Friday, August 20, 2010

"Mom, get out of the way!" By Lt. Pata

Code 3 driving is the spring-roll of police driving. It is exciting, dangerous and frustration all wrapped in a nice black and white package. Most people take their driving test and usually know what to do, of course, most of the time they don’t do it. The pull to the right thing is not an option, it really is mandatory, unless, of course you are my mom.

One day watch, years ago I was driving on Second Street in San Rafael, a pretty heavily travelled multi-lane one-way street. As I was driving around looking for my next bad person, I received that adrenaline inspired radio call “3L43 – 415 Physical…” That little phrase means a couple of things…it requires me to drive Code-3 (lights and siren) to a fight call. I and 750lbs of back up officers would drive to that call in the hope of getting there before too much damage was done to the victim. Oh the other thing is I am required to get there safely. I know, party poopers.

I went through the ritual, answered up for my call on the radio and then rolled up my window, turned up the volume to the radio, checked my seat belt and said a prayer. Police cars should include a statue of Jesus on the dash, just like my little aunt “Nini” used to have in her car, because you really take your life in your hands when you drive in a black and white, but no more so, then when you have to drive Code-3. Code -3 is the cool police term for loud noise and disco lights. It’s actually not the driving that is spooky, it’s the response from the world the second you turn on the siren. But I’m Italian and we are predisposed to driving, lets say, unconventionally. It’s so hard to drive and curse in Italian with both hands on the wheel.

Think about it, pedestrians who stop in the middle of the sidewalk and cover their delicate ears and have the “what? what?” Look on their faces as I sit patiently with my siren on waving for them to move…bicyclists, hybrid cars, big trucks, cars that should have been recycled years ago and semi-deaf mothers in Ford Futura’s that think their son is messing with them are typical hazards.

As I drove over a bridge and around a corner there ahead of me is a gold Ford that will not pull over for the nice police officer. I‘m driving 20mph with my siren blaring and lights flashing. I think smoke was coming from my ears, as it usually does when I think, but now it’s because I am not happy with the Ford in front of me. I am going to an emergency. The siren is usually the universal language and there is this woman, driving probably 20mph. That’s what you do in a 25mph zone. You drive 20; well that’s what you do if you’re my mom. So, I hit the cool siren, the “yelp,” you know the one that goes “whoop whoop whoop!” its kind of the “move over already!” version of the siren. It is also pretty good for “I can’t stop-move!” It is designed to help vibrate you or elevate your car up and over traffic, to the next obstacle.

It was after the yelp siren that upon closer inspection I noticed that the 60-something year old “Nonna” with the jet black hair could only be one of two people. My mom or Ronald Reagan in drag.
I don’t think I have seen another person, aside from President Reagan, that had that almost blue-black colored head of hair. Its funny, as a kid I remember seeing my mom wash her hair and she used to tell me it was black shampoo. Now, I know. Duh! I wasn’t so smart as a kid.

Apparently my mom thought I was just messing with her, like its something I do at 2pm in the middle of traffic. My dear mom responded with putting her left hand out the window and made the up and down waiving motion with her left hand and arm. I was familiar with as Italian sign language for “shut up.” I know this, because she used to do this from time to time at the dinner table, church, backyard, bedroom, and especially while watching Beretta on TV. By the way, Mr. Blake, thanks for ruining my life. After your ex took a dirt nap, near that Italian joint in L.A. my mom thought I was going to be an “alleged” wife murderer. Thanks pal.

My mom had a heavy accent and messed up words like “Lake Taco”, for Lake Tahoe, but with the helpful assistance of her hands and feet – oh and the wood cooking spoon and her slippers, we all understood. The kick under the table was probably her biggest non-verbal skill and it was a universal language. Even the dog got it. Mom ran the show.

With great humility I had to turn off my siren and get on the PA system, because mom would not pull over and now the conga line of cop cars was getting bigger behind me. It’s hard to whisper “MOM MOVE OVER” on the loud speaker, but I had to do it. The only bonus was that I did not have to do it in Italian. My mom took her sweet time, but finally gave me and my pals enough room to pass her. Of course, she just stopped in the lane of traffic. I was seriously waiting for her to throw a shoe at me. Needless to say it was a topic at dinner on Sunday and everyday for about a month in briefing. Her response: “Ralphy, I thought you were being stupid, I’m, sorry.” Then she cackled her trademark laugh and passed the lasagna.

My mom was well known in San Rafael so I couldn’t even lie about who the non-responsive driver was. My mom was the gal who worked at the local See’s candies and sugared up everyone from the Chief to judges and of course cops. Her favorite pastime was to pass out stuck together deformed candy that could not be sold, then tell everyone she knew that I was born premature and with no skin. Ya, it’s now no wonder I could not get a date. She always asked Chief’s and judges, “my Ralphy isn’t being stupid is he?” Mom also always made breakfast for my team members on special days, like Christmas. She was definitely one of a kind and a class act. I miss her.

OK, sirens are obnoxious, but it is kind of cool knowing in seconds you are going to cause a little noise and panic for some and activate the “frozen in place” hormones in your unsuspecting fellow travelers on the street. We don’t do it for no reason, (Usually – OK, there were a couple of times, like when we booby trapped patrol cars at lunch breaks to activate the siren once you opened the doors, but aside from that…)

There is no rhyme or reason as to who does what on the street. Young and old, men and women make up how they will respond to the police car or ambulance driving behind them with the sirens on. It’s like musical chairs. When the music stops, or in this case when the siren starts, people just stop -or worse, they pull to the center of the road, (left).

Stopping in the middle of the road, usually at the last second, or maybe the adventurous X-games driver who pulls from a driveway, in front of you as you are passing a car on the left, is a bladder and lower gastrointestinal pressure valve moment. The only thing I have found to alleviate the lower gastro-intestinal pressure is a nice combination of multi-syllabled profanity reserved in the confines of what could be your black and white coffin.

