“Mr. Phillips, I don’t ever want to see you ‘bird-dogging” one of my officers out here again! Do you understand, sir?” The words came out of the city police sergeant’s mouth, but I was still a bit overwhelmed by the flashing red lights from the three police cruisers behind and in front of my little 1972 Chevrolet Vega, all of them with burly, angry-looking officers standing nearby. It was one of my few brushes with the law as well as one of the stupidest tricks I had ever pulled, but I was a man on a mission.
I spent a lot of time in my car back then. Work for a local pharmacy delivering prescriptions to homes and institutions required putting more than a few miles on the vehicle daily in the medium-sized town in which I grew up. Driving the busy streets, you were bound to see any number of patrolmen in the course of a day. One thing, which they did frequently, rankled me and the annoyance built up day after day. They would approach a traffic signal, only to see the light change to yellow, then red in front of them. Instead of stepping on the brake, they would switch on the “bubble-gum machine” on the roof of the car, hit the siren once and sail through to the other side. Now, I wasn’t a “cop-hater”, but this practice made me angry, I suppose mostly because it was something that I couldn’t get away with. Like all the other mere mortals on the street, I had to come to a stop and await the green signal to proceed on my merry way.
Thus it was that one evening, I was out cruising up and down Tenth Street, the strip that everyone rode up and down when they wanted to see and be seen. I was nearly ready to go home when one of these scofflaw policemen (now that’s a paradox, isn’t it?) pulled the usual trick as he crossed in front of me. I actually had the green light, so I immediately turned the corner and followed him to see where he was bound. About a block past the traffic light, he turned off his lights and resumed normal speed along the avenue. I was stupid enough to think that this should be an affront to me and started tailing him (see what I mean by stupid?) in earnest. Several turns and more than a few blocks later, he turned into the parking lot at the police station. Of course I cruised past at a legal speed, but twisted my head for a look at him as I passed. He was staring straight at me and I knew I was in trouble. I headed for home, but before I had gone half a mile, I looked in my mirror to see not one, but three cruisers behind me. Another half mile and they had their lights on and I was forced to the side of the road. No guns, but they were ready for trouble. When they saw the skinny teenager in the driver’s seat and no one else visible, they relaxed a bit, but they weren’t in anything approaching an amenable mood.
Well, I listened to the sergeant’s stern words, but I was eighteen, you understand? And, I wasn’t backing down, because I knew I was right! I was shaking a bit, but I forced out the words, “I followed him to see what the emergency was. You guys run these lights all the time and I wanted to know where he was going.” Turns out, the cop wasn’t backing down either, because he made me understand that it was none of my business where the officer was going. “For all you know, he got a call and then it was canceled.” I was in a more timorous attitude by this time, but I still squeezed out one more quiet question. “Does that happen a lot?” By this time, the sergeant had had enough, but he actually let out a laugh. “You’ll never know, will you? Now, get home!” I went home.
I can’t prove it, but I actually think the practice of running red lights by the patrol cars in my hometown nearly disappeared after that night. I did see it happen sporadically, but I can’t say for sure the officers weren’t needing to get someplace quickly and quietly. I do have to admit, it makes me laugh just a bit, to think about the Roll Call the next morning. “Listen up, men. We had a little run in with a skinny kid last night who thinks he’s onto a crime wave, so this practice of running lights has got to stop for awhile, understand? All right now, let’s be careful out there!” I doubt it really happened that way, but the mental picture is still funny. Needless to say, I didn’t tail any patrol cars after that night!
Just a warning: Don’t try this yourselves! My youthful stupidity shouldn’t be an example for someone else to follow. I don’t think I would ever pull a stunt this foolish again if it involved the police, but it’s a sure bet that there’s more stupid stuff where this one came from. Every time I start to think that I’m going to grow up, the nutty persona takes over and off we go again. Sometimes I do think that stupid really is eternal….
“I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on the frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words. When I was a boy, we were taught to be discrete and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly wise and impatient of restraint.”
(Hesiod~ Greek poet who lived about 700 BC)