Sunday, June 8, 2008
Life in a Sandbox
I shall never forget the thrill of my first traffic stop. The look in the driver’s eyes as I approached her vehicle, the power I possessed, the authority to make life in a small town safer for all. The driver’s eyes filled with distain, fear and respect, all clearly visible to me, the small town cop. It was this young lady’s lucky day. She would be let off with a stern warning this time and an invite to come over and play later, a smooth move for an 8-year old with a badge. My patrol vehicle was a 24” black Hiawatha bicycle from Gambles. My light bar consisted of me blinking each eye in an alternate manner. My siren was a pretty good imitation of a cat slowly being run over by paving equipment, long before the woo-woo-woo type of sirens that are now so common.
My traffic violator, on that sunny summer day, was the girl next door. We were born on the same day in our small northwest Montana town. I guess she learned her lesson. A highly respected member of our community, I still see her driving around town with her kids. I’m pretty sure she still has a clean driving record as well. Glad I could be of service.
I think that day on the sidewalks of the Lincoln County Courthouse was the day I knew at some point in my life I was going to be a law enforcement officer. It was a good day. I also made a decision that if I was going to be an officer, I would not allow myself to indulge in illegal drugs. That decision is one I have stuck with to this very day.
I really don’t know for sure where the desire to become a cop came from, but it ran deep in my veins. When I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, it was very natural for me to say, “I am going to be a policeman!” I knew that it would come to pass for what ever reason. There were some outside influences of course. Television shows of good guys were prominent in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s - Robert Crawford in “Highway Patrol”, “The Andy Griffith Show” and “Dragnet” just to name a few. My favorite was about a pilot, “Sky King”, who lived on a ranch. Although he wasn’t a law officer, he was a good guy who helped the sheriff out in most episodes. I wonder how many of the kids I grew up with in Libby remember when Sky King came to town with the Carson Brothers Circus. He made a great impression doing trick shots with a six-shooter.
After the show was over, we all lined up in the center ring to shake his hand and get an 8x10 black-and-white photo of him signed right in front of us.
It was a great day and to celebrate, my sister and mother drove me to the “A&W” drive-in, which is but a memory now, long since torn down to make room for a hotel. I was happy, but something just wasn’t right. I ate my hamburger and some of my fries and swished it down with a swig of chocolate milkshake. A great combo, but there was a smell that just wouldn’t leave my senses. The smell was of the large, smelly elephant that was paraded before us in one of the rings during the show. I couldn’t get it out of my head or nostrils. That great combo wasn’t so great when it ended up on the pavement next to the car. I take a moment now to apologize to the carhops who worked at that A&W that day, including one of my sisters. To A&W, it wasn’t your food, it was the damn elephant. To this day, I retch when I smell one of those stinky things.
The 8x10 photo of Sky King remained close for many years, hanging on the wall of my bedroom. Unfortunately, it disappeared sometime after I left home in 1973 for the service, along with many of the things that helped me develop my imagination when I was young. Today I could buy some of the same items on ebay, or at least items like them, but it just wouldn’t be the same. And just like Libby’s A&W, Sky King is no longer with us.
Randy J. Cole