Most people continue to drive like this because we don’t have the time or opportunity at the time to pull them over and issue a nice coupon to remind them of their driving errors – because we are busy driving to the emergency! I can recall a couple of times hunting the driver who would not pull over for me or the ambulance, but usually it’s too late to catch them so they get a pass. It’s too bad, it’s a great ticket.

I have considered the healthy application of my push bumper to the rear of the car that won’t move. I have tried it before with crooks and it works. The problem is that is usually causes some damage. Our budget doesn’t support these little maneuvers anymore, so we wait for the NASCAR moment, draft off of the back end of their car and slingshot around them when the time is right. A nice prayer to the “wrong way gods” helps so that when you do pass on the left you are not met by a semi who already owns that lane. I used to work for the Coroner’s office…people lose to semi’s. In a big way.

There are other reasons to drive Code-3, but they usually get you in trouble, but I have to admit, I have done it.

Sometimes we have to drive quickly to other events. Take for example the lunch gone wrong. Safely and quickly getting back to the station after you had a meal that did not agree with you is also important. You know what I am talking about, don’t ya?

The toxic fare that caused an unmistakable internal combustion which reminds you that it is not smart to eat at a place where they can’t spell the “food” item right on the menu. Or how about that meat-like product that you have never heard of before? I actually walked away from a restaurant once that had the words POOSH and POOL on the door. Seriously.

Officers know what I am talking about. Let me frame this shot for you…you just finished a nauseating combination of rice, beans and either seagull or squirrel, nicely disguised in a flour vessel that, when gift wrapped, looks remarkably like a suppository for an elephant. Truthfully, it can and has been any hygienically challenged food product.

After lunch you are lured into a sense of satisfaction. Within 3 minutes of swallowing your last bite…you stand up and feel the hand of God poke you in the abdomen. Huh? You think to yourself, maybe my gun belt is on a little too tight. NO no no….after your first step away from the table, you notice that your body has turned on the perspiration machine. With each step toward your patrol car you feel like your gastrointestinal tract is starting to unwind. God is playing catch and release with your lunch. You pull at the collar of your T-shirt and try to get a little cool air down the front of your shirt and bullet resistant vest. Without notice, embarrassing symptoms of your intestinal dispute become apparent and you immediately look to see if anyone noticed.

The moment you sit in the driver’s seat, the red alert notice transmitted from your lower digestive system to your brain is activated. (Think of the soundtrack to a submarine diving: A-OOOGA A-OOOGA!) Your hands start to sweat. You feel God knocking on the inside of your stomach…and then the cramping starts. The anatomical vice-grip starts to twist your mesentery like it’s on a taffy puller. You don’t call out that you are finished with lunch on the radio and drive as assertively as you can to the station.

On the way to the station you look at the computer screen and pray to the emergency call gods that none happen. As you drive back you scope out every possible burrito reception center on the way, but are careful not to make eye contact with any citizen because there is not room for error, no time to waste. (So to speak.)

Finally you see the finish line… the police station. The problem is that the guy in front of you is in a hybrid and is testing the gas to mile per gallon ration as he lets his car slowly cruise using the electric motor. Or he (or she) wants you to see how good they are that they are actually driving 25MPH. It’s a dirty trick. You would swear that you can hear your heart beating faster and faster…nothing else matters.

Suddenly you realize that soon, you may not actually make it to the station. Thoughts of living in exile come over you. By now you have rolled up the windows of the car, turned the AC on full blast, removed your seatbelt and have unlocked the doors. Finally, you decide to accept the written or verbal reprimand by activating your emergency lights to blow past Mr. Hybrid. As you scoot past him you accelerate like a dragster into the parking lot of the station, now removing the belt keepers and decisively sprint to the back door of the station and directly to the burrito recycling center. Sound familiar?

OK cops, be honest- How many of you reading this has activated emergency lights less than 100 yards away from the station to get to salvation?

Once you make it into the station you have the police station obstacle course to complete to get to the official police lounge. You have to code-into the back door, you have to be polite to wayward citizens who happen into the back lot and dodge their questions, lets not forget about the pigeon meteors falling from the second floor, conveniently located above the back door of the station. Once you are in you have to sneak by the sergeant who wants you on the street or wants to tell you about his or her vacation…finally you have to avoid and maneuver around the senior volunteers in the hallway.
God bless them, they are awesome, but not now…MOVE! All of this while not chancing any potential relief maneuvers that could earn you a terrible nickname, exile or clear the building and activate the alarms.

For you non-cop types, getting your trousers off in a hurry for the sake of grease infused lunch is not easy. We have this junk, you know, guns, Taser’s pepper spray and such that we just can’t toss to the side as we sprint to the executive lounge. No, no, someone thought it would be a great idea to make our uniform complicated. I am guessing this guy would later go on to design lingerie or naughty subculture accessories, made of leather and snaps. We wear two belts, and then they are connected by strips of leather with snaps, called keepers.

You just can’t leave your gun on the bench or on a seat, so it comes in with you and the second you unsnap the front keepers, if you’re a guy, watch out because your sidearm may become an impact weapon and could swing around and get you briskly in an area that would make you vulnerable, subject to nausea and certainly would activate your lachrymal system causing you to ball your brains out.

So you see, driving code-3 is not for the faint at heart or for rookies. I think everyone at one time in their life would like to drive this way. It can be fun, but totally nerve wracking. Especially if you are in an unmarked car and no one really see’s you. That is actually fun, it looks like someone dropped a siren bomb and everyone is looking around for the black and white. I do it too for grins. Then when it’s safe try to get to the call.

More? OK. Stay safe. Ralphy