I was sleeping soundly at 20,000 feet above sea level aboard a Boeing 737 en route to Washington, D.C. (I would like to type “The End” here and now, such is the peace that sentence brings to mind.)
As most infrequent fliers will attest to, sleep aboard a plane is like spotting a unicorn in the wild: It’s a magical and elusive beast akin to a logical or fundamental-thinking politician, but sadly they are both only things of fiction.
I was dreaming of being a white chocolate hockey puck being used in the finals when I felt a tap on my shoulder I took as an assault on my person. After instinctively dismissing the possibility of harm as my hands briefly flailed, I saw that it was merely a flight attendant asking how she could help me.
“Bushmills,” I said as my eyes fluttered open and I struggled to orient myself.
“Where am I, is this … what? What do you…” I was babbling, confused and scared until my eyes happened upon the overhead bin and the “need assistance” light that was glowing peacefully when I realized what had happened.
My buddies had waited until I entered that rare high-altitude REM sleep, reached up and hit the “help” button above my head from the seat behind me. Well played.
“Nothing, Miss. My mistake,” I told the flight attendant, both simplifying things and not giving the aforementioned buddies credit for getting one over on me.
I used the experience to get up and use the restroom, which is always another entirely fascinating journey aboard an aircraft. I took a little longer than I should have, then on the way back I decided to change seats to the one behind me, where the funniest cop in America was sitting.
“Ass or crotch?” I asked him as he tried to hide a grin while gloating on the earlier wake-up call. “Wha..?” He got out as I abruptly said “Crotch,” and began scooting in front of him, facing him. As I passed I let my arms and hands brush against him, and now it was his turn to be confused and annoyed as a thick, viscous liquid dripped on him and was rubbed into his forearms by my passing. I absently said, “Sorry, no paper towels.” He was a germaphobe and too resolute a one to consider that I’d been messing with his head, as well. The smell of rubbing alcohol washed over him and his burgeoning rage and horror subsided, and he wisely chose to smile. (Aggression was the only way to lose these competitions, after all.)
Ahh … cops going on an out-of-town, all-expense paid business trip. (All expenses paid, yes, but as we were reminding each other, nothing is ever truly without a price.)
We sat quietly and I pulled out a book. He chose to pop in ear buds to enjoy his iPhone’s music library. I kept an eye on him as I cracked my softback copy of “Act of Valor” (chosen just for this trip), and kept silent watch to avoid more subterfuge. I was about to congratulate myself when I realized he had told a different flight attendant, “No, he doesn’t want a beverage. Allergies,” or some such nonsense, as she passed by with the once-a-trip beverage cart. And this after he knew I hadn’t packed a flask! Ugh.
I let a few minutes go by and tapped him on the shoulder, prompting him to remove an ear bud. “Yah?” he said.
“Nevermind, sorry,” I responded.
Another minute went by when I again tapped his arm, and again he removed he ear bud. “Can I have your Sky Mall?”
“There is one in every seat, man. Grab your own.”
I responded in the affirmative, and let another minute pass before I tapped his elbow.
He looked at me, holding the headphone now, and I said, “That’s what she said, you know.”
“What..?” he replied, eyebrows furrowed in confusion, as I again waved him off.
To his credit, though, by my fourth interruption he had caught on to my game of distraction and we called truce. (It lasted seven minutes.)
The above represents just the first 30 minutes of a four-day trip four veteran cops took to Washington, D.C.
Some of you curious souls occasionally ask what police work is like. What I’ve described in this column is a good 20 percent of it—and I’ve done the math.
There is no end to this interlude on the plane forthcoming. There is no point to it, either … but if I had to summarize it all in a word? Camaraderie. Because it was like this from the time we left Chattanooga to the time we returned.
We get along, or we get out. And in my mind, getting along is a pretty great feeling we take for granted.
Let this be a helpful hint … or a warning sign to the uncertain, come to think of it.
(And that, as they say, is what she said.)
Alex Teach is a full-time police officer of nearly 20 years experience. The opinions expressed are his own. Follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/alex.teach.