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June 13, 2013

Do you like this?

I was cruising in a battered ’89 Chevy Caprice within ten miles of the posted speed limit, which annoyed those “stuck” behind me to no end. This didn’t bring me pleasure, but the fact that the same people would no doubt phone in a complaint for speeding if I went at or above their preferred pace did not escape me.

As annoyed as they may have been, however, I was the one coping with the whistling noise coming from below that was likely emanating from the seam between the floorboard and the piece of steel that had been riveted in place to patch a once gaping hole. That there was a section of stop sign attached to the floor of the car didn’t strike me as odd for two reasons: It was better than allowing rainwater and muck to fly up from the road and into my face, and I had been working for the city just long enough to get a feel for how it functioned. To say it would have been long-since bankrupt if it were a business was putting it lightly; it would have been far more accurate to say that if it were a business, it would have been bound with wire and repeatedly beaten unconscious with thick bamboo poles for a few weeks until it finally died.

As I drove, I absently rubbed the thumb and first two fingers of my right hand together to ease the irritation of the cuts there. I was concerned about infection. It was 1994, and it wasn’t like you could carry soap and water in your car, but the rubbing soothed the occasional sting. Like the recently solved problem of inhaling carbon monoxide through the floorboards, the cuts were also caused by the car. Our blue lights were activated by plungers located under the dash that you pulled downward into an “on” position. After a while, the caps on the plungers pulled off completely and were lost, leaving only a serrated toothpick-sized post to pull down on to activate your emergency equipment, and after a few hours on the shift I worked there was a neat red line of blood on each finger where they met together to pull. The cars from 1990 on up all had flip-switches you could see in the dark, but I was lucky as hell to be in one as new as five years old. With only 260,000 miles on the odometer, who could complain? 

I was working Brainerd and glad to be there; the call load was ridiculous, but it was more exciting than Hixson and safer than the deteriorating buildings downtown. The Aquarium had opened two years before and I heard they’d even turned the Walnut Street Bridge into a pedestrian bridge a few months ago, but otherwise the place was filthy and attractive only to vagrants. It may have been nice in the ’70s, but the ’80s had been cruel, while Brainerd grew modern and clean.  Everything happened here; getting from one end of Lee Highway to the end of Brainerd Road was a 45-minute odyssey on Friday and Saturday nights because of the cruising traffic. Seeing the kids leaning on their cars alongside the road by the hundred was reminiscent of scenes from “American Graffiti,” except the cars were smaller and Buddy Holly had been replaced by Ace of Base. The place was so congested they were even clearing property over on Gunbarrel Road, but they could never hope to replace the beating heart of Brainerd if that’s what they were thinking.

The sun was fading and I thought I’d check on a local 24-hour poker game up behind Corkscrews and Confetti before things got serious; the owner kept it under control for the most part, but it was a good excuse to buy a cheap fried turkey leg off of the grill in their yard, and I wanted fuel for the rush hours ahead.  

As I slowed the cruiser to make the turn off Brainerd, the whistling floorboard died down and I heard the comforting rumble of the engine, when it occurred to me that I was driving the last of the carbureted V8 engines in the fleet, and that times were changing.  I had no idea where I’d be in the next year, much less ten or 15, but I sure enjoyed where I was at for the moment. I mean really:  Could the city or the job get any better than this?  

Ask me then, I suppose.

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