I started this job being a cop in a city that prides itself on tourism. It was always a sticking point with me because I was actually never sure just what that meant.
At the time, Chattanooga was lacking the hell out of some industry (also known as “jobs”). Twenty years earlier the federal government said, “WHOA! Enough with jetting columns of death into the sky,” because apparently even Alabama was getting pissed at our anti-green behavior. And instead of attracting more (or at least different) industries, the city kind of closed up shop and replaced those jobs with such exotic enticements for tourists as “a train,” “a river” (with no riverfront access), and “malls” for people to see when they come to read the largish silver signs strategically placed throughout our county that tell us we have “history.” What was it people were coming here to “tour?” Ugh.
(Note: That bashing was from the perspective of a new, young cop, and that was the logic I saw in the city having no other explanation for having only minimum-wage jobs to offer. Now? That riverfront, that downtown, and those industries? It’s not the same city as it was when I started and this is nothing short of amazing to me. So put those guns down, Mr. Chamber of Commerce.)
That said, I’m familiar with tourism locally and travel in general. It was actually in my DNA, having grown up as a military brat born on one side of the country, raised on the other, then brought back again a few times, and seeing both oceans, the deserts, fields and forests between.
Moving around as a kid killed any desire or need to do much travel on the rare Cop Vacation, but I still did on occasion, and the similarity between towns still amuses me to this day. And by that, I mean the bad parts—not the touristy ones.
I don’t need to suggest destinations and what to do there, but how about the information you don’t get in most travel packets? Allow me a few brief points.
During a long drive, regardless of the P.S.I. of your bladder, you should always be wary of your choice of convenience stores. Any time the sign indicating acceptance of “E.B.T. cards” is larger than all other advertisements, be aware that your odds of being robbed at gunpoint and/or getting stabbed has just increased by roughly 60 percent or more. I’m not saying that you will get robbed or stabbed; I’m just saying that statistics foretell a more likely upsetting outcome to your stop.
A secondary sign of this is the on-site production of deep-fried food, specifically tater logs and chicken. No matter how delicious, your situational awareness should be greatly elevated.
And to make matters worse? Seedier gas stations often don’t even have a public rest room since they are more trouble to the disgruntled and bullet-scar-riddled owners than they are worth, often just becoming mini motel rooms to the people indigenous to the area.
State-run rest stops, however, have generally changed across the country (with the obvious exception of Mississippi, wherein nothing changes—ever).
Apparently, governors everywhere realized the stops had become nothing more than fortified “rape holes,” and they got serious about cleaning those joints up. Now they are staffed and patrolled by listless employees on the government dole, and the odds of previously mentioned robberies and stabbings have greatly diminished. (See? I’m not all doom and gloom.)
Travel. Like guns and intolerance, it is part of the signature of this country, but it does not suffer fools lightly. Enjoy the freedom of movement, but do not try its patience.
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.