It's 0Dark Thirty and I can't sleep. For some insane reason I agreed to work 3rd Watch for my final 2 weeks so even on my days off, my body thinks it's work time, not sleep time. So I figured I'd write the next installment of my riveting career story. Sleep deprivation. Yeah, that's the ticket.
In August, 1987, I managed to convince a local PD to hire me on as a Patrol Officer. It's a smallish department. 62 sworn officers when I got hired. It's a bit smaller now though. The 1990's were almost as tough for us as 2008/9. It's what I like to call a 'Little City". Not a town, it's a real city with all the problems of any other. Just a bit less of it.
I managed to make it through my FTO (Field Training Officer) program and got assigned to 3rd Watch. 2130 to 0730 (9:30 PM to 7:30 AM for those of you who tell time like normal people). I was close, oh so close but not there yet. Still, I could see it. The Motor Officers riding around on their black and white steeds, looking too just bitchin' for words. I kept my nose clean and tried to learn everything I needed to be a good officer and get on that bike.
1989 was my chance. In our department the special assignments last for 3 years. After that the spot is opened up and anyone qualified can apply. One of the current motors went back to Patrol and his spot needed to be filled. I was determined that I was going to be that filler.
Now in most departments there's some sort of selection process. In ours you needed to be off Probation (1 year in the department), no Oh Shits, show an aptitude and pass an oral board. I applied and was accepted for the board.
The board consisted of the commanding Lieutenant, the Motor Sergeant and the senior Motor Officer. I sat across a table from these 3 worthies and answered a very long series of technical and 'what if' questions. It was intense but I felt pretty good about my answers. Did I mention I was green as new grass?
I came out 4th in a field of 5. To say I was crushed would be a massive understatement. I actually had to question if I was aiming too high. I went back to Patrol, determined to do better the next time. Several years down the road undoubtedly. But fate is fickle and you never know just how things are going to turn out.
The number 1 guy got promoted, number 2 went to Investigations and number 3....withdrew. Remember that no 'Oh Shits' requirement? Yeah. One fine morning I was summoned into the Motor Sergeants office and informed I was going to Motor School in 30 days. Woo Hoo! The dream was alive.
I was immediately paired up with an experienced officer, given a training motorcycle and a manual and told to get ready.
For the next 30 days I trained as hard as I ever have and I still wasn't totally prepared. See, the thing about Motor School is it's hard. I mean really, really hard. Imagine riding an 800 pound motorcycle at it's performance limits, 10+ hours a day, for 14 days. I've been to military schools of one variety or another. I've been to FBI SWAT school. I've been to every kind of Police and firearms instructor school you can name. I spent 4 years in an Infantry Division. Motor School was 2 of the toughest weeks of my life. Cone patterns, cone patterns and still more cone patterns. Over and over and over again. I can still see them and I break out in a cold sweat at the mere sight of one of those orange perversions of nature. It didn't help that the instructors could do them side saddle (and no, I am not kidding) and had zero tolerance for failure or excuses. We hit the ground running and it was keep up or go home. I swore if I failed I'd just stop at the PD long enough to return the motorcycle and collect my final paycheck. I was dead serious. Failure was inconceivable. We lost 5 of 25 the first week alone.
Interspersed with the cone patterns were street rides. Side by side (2 Up) and in a long line. 2 feet from the guy next to you, 2 feet from the guy ahead of you and 2 feet from the guy behind you. One night I found myself riding up the Pacific Coast Highway, at 11:00 PM, in a particularly twisty section doing 70 mph along with 20 other wanna be's and 6 insane instructors. It was exhilarating. The final check ride was out in the boonies near Hemet. Anyone who's been there knows it's undulating roadway punctuated by blowing tumbleweeds and suicidal fauna. Near misses were the order of the day. At a few points we were well over the 100 mph mark, still in that damn formation. Insane.
