Unlike a lot of kids, I never wanted to be a cop. Sure, the uniforms are swell, but something about the idea of occasionally being shot at always made me rethink any aspirations of law enforcement (Those who knew me as a sordid youth would chuckle at the very idea anyway, as I was far more gifted at eluding authorities than fostering confrontations.) Despite my seedy beginnings however, I’ve developed a real respect for those behind the badge. I even used to donate regularly to their cause through a series of hefty speeding tickets, but with my thirties came an awareness that I’d like to keep my license for a little while longer. Thus, I slowly weaned myself from driving like a terrorist. Age will do that, you know. So will a wife who threatened to gouge my eyes out should I bring home yet another crumpled pink piece of paper from the Highway Patrol, but let’s not go there, shall we?
Instead, let’s ride along with the PO-lice. It’s something I recommend every lead-foot should try, as nothing will slow you down faster than witnessing the white-hot intensity of a committed traffic cop behind the wheel. A few hours ago, I did just that. It was only a small part of my day, but since it was slightly more intriguing than my visit to the city’s water department, I thought I’d talk about it a bit. (Got a better idea? Send it my way; my muse is on life support and I’d be happy to take requests.) Meanwhile, let me tell you what I know about the Thin Blue Line. These dudes are serious! What with their tricked-out engines, clandestine spotters and crackling radios, you’d think they were getting paid to keep our highways safe. You certainly couldn’t pay me enough. I’m perfectly fine with turning the breakdown lane into my own personal parking spot, but only if I have some TV station’s fancy-cam to hide behind. Any other roadside duties smack of responsibility and I sir, will have none of THAT.
The same couldn’t be said of Sergeant Scott. This grizzled veteran of the force was more than happy to tear himself away from a stack of paperwork and chauffer me around for awhile. My mission: collect enough footage of the interstate speeding crackdown to fill forty seconds or so of early evening airtime. Not very noble I know, but a photog’s gotta eat. Thus, I saddled up with Sergeant Scott and found him to be a gracious host and a damned fine driver. That’s important - as we zipped from one blue light cluster to another along a stretch of I-40 known locally as ‘Death Valley’. As one who’s responded to more than a few fatalities along this ribbon of highway, I can tell you - they call it that for a reason. But a spooky name ain’t enough to slow most people down. Neither is passing a half dozen swirling blue lights, apparently. Despite the high-profile crackdown in progress, more motorists than we could stop screamed past at twenty-plus miles over the heavily posted speed limit.
But I’m not complaining. Rather, the commuters’ collective insistence on urgency made my silly job quite easy. Before I knew it, I had enough speeders in the can to fill half an episode of COPS. Shiny sports cars, muddy SUV’s, even a few unwashed work trucks fell victim to the radar at hand. I only wish I didn’t have to get out of the police cruiser to obtain the proper angles. Trust me, few scenarios are more squirm-inducing for a photog than inching up behind an officer as he approaches an irate motorist. No one like to be pulled over, after all. The only thing that could possibly make it worse is spotting a schlub like me over the officer’s shoulder, pointing a big lens your way and insuring your vehicular transgression will soon be fodder for the region’s masses. Why, it’s enough to the kindliest of schoolmarms launch into a screeching, apoplectic hissy. Not that that happened, but if I disappear tomorrow, there’s an elderly elementary teacher in a red Volvo who’s gonna have a lot of hard questions to answer. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go rub the serial numbers off my zoom lens. That’s legal, right?