Sunday, May 27, 2018

In the Shadows of the Fallen

"The real men, the real heroes, are the fellas that are still buried over there and those that come home to be buried." Edward James "Babe" Heffron, 506th PIR, 101st Airborne Div., "Points," Band of Brothers, 2001.

Memorial Day, 2018. Remember the men and women of the United States military who gave their "last full measure of devotion" in defense of our country. Divided as we are, uncertain of our future as always, regardless of party or outward appearance they offered America The Blank Check. May they rest in peace, knowing that the freedoms they fought for grow stronger every day.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

An Artist For the Heavens

"The star pilot in the class behind Pete’s, a young man who was the main rival of their good friend Al Bean, went up in a fighter to do some power-dive tests. One of the most demanding disciplines in flight test was to accustom yourself to making precise readings from the control panel in the same moment that you were pushing the outside of the envelope. This young man put his ship into the test dive and was still reading out the figures, with diligence and precision and great discipline, when he augered straight into the oyster flats and was burned beyond recognition. And the bridge coats came out and they sang about those in peril in the air and the bridge coats were put away, and the little Indians remarked that the departed was a swell guy and a brilliant student of flying; a little too much of a student, in fact; he hadn’t bothered to look out the window at the real world soon enough. Beano—Al Bean—wasn’t quite so brilliant; on the other hand, he was still here." The Right Stuff, Tom Wolfe (1979).

Al Bean:  Pleasant, persistent, relentless pursuit of required information - give him an office boy's desk and within a week he will know what the president of the company does. Very pleasant fellow to be around, especially if you like spaghetti, which is all he eats on a trip. Carrying the Fire, Michael Collins (1974).

Noting the passing of Alan LaVern (Al) Bean, test pilot, astronaut, painter.

Extraordinary times, extraordinary people. Al Bean was born in Texas, attended the University of Texas and took his commission as an ensign in the United States Navy. He flew fighters during the early jet age, at a time when aircraft teething problems made Naval Aviation a dicey proposition. He became a test pilot, trained by one Charles (Pete) Conrad, Jr. In the early 1960s he applied to become, and was accepted as, a NASA astronaut.

Isn't life strange, sometimes? Bean's former flight test instructor, astronaut Pete Conrad, specifically requested Bean for Apollo 12 after Conrad's original crewmate Clifton (CC) Williams was killed in a T-38 jet trainer crash. Together, Bean and Conrad landed the Lunar Module Intrepid within sight of the Surveyor 3, an unmanned probe that had landed on the Moon two years before. Bean was the fourth human being to set foot on another planet. Unbeknownst to NASA, Bean had smuggled aboard a self-timer for his Hasselblad camera - intent on taking the first Moon Selfie at the Surveyor site. Alas, he could not find it in the gear bag before he and Conrad departed to return to their LM.

Captain Bean went on to command the second mission to the Skylab, a rudimentary precursor to the International Space Station. Of course, Conrad commanded the first.

Once retired, Captain Bean took up painting. He saw things as only a man could - who had seen the Moon not through a telescope, but through a thin layer of gold-impressed glass, his feet planted on the gray, powdery, desolate surface. Some canvases are detailed and formal representations. Others, displaying a bit of humor. All of them painted by a man who was there. He was there.

Al Bean passed away after a short illness. Another space age hero, gone.

I wonder, sometimes, how it is for other generations of Americans to watch as their childhood heroes fade away as octogenarians. Glenn, Armstrong... And Al Bean. There was a day, it seems not so long ago, when they danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings.


Wednesday, May 23, 2018

All About Amy

I don't usually do this.

Read this article. Then, make your donation. Remember the man who will have to go on without the love of his life. And say a prayer for the thousands of men and women like Amy Caprio who put on a police uniform every day.

Pray for the souls of the other four officers killed in the line of duty the day she died.

She was a warrior. We will never forget.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Buck Twenty

We learned about gratitude and humility - that so many people had a hand in our success, from the teachers who inspired us to the janitors who kept our school clean... and we were taught to value everyone's contribution and treat everyone with respect. Michelle Obama.

One hundred twenty thousand views, six hundred posts.

Someone out there is doing the math. The confluence of those numbers must mean something, somehow. But, I know what it means to me.

Thank you.

I know that not every reader found what they were looking for. Many of you have struggle through...or quickly abandoned...some of the posts that promised one thing and delivered something else. Or, nothing. There have been at least a few that provoked some discord and dissention. Along the way I've been blessed with fantastic guest writers, men and women whose gifts with words are breathtaking. I've had some fun, and thankfully sold a few books.

You've seen me through hard times, personal and professional loss. We've celebrated great achievements, laughed off stumbles and bumbles. I've told a few stories, taken you a few places and - I hope - given you some insight into law enforcement as practiced on the ground, by street cops, and the price paid by everyone involved.

If I've made you laugh, or cry, or felt the joys and struggles we've shared... I've done my job. That each of you has chosen, at some point over the last nine years, to open one of my posts, just to visit. that makes me very happy.

Thank you for bringing Bikecopblog onto your screen. I hope that at least one of the six hundred made it into your heart.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

From Farrar-Straus to My House

"The right stuff is the uncritical willingness to face danger."  The Right Stuff, Tom Wolfe (1979).

Noting the passing of Tom Wolfe - author, journalist...story teller.

Book buying was different in the latter stages of the Twentieth Century. Book stores abounded, small and large. Browsing was in and of itself an adventure, part of the charm. To run one's hand over a cover, read a few introductory pages, maybe look at pictures. Then, there was the Book-Of-The-Month Club.

It involved a sort of bait and switch, if that can be seen as a fair label for an accepted procedure. A card would arrive. If one did not want the monthly selection, just mail back the card. Well, I forgot to do that once. The featured selection arrived while I was at work.

The Right Stuff. It was a book about airplanes, and the early years of America's space program. Well... In the privacy of my low-rent apartment I poured a beer, cracked open the book (you do remember the sound, and the fragrance...right?) and started reading.

Wolfe