I had just made the rounds for additional painting supplies and was returning home when a monstrous lady in an older Explorer shocked me back to my days as a traffic cop. There are a number of intersections in and around Springfield where folks use the shoulder as a right turn lane, thus creating an undue hazard for those of us who lawfully turn out of the traffic lane onto the intersecting road. Two cars turning at the same intersection from two lanes, onto a single lane, create an interesting situation, and the collection of car parts in these intersections suggests collision as an all too often result. I looked at this princess and shook my head, a gesture that was met with her disgust, evidenced by her rolling down her window and extending a middle finger at me while clearly suggesting that I should go home and entertain sex with myself. My blood pressure jumped, and this witch had invoked what is referred today as “road rage”, but I knew better than to respond……….
Virtually every trooper begins his or her career as a traffic cop. In Missouri, troopers are involved in any number of mostly law enforcement activities, many of which are far more glamorous than traffic enforcement. I have great respect for our criminal investigatory prowess, indeed once commanding the Bureau which provided these services, but my heart goes out to the men and women who work hard to lend dignity to the movement of traffic on our roads and streets. Traffic crashes cost America 871 billion dollars a year, and in 2015 resulted in 38,300 folks being killed while another 4.4 million good people were injured. The regulation of this great enterprise is in the hands of traffic cops, a challenging and rewarding business. Traffic accident investigation has evolved tremendously from the days of a number 2 pencil and a simple two sided form which captured the basic identifiers at the scene of an accident……and not much more. There was no blank on this form where the officer could indicate road rage as a contributing circumstance, although we often saw unmistakable signs of rage as a possible factor in a crash. The ability to instaneously respond to errant behavior on the road was a tool in the traffic cop’s repertoire, and was rewarding in ways that are hard to explain. With this disclaimer in place, let’s have a look at the gratifying aspects of this business that is seldom featured in dramas written for the big screen and television.
Under the watchful eyes of Jim Lauderdale, the prosecuting attorney and Roger Slaughter, the associate circuit judge, two energetic young troopers were turned out in Lafayette County to enforce the many pages of traffic law. It may have been the busiest and most rewarding years of my career. Mike Mulholland and I established an early work ethic that saw thousands of citations issued and hundreds of crashes investigated to the best of our ability. We were in fertile grounds for traffic cops with a busy interstate and a rather large rural population base in a tier county just outside of Kansas City. In those days, you attended to the needs of the drunk driver you just arrested from the moment you approached his vehicle until you slammed the jail cell door behind him. The look of horror in the drunks eyes as he was hustled into a cell and the reassuring clank of the closing door behind him was exceedingly gratifying. Today, when I see an obviously intoxicated driver in traffic, I have few options and it invokes an anger that is short of rage, leaning heavily toward frustration. The drunkest individual that I arrested during my career, first name Carl, was busy driving back and forth, from ditch to ditch, across M-213 near Higginsville, Mo. I knew immediately that I had a bell ringer….Carl was not a mean drunk, rather a nearly comatose one who complied with my commands without question. I handcuffed Carl and placed him in the front seat of my Sergeant’s patrol car, borrowed for the night as mine was being serviced. Somewhere between Higginsville and Lexington, the county seat, Carl, without warning, projectile vomited what appeared to be beanie weenies and cheap whiskey all over the dashboard, radio and my right leg. After wretching, Carl looked at me and announced he was going to be sick, a warning just a little behind the event. To compound Carl’s problems, this offense was a felony, as Carl had more experience with Breathalyzers than I did. I spent most of the remainder of the shift attempting to vacuum vomitis from the air conditioner vents in the sergeants patrol car. This arrest was gratifying, no rage here, as I was able to do something about the situation.
On another occasion, Mike and I were working a two car radar operation on I-70, a racetrack on most days. Mike, in the radar car, checked a vehicle at close to 90MPH. As was our custom in those days, I was positioned down the highway far enough to permit my exit from the patrol car to flag the violator down. As the vehicle approached, I noticed it was occupied by at least three black males, who were all returning my gaze with interest. The driver decided he was in no mood for a ticket and accelerated. I gave chase and managed to catch the car within a mile or two, where it suddenly braked hard and slid to a stop on the shoulder. Predictably, I slid past him and stopped in front of the violators car, not a good position to be in. When I approached the vehicle, I determined it was occupied by what appeared to be three black males, all seated in the backseat, with no one behind the wheel! I was able to safely remove the occupants from the vehicle, place them in a search position and begin aggressive questioning that resulted in identifying the driver. To compound my problem, these individuals were cross dressers, and I was unsure if I was dealing with men or women, a situation that was quickly resolved when we arrived at the lock-up. The sheriff, not a particularly patient man, was most helpful in finally determining that we were dealing with folks who possessed mostly male characteristics…..if you understand what I mean. This arrest was gratifying, no rage here as I was again able to do something about a potentially bad situation.
You have to be special to have the passing lanes on virtually every interstate in the country named after you. Such was the case for a meat packing and transport company from Greeley, Colorado. Troopers across the country recognized Monfort Trucking for their big trucks whose drivers were known for speed in the passing lanes. These guys were skillful, but fast, and the arrest of a Monfort truck was cause for celebration. In our day, the outside lane was the Monfort lane….still is to old timers like us. To their credit, when you were able to defeat their radar detectors and CB radios, they were gentlemen, usually sporting creased jeans and tucked in western shirts. No rage present when you were able to summons one of these guys, as you were in a position to do something about their propensity to speed.
The difference in our response to stupidity and arrogance on the road then and our response today is why retired traffic cops develop ulcers while driving on our roadways. Then, we could do something about it, now, we quietly seethe and harken back to the day we would respectfully request your operators license and registration. I recall, fondly, stopping by the county jail and offering the greeting of the day to the truck driver, first name Timothy, who knocked down our scale house intentionally during a New Year’s Eve snow storm. He apparently had endured unpleasant experiences at the hands of our weight officers and decided to close the scale house by destroying it. Our Troop commander, then Captain C.E, Fisher, was spared feelings of rage by Timothy’s timely arrest and the placing of a temporary trailer and set of portable scales at the sight of the demolition, thus insuring the continuous operation of the weigh station. The responding officers and their commander were able to stave off rage, because they could do something about the mindless violence of Timothy.
I should note, before closing, that traffic cops also possess some degree of sympathy for the plight of folks who are in bad situations for reasons not entirely within their control. I have warned hundreds off violator’s when a summons could have been issued, chief among them veterinarians hurrying to a remote farm at the beckon of a panic stricken livestock owner, doctors in rural environments summoned to a country ER to attend a stricken individual and obviously very sick individuals who needed a helping hand rather than a scolding hand. On the other hand, I detest littering in any shape or fashion, and had the good fortune to drive an unmarked cruiser for many years, thus putting me in a great position to see the errant beer can or McDonald’s wrapper expelled from a vehicle. I might have excused the violator who was throwing a rattlesnake out of his window, but certainly would have checked to make sure it was alive and presented a danger, before issuing a warning! Today, I can do nothing about the jackasses who discard trash on our highways. I keep Tums handy in my vehicles.
I suppose there are folks who have the countenance of Ghandi, who are unmoved by the stupidity and arrogance of the thoughtless drivers like the nasty old crone who flipped me off over my head shaking at her indiscretion. I am not one of them, rather I suspect I am in the company of most of my readers who have uttered oaths and snarled quietly at the antics of the mindless individuals who have managed to obtain a license to drive. Old traffic cops are textbook examples of restrained road rage…….
…….restrained only because we know better!