By Tim Hayes
One of the things I love best about my chosen profession is that I get to meet some interesting people and write about them, their ideas, their achievements. Rarely does one day resemble the next, and that sense of variety keeps the mind sharp and the curiosity bubbling.
Way back in my days as a general assignment reporter at a small-market newspaper, this notion remained especially accurate and truthful – never more so than the Friday night I spent riding around in the back of a Pennsylvania State Police cruiser.
The assignment – which came as the result of one of the old-time editors in the newsroom calling in a chip from one of his State Police buddies – was for me to “shadow” the troopers during one of their graveyard-shift patrols, and report on all of the crime-stopping excitement that occurred while the respectable tax-paying, law-abiding citizens snoozed safely in their beds.
“One Adam-12, one Adam-12…armed robbery in progress…”
Hoo-boy, I could just imagine the parade of scofflaws we were going to nab that night. And I had a front-row seat to all the action! I drove out to the barracks after dinner, ready to tag along on some serious law-enforcement, baby, and was greeted with a grunt and some welcoming words.
“So you’re the reporter we got to babysit tonight, are you? Wow, that’s great. Well, all right, get in the car. And sit in the back!” Okay, so I had a back-row seat to all the action.
They sent me out on patrol with two troopers. They both had the look. You know, the crew-cut hair. The intimating stare. The no-bullshit hat with the chin strap crazily worn just under the lower lip (which, in my opinion, is why they always look so angry…wearing the chin strap there can’t feel very comfortable). And, naturally, the requisite State Police six-foot-and-change stature.
But wait – only one of my trooper chaperones stood that tall. The other one couldn’t have been more than five-and-a-half feet. He had to look up at me to assert his manly presence. And he did. I believe he had to, from years of practice, as reinforced by a parting shot from another trooper as we left the barracks.
“See you later, Inch-High Private Eye!” I heard, followed by laughter from the officers inside. (“Inch-High Private Eye “ was a Saturday morning cartoon about a tiny detective, for those of you who may have missed that pop cultural reference.)
Over the course of the next seven hours, I actually did learn a lot about keeping the peace in a mostly rural community. We caught a bunch of teenaged drivers “spinning donuts” – screeching around in circles – in a parking lot behind a strip mall. We set up a trap on a stretch of road notorious for speeders, and nailed a couple. We got a call to investigate possible trouble at an apartment complex, and even though nothing panned out there, the tension created by moving silently and poking around felt very real.
I also got to share my back-seat perch with some of the more colorful citizens one might bump into at 3 a.m. Face-to-face with misdemeaning miscreants. All in all, the night-patrol story quickly became one of my favorite assignments ever. Yeah, I love journalism! Before I knew it, though, the shift ended, we returned to the barracks, I filed the story over the next couple of days, and didn’t think about it again.
Fast-forward six months. While driving home from a late movie with my wife, I spotted flashing lights behind me and heard a voice from car-mounted external speakers saying, “Please pull your vehicle over.”
Ahhh, crap. What was this about? I pulled over, rolled the window down, and waited for the hammer to fall. As the policeman walked up to the car and asked for my license and registration, he then said, “Sir, did you know that you did not come to a full and complete stop at that intersection back there? And did you also know that your right rear tail light is out?”
“No, officer, I didn’t realize either of those – hey, wait a second!”
“Sir, what is the problem here – hey, aren’t you that reporter we rode around with?”
My pursuer turned out to be none other than Inch-High Private Eye! We chatted for a couple of minutes, he ripped up the ticket he was going to give me, told me to get that tail light fixed, and wished us a pleasant evening.
To me, no Pennsylvania State Police trooper ever stood taller. Yeah, I love journalism! Especially when it got me off the hook the way it did that night.
Copyright 2014 Transverse Park Productions LLC and Tim Hayes Consulting