I work for a town government and we have rules. One of those rules is that you cannot use a personal vehicle when conducting town business. If you need to go somewhere you have to sign out a municipal vehicle. The first time I ever had to do this was when Hunters for the Hungry donated some venison to my food pantry. I was very happy to accept the free protein but the specialized butcher where I had to pick up the meat was over an hour’s drive away.
“I need a car,” I said to the head administrative assistant.
“You want the 4×4 or the police car?”
My ears perked up. “Police car?”
“We have a retired patrol car.”
“I’ll take it.”
Walking into the lot I found the car – a Ford Police Interceptor, washed, waxed and ready to go. “Come to Daddy,” I said.
The car was indeed retired. The odometer read 100,000 miles but I figured it had already rolled over twice. Police cars get driven until they die. The garage had changed the paintjob to all white but the old warhorse still had its searchlight, two-way radio and the city’s seal emblazoned on the door. It looked official.
I threw my cooler into the trunk and then slipped behind the wheel. When I turned the ignition I was rewarded with the rumble of a V-8 engine. Pulling out of the lot I hit a traffic light and flipped on my left hand turn signal. When the light turned green the cars in the opposing lane didn’t move. That confused me for a second. Then I realized, “They think I’m a cop.”
I gave everyone a salute and made my left turn. Getting onto the highway I undid my tie and slipped on my State Trooper shades. I was going to enjoy this.
You may find this hard to believe but I almost became a policeman. I sometimes wonder how things would have turned out if I did. Would I have written Cop Rant? Probably not. I was never good working in hierarchies. But now, traveling down the middle lane of an interstate on a crisp fall day, I went a little Walter Mittyesque and imagined I was a homicide detective tracking down a dangerous killer. Harry Callaghan eat your heart out.
It had been years since I’d driven such a powerful car and while I was daydreaming the speedometer went well over eighty. Since getting a speeding ticket wouldn’t look good on my performance review I slowed to the legal limit. That’s when I noticed nobody was passing me. This is Jersey and driving 65 is usually considered a polite suggestion. Experimenting, I tapped my brakes and everybody behind me slowed down immediately. Everyone thinks I’m a policeman. I thought. This is awesome.
Then I saw a flash in my rearview mirror. A red sports car was rocketing up the passing lane, oblivious to the faux official car in front of him. When it pulled up next to me I looked over my shades and watched as the driver mouthed “Oh shit” and hit the brakes. I’ll admit I liked that. But them the critical part of my brain asserted itself. What if the driver of that red car had spun out and crashed after braking so suddenly? It wouldn’t have been my fault but I’d have still felt terrible.
Years ago I was trying to make a left when I stopped to let a police car pass. He stopped in the middle of the road. I stopped in the middle of the road. After ten seconds of this I finally made the turn. Of course he lit me up.
“What was that?” he asked after I handed him my paperwork.
“I just went into cop lock,” I said. “Sorry.”
The officer laughed and handed me back my license and registration. “I get that all the time. Have a nice day.”
The same thing happened when I made that left outside Town Hall and it was happening as I drove down the highway. Everybody was going into cop lock. I imagine police officers must find this very tedious. Then I remembered I was not a cop, just a minor league civil servant picking up meat for hungry people. Sighing, I went into the slow lane and reduced my speed to fifty-five. That’s when all the other drivers figured I wasn’t the law and proceeded to blow past me. The fantasy was over.
Now when I travel on town business I usually take one of the 4x4s. No one mistakes them for police cars. But last week the old cop car was the only one available and I had to get to an appointment. As I was about to turn right onto the main thoroughfare I watched as a guy on my left blew past a school bus with its warning gate lowered and lights flashing. “What an asshole,” I muttered.
After the idiot passed I made my turn and fell in behind him. To my surprise the offending car slowed down, pulled over and put on his hazards. He thought I was cop about to give him a ticket.
Looking over my State Trooper shades I just looked at the driver as I passed him and shook my head. He looked utterly confused.
I’ll admit I liked that too.