Alex recalls good times with his sweet, sweet Caprice.
A 1989 Chevy Caprice. It should have been arrested for placing 350 cubic inches of engine and all of its 190 horsepower in the hands of a 21-year-old idiot, but it didn’t do a minute of time because this wasn’t a matter of choice.
There was no intent on its behalf, you see; it wasn’t a party to who slid in behind its airbag-less steering wheel, something as unheard of in this day and age as a black-and-white television, yet they both existed at one time, I can assure you.
The Caprice was a victim as much as the rest of us, only sleeker looking. There it usually was, waiting on me silently, the prior shift normally having left it running at the curb of the now-defunct Eastgate Mall precinct.
This was a practice known as “hot seating”, in which the car actually ran 24 hours a day, with cops driving it nonstop as they came in for their shifts, thrice daily, and I was lucky enough to be its third-shift recipient.
It was a custom job, of course. I’m not talking about any modifications (or even stickers, really), but more specifically the stainless steel floorboard you don’t find in most models…because the floorboard actually started its life as a stop sign in this fair city, and was now ending its life of usefulness as the floorboard of the aforementioned Caprice, riveted in place with care by the professionals that inhabited the warrens of the Fire & Police Shop.
Some said it made the car look like a “cheap piece of shit”, but I always disagreed; it simply made it “custom”. It was beautiful…and when the rivets gave way, besides an interesting carbon monoxide high, it gave me a place to throw my trash, which was always awesome. Until it rained.
This was my first police car, and to call it “mine” isn’t even accurate since I shared it with at least four other cops, but for these eight hours we were pretty tight, my Caprice and I.
It had both kinds of blue lights: The kind that turned on AND off. No computer, not even any switches for those lights, just horrific pull-rods that had no actual caps, just serrated metal rods where they once had caps that now left slits on your fingers when you pulled them down or pushed them up.
This was my car. There were several others like it, but this one was mine and I loved it so.
On this night, I waited at the curb with my gear bag sitting nearby, a shotgun propped at a 45-degree angle on top of it, the blank paperwork inside waiting to be filled out from one call to the next, a large flashlight sitting inside next to its car charger. What more could I need—except perhaps a raincoat, extra clipboards for witness statements, and a driver with any sense or experience?
I saw my Caprice round the curve from Brainerd Road onto the lot of Eastgate Mall, the Krispy Kreme neon ironically backlighting it as it pulled in towards me.
A smile crested my cheeks as I thought, “Come to Daddy,” and it did. It rolled up, stopped at the sidewalk—and my second-shift counterpart turned it off and almost simultaneously threw me the keys (which I deftly caught in mid-air) and began withdrawing his own gear (a.k.a. “Bag of Death”).
I slid in behind that airbag-less steel wheel, marveling at my catch yet again, and turned the keys in the ignition, only to find this antiquated 250,000 mile piece of shit wouldn’t start again for the 62nd time this calendar year. Gosh….Dammit.
The nostalgia washed away like a footprint on a Gulf of Mexico beach, but this was the way of Line Cars, and no matter my love affair, this is exactly what it was. A nostalgic affair with a piece of shit.
That was then. Times (and OSHA) had changed, and I was a new man with a new car.
Beginning a new shift nearly two decades later, I smiled at my current model, missing paint here and there, and smiled to myself at where I had started so long ago. I turned the ignition key to find it would not start.
(Welcome to Police Work, for the uninitiated.)