that point in my life. I was speeding down the roadway, trying to make up time after staying too long in the workplace, knowing that if I didn’t make it home, my kids had no ride to school.
Wouldn’t you know it! On a part of Interstate 5, where there were just three lanes, were three cars running more or less side-by-side. Of all things! Those “idiots” were going the speed limit!
I got up to them, moved over to the very left lane (if I wasn’t there already, I don’t recall for certain), and proceeded to crowd the bumper of the driver that dared to be in that lane, going only the posted maximum speed (which at that time I’m sure was a mere 55 miles per hour).
The individual showed no sign of repentance or remorse, they just continued “dawdling” ahead of me, keeping me from my “duly appointed rounds.”
I continued to crowd, but a vehicle pulled over in the lane next to me and its conductor started making apparently angry and frustrated gestures at me. Well you can imagine what was going through my mind at that point, “What’s your problem dude? I’m just trying to get past these slowpokes in order to get home to get my children to school.”
He continued to gesticulate, I continued to crowd the car ahead of me.
After a few minutes of my ignoring him, the car that had been abreast was now behind, lights flashing.
In case you hadn’t already figured it out, the fellow in question was an undercover law enforcement officer!
I had a friend who had been a police officer (in a couple of settings), and thankfully (Props to David Luke) he had advised me what to do if stopped by the local constabulary.
The advice went something like, “Put your hands at the top of your steering wheel in plain sight, answer all questions with reasonable answers and be as polite and nice as possible.”
This I did, and the result was, I did not get the ticket I so richly deserved. The officer let me off with a stern warning.
To be fair, the gentleman in uniform was far more worried about my safety and that of my fellow travelers, than he ever was about citing evildoers and malcontents like myself.
For the rest of the drive home, going exactly the speed limit, I spat and cursed under my breath. How dare he stop me? What was he thinking messing with me instead of those obviously impeding the flow of traffic? These and many questions much like them flooded my brain as I drove.
Funnily, even after staying later than I should have at work, and driving the speed limit the rest of the way to the house, I still made it home in plenty of time to get my children to their school of the time.
It was a good many years later, that I finally realized who the ignorant idiot in that situation had been was me. Around the same time, another experience came to me, it was the sign over the Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho’s, supply squadron’s Pick Up and Delivery section, there posted by the man in charge of that ragtag bunch.
It said simply, “Failure to plan on your part, doesn’t constitute a priority on mine.” I realized his words were directed at people just like me (or at least, who I was at the time of the later story).
So, what drove me to reconsider my position? There were certainly a number of factors, but the one I want to focus on today, is that “plain clothes police officer.”
He taught me an extremely valuable lesson. Things are not nearly always what they seem. In fact, I much doubt any of that scenario was what I perceived it to be.
But the point is this, had the police officer been in a marked car, and had that car pulled up beside me with an officer waving wildly for me to cease and desist, I would have done just that, just that one time. It took a unmarked vehicle to really make the difference (at least for me).
People like to think unmarked police vehicles are a tool for harassment. In reality though, they’re a chance for humanity to shine, or to fail to do so spectacularly. I sit embarrassed as I tell you, I assuredly did the latter. The fact that so many do likewise lessens the sting of my failure not in the least way.
I’m not going to tell you there are “no bad police officers.” I am going to tell you there are far fewer bad ones, than there are in most segments of society. Most would far rather be in pleasant, friendly, happy circumstances than not—that includes those “under cover or concealment.”
Unfortunately, people like the one I used to be don’t tend to give them that chance. Fortunately for the bonehead I was at the time. The officer in question went easy on me while still “giving me what I needed to have a better future.”
Don’t like undercover law enforcement? Think about this, if you don’t make a habit of doing things you ought not, they have next to zero reason to stop you.
That’s my “two cents for today.”
May your time be good and, thanks for reading!