“Stewart - we got a high speed pursuit!”
‘There goes lunch’ I thought as I dropped the Explorer into drive and pulled out of my hard-earned parking space. Hungry as I was, all culinary quests would have to wait as long as my Assignment Manager was bandying about those three words. The very syllable combination throws down a spot news gauntlet that the even the worst responder cannot ignore. Why, even I leaned into the steering wheel as I shook off the last vestige of cross-town traffic. Somewhere to the South, several Greensboro Police cruisers were chasing an alleged bank robber in a red SUV down Highway 421. But they weren’t the only ones hurled into the void. Behind them, an itinerant detachment of paramedics, investigators, firefighters and journalist raced in their wake - each pushing themselves to personal limits, just so they can be ringside when the shit goes down. Welcome to my Wednesday.
At no time did I harbor any hope of catching the pursuit on camera. Though I’ve seen it done, capturing footage of a high speed chase without a helicopter is tricky at best. I do remember a priceless few seconds of videotape obtained by the great Kevin O Brien, who had the energy and forethought to set up his camera and sticks along the path of a cross-county chase. When the late-model sedan screamed into view, the underage occupants waved to K.O.’s camera like they were the lead car in a parade. In essence, they were. Since then, I’ve drafted after my own share of squad cars and never came away with much more than the bruised fruits of so many pointless pursuits. For a while Sheriff Gerald Hege kept things interesting, what with his habit of chasing offenders out of his jurisdiction and opening fire. (No doubt about, it that guy was good for business.) With the renegade sheriff now concocting his memoirs somewhere far off the highways, sustained chases have been hard to come by. Hey, this ain’t L.A.
It is however, d-e-e-e-e-p in the heart of NASCAR Country, and many a man in uniform considers himself worthy of his very own HANS device. So it didn’t surprise me when the next breathless phone call reported that Phase One of the chase was already over. Seems the squad cars rubbed a little paint in Turn 2 and the red SUV now simmered upside down with a possible fuel spill. Ahead of me, the ambulance I’d been closing in on killed his lights and let off the gas. I followed the rolling box all the way to the cop-car convention in question. When the driver snaked through a phalanx of fire trucks, I pulled my news unit over to the shoulder and hit the flashers. In the distance, I saw the red SUV resting on its roof, surrounded by cops, firefighters and road-kill groupies. Grabbing my gear I schlepped forward and scanned the horizon for whatever may be left of the driver.
Mine wasn’t the only lens aloft when the stretcher did appear. Thirty seconds after I arrived, competitors, rogues and allies emerged from the mist. As a pesky deputy scanned the menagerie of news-gatherers for whom to hassle next, we all fell into easy conversation, picking up on topics we’d delved into the last time the lot of us were stranded by calamity. Of course all talk stopped when the paramedics in the distance wheeled the gurney into view. Like snipers lying in wait, we took to our crosshairs and silently tracked the status of the patient in question. Strapped into the stretcher, he lay perfectly still as two beefy medics steered him toward the ambulance. When the highly-reflective doors slammed shut a few moments later, chatter in the press gallery resumed.
About what, I don’t really recall. A little technical minutia here, a few salacious rumors there - you know, just the kind of thing you yammer on about when standing around bored in your workspace. It’s this water-cooler chat of the roadside variety that has long held your lenslinger in great sway. Something about chewing the fat in the face off all that bent sheet metal reminds me of the good ole days - when every squawk of the scanner brought with it a new kind of adventure. These days I’d far rather wax poetic than drive like a fireman, but since I still serve at the pleasure of the News Gods, spontaneous ditch-bank servitude can only be expected. Perhaps when I retire, I’ll buy an old ambulance and stock it with food, scanners and drink - thus ensuring no working stiff with a wide angle will ever have to listen to his stomach rumble by the fluttering crime tape again...
Naaah, I’ll probably just move to the coast.