Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The White Badge of Courage

All of a sudden, screaming sirens slashed through the quiet of the dozen idling cars at the intersection. All drivers immediately wrenched their heads up and around in alarm, but there was barely a chance to glance as red and blue flashing lights joined the cacophony. We expected to see a speeding police cruiser, but were instead treated to the sight of four cruisers, rushing up from behind, running bumper to bumper as if they were so many paper dolls cut from a folded piece of paper. They were traveling so fast you'd swear that lit firecrackers had been shoved up their tailpipes, and maybe they had. It was like a huge screaming monster stomping up behind you.

Fortunately for those of us at the intersection, the far right lane was clear, so the cruisers used it. They screamed up to the light with just the briefest of glances, the barest of pauses, to make sure the intersection was clear, then zipped right on through it. I wondered what could be going on, what malady or disaster, that would require four police units and the level of haste they were in.

The light turned green and we all left the intersection, numbly feeling relief that the 'monster' had stomped right on by. There was already no sign of the four cruisers that had passed us, they had been traveling that fast. Even their sirens no longer reached our ears.

Two blocks further down the road, we stopped for another red light. I was now in the far right lane, as was most of the other traffic.

Once again, as if in 'instant-replay', here came another four police cruisers, screaming up from behind us, sirens wailing, lights flashing, and fire crackers up their tailpipes. It was like a huge screaming monster stomping up behind you. Sound familiar?

This time, they flew through the intersection from the left, versus the right, as before.

At the time, I was glad I had moved to the right lane. If a 'next' round of cars came by - wait, next round? Yes, that thought was whirling around my mind. Was it over, or would there be more?

While pondering that weighty question, I noticed that the second group of cruisers, far ahead of us, had reached their event horizon and were turning right onto a side street. I wondered if that was where the first group had gone. Probably so.

That brought the question of yet another 'next' group, again.

Sure enough, coming up behind me, fast, in the far right lane, my lane, was yet-another pack - of four police cruisers - with sirens, lights, and firecrackers all over -yet again. Sound all too familiar?

Now, the first group had come up on the right side of the road. The second had come up on the left side of the road. So, logically, one might think the third group should come up the right side of the road, right? - since they had been switching sides?

Of course one might. And that was how it was going to go. This third group was coming up the right side of the road, as it logicaly should, in this circumstance. And that was okay, except for the facts that I was now in their way, and the street I surmised they would turn at was coming up just as fast. Would they pass me before I got to the intersection? Was I going to be smack in the middle of the intersection when they needed to turn? Why hadn't I gotten back into the left lane yet? My street was only one more block away and I would've needed to turn left on it. But, no, there I was, lolligaging down the right lane.

Now, I was where I was supposed to be if an emergency vehicle was to come up behind me, which was good. And, I was slowing to a stop. But! I didn't dare come to a full, or fast stop. Either action would probably end with my getting rear-ended by the police cruisers.

So I braked and braked, and 'prayed' and 'prayed.' What a pickle.

Next thing I knew, the pack came whooshing around me, and, of course, by now, I was actually creeping into the intersection, where they were turning.

Time slowed down as the lead cruiser came around me. Then it slowed even more while I watched it turn and slowly slide closer and closer to me. I was literally standing on my brakes in a fruitless act to avoid collision, muttering words of, "Please don't hit me, please don't hit me," and then there was the softest of pushes as the cruiser hit my car and pushed it aside.

Thoughts of, "OMG, and accident with a police car, my life is O-V-E-R," filled my head.

Again, there really was no time to react or to shake the shock, because by then, the fourth, and last car in the pack was turning the corner in front of me. It slowed just enough for the shotgun officer to yell out his window, "Pull into that parking lot and wait," all the while pointing at said lot.

And then, he was gone too - vanished - out of sight in the blink of an eye.

I composed myself and put the car back in gear. The collision had popped it out. Then I turned the corner and found a spot to park in the completely empty parking lot that the officer had designated. And I waited.

People started coming up to my car, "Are you all right? I saw the whole thing. That cop cut you off!"

More people arrived, "I was right there at the intersection and saw the whole thing. That cop cut you off!"

Some had advice for me, "I would just leave if I were you. They probably won't come back."

No, that was advice I didn't want to follow. If the officer tells you to stay put and wait for him to come back, you'd better wait, no matter how long it takes.

These 'witnesses' were almost giddy with enthusiasm, no doubt from the juicy thought that for a change, a policeman was going to be in trouble. They gladly provded their names and phone numbers and said they would be happy to be witnesses. They had, after all, seen the whole thing.

When the novelty wore off and they remembered there was something else they were supposed to be doing, they drifted off and went back about their business.

Then I waited some more, and more, and more. I was truly wondering if they weren't coming back. Should I should leave?

A group of cruisers passed the parking lot entrance and lined up to wait for the signal light - the very same intersection where the 'accident' had happened. The light turned, and off they went. I could have been invisible for all the attention they paid me.

A second group passed by and left.

Now I really was wondering if I should just leave. And then, in the blink of another eye, two cruisers came zipping into the parking lot and parked on the other side of me. The officers all got out and made haste to come over. They had a barrage of questions, "Are you all right? Are you sure? Is your car all right? Are you all right?" Over and over they asked. They looked at the front of my car where the cruiser had hit. They moved away and discussed it. And they came back to ask again if I was okay.

Then another cruiser zipped into the lot and parked. Only one officer got out. It was 'the boss'. The other officers grouped around him and there was much discussion. Snippets drifted my way and I could tell they each were retelling their parts in the entire event, told from their own perspective - venting the excitement of the moment (and the other one that caused it).

Then 'the boss' came over to my car, "Are you all right? Is your car all right?" and added another, "Are you all right?" I wanted a sign to wear that would say, "Yes, I'm all right."

He then went to examine the collision spot, the front side panel and front bumper on my car. I had already been out to look at it, so I knew what he was going to see - smears of white paint, no dents, no busted parts, just paint.

Then there was more discussion, and, you guessed it, more discusion. Then 'the boss' came back over to my car and told me we all had to wait for yet another officer to come write an accident report. He strove to assure me that the accident wasn't my fault and then said that he and the officer who had collided with me were leaving because he was taking him to a nearby facility to have a drug test. (Yes.)

Eventually, the officer who would write the accident report arrived. Forms were filled out, and finally, after almost three hours of waiting, I was allowed to leave.

What dire emergency was it that had caused all this? A fellow officer was at an apartment complex a couple of doors down from the parking lot where I waited. A furious male civilian there had been 'beating him.' Every officer possible had rushed to his aid.

In the end, the city reimbursed me for damages. Did I get the repairs done? Well, not yet. I like my 'white badge of courage.' It's not often one can point to the paint scratch and say, "That's police cruiser paint, and the cop put it there himself!"