Did I mention it was October 1989? Loma Prieta ring any bells? I was sitting in my hotel room at 5:04 PM, watching the World Series and talking to Lu on the phone. That was extremely fortunate for my career as a Motor Cop. It was the Friday of my first week. I was sore, tired and ready to be done and back home. I was also in Southern California. When the quake hit Lu and I were talking about something, just chatting really. I heard my daughter scream in the background as the TV showed the shaking at the ballpark and the announcers told me it was a big one. Luckily we didn't lose contact. I was able to stay on the line for quite a while, directing my family on what steps they should take. The house was undamaged and we've always been big believers in preparation. Lu told me to stay and finish, she'd take care of everything. She's tough as nails, my wife. After I was satisfied that they were safe and going to be OK, I contacted my department. They told me to stay where I was and finish the school. Looking back on it I can't believe I did that. If it happened again I'd have been home as quick as I could drive.
I graduated on October 24th, 1989. I was almost there. After I got back to the department, I went back to patrol until the slot officially opened up. In January 1990 I realized the dream of my life. I was assigned as a full time, honest to God Motorcycle Officer. I was in Heaven.
I managed to make it through that 3 year assignment relatively unscathed. I went back twice more. With 3 assignments (and a little extra time twice) I managed to stay on that motorcycle for 10 years. We referred to ourselves as LCMC's. Little City Motor Cops. I put in time on the Kawasaki, Harley and BMW. I crashed all but the Harley and that only because I only had it for a year. I even managed to total a brand new $25,000 BMW with exactly 89 miles on the clock. That one sent me to the hospital. More about that another day.
All that to say this.
Dreams can be funny things. Some we attain but later find out we were wrong. Some we never get at all, for good or bad. This was one that lived up to my expectations. I was never happier in my career than in the saddle of my Motor. I rode every day I could (and it had to be raining pretty damn hard to get me into that box of a car). I managed to stay away from administrative work and out on the streets. Along the way I became a certified Accident Reconstructionist and Fatal Accident Investigator. I've investigated every kind of accident you can name from fender benders to a triple fatality.
I figure I also logged about 100,000 miles on the bike and wrote about 20,000 moving violations. Hey, I was a Motor Cop. It's a large part of what we do and I did it as well as anyone.
My time as a LCMC was worth everything I did to get there and I am proud of the accomplishment. The path is difficult, dangerous and requires intense commitment. I wore that uniform with pride. My scars are a badge of honor.
It's still a little bit strange to me. I look back at that little boy, staring at a man out of a fantasy, and I wonder that I did it. I wish I could meet him. Tell him of the profound effect he had on me and my choices in life. I wonder if he'd be proud of me, of himself. Would he be glad that I'd chosen to follow his example? Have I had that effect on another little boy or girl? Will someone one day talk or write that way about me?
That motorcycle is a powerful tool. Every time I stopped anywhere that kids were gathered it drew them like a bear to honey. Especially the little boys. They'd drag their mothers over by the hand. Some were bright and forward. They'd ask a million staccato questions about me and the bike. They'd climb up and try the controls but soon be gone.
It was the quiet ones I watched. They'd approach silently, almost fearfully but determined to see. Most would stop a few feet from us and stare, their eyes as big and round as silver dollars. At an invitation a tentative hand would reach out, some to touch the magnificent machine and some to stop. Their quivering finger just millimeters away. Almost as if afraid the vision would prove to be unreal. They almost never spoke but their searching eyes told the story. They missed nothing, drinking in the spectacle of man and machine and recording it into a memory they'd never lose. Moms would tell me stories of how he loved motorcycles, especially police motorcycles. Whenever he saw one, all other activity ceased until the object of such fascination was out of sight. I gave out the cards and stickers but I always knew they were of secondary importance. Baubles, soon to be gone and forgotten. But the memory of the thing itself would be seared into their conscious forever.
I see myself in those boys. So very long ago and I know. We are not dead. We will never die. There will always be someone to take our place. A little boy or girl is out there, right now, just waiting. You can spot them. It's easy.
Just look at their eyes.