Cops occupy a funny niche in this world. The job itself is like most others and it’s easy to forget the more mundane days as the months, years, and eventually decades blend together…but for the most part, it’s a job of extremes (or as several veterans have surmised, 95% eye-glazing boredom with about 5% barely-controlled terror).
21 degrees Fahrenheit in a steady downpour on a dark stretch of Interstate at 4 a.m. working a wreck, the ink in my pen freezing while I lean forward to keep the rain off my note pad as it drips from my nose and the tip of the flashlight that’s clenched between my teeth so I can copy down the VIN number from the dashboard of a ruined car in freezing darkness, human hair still wedged into the cracked glass above the steering wheel, blood around it still not dried... That little scene? That was me while you slept.
The drowning victim found floating in the polluted streams of Chattanooga Creek, blackened and partially consumed by animals, skin sloughing off in sheets with a stench that would make a billy goat puke? The grandmother beaten open and apart with an iron fire poker by a delusional, drug-addled grandson? These are the images I get to take home at night (mostly) free of charge.
Cops have an amazing front-row seat to the worst society has to offer…but, by the nature of the same job, we also have access to the extreme opposite. The badge that puts us between order and chaos and at the feet of the dead also puts us at the head of some unique tables.
All those memories listed above (and all the ones not listed) are given balance from time to time, and this week I had one of the most memorable events of my career take place in a hotel kitchen of all places. (I love it.)
I was pulling 12 hour shifts on vacation days at one of my more unique side jobs out of town as a driver for professional athletes at a fairly significant sporting event. The shifts end at 6 a.m., so coffee is my friend…and the best coffee is where they make it in the bowels of the resort hotel I was based out of.
I’m grabbing a cup when a set of double doors opened at the end of a cluttered hallway and more men in suits of superior quality to mine poured in escorting what turned out to be a former President of the United States. I was thinking about how funny it was that a man of such power must have been relegated to a thousand industrial kitchens over the last dozen years (and also focusing on not making a single damn furtive movement) when as he passed, he gave an affable smile and glanced down at the badge on my belt (I was off duty, but it’s a great security pass for checkpoints) and he raised his hand to halt his detail.
No cameras, no “points” to be made or babies to be kissed…he just stopped, reached out, and shook my hand saying “Thanks Officer, for what you do.” “It’s my pleasure, Mr. President.” (What do you say at times like these?) “Thank you.” He winked, and moved on.
That handshake was nothing he had to do, and I was no one to him…one of millions of people he would never know, or need to know. But there it was, six seconds in a dimly lit kitchen hallway I’ll remember for the rest of my life, and I was there by the same stroke of fate that places me in harms way any other day of the week. I only had that job because I was a cop.
Paupers and presidents, the shield sees them all. Ask me why I love this job? I can only describe it in extremes, and barely, even then. (But yes – it’s all worth it.)
Look, it’s 6 a.m.; another shift over. Another shift begins.
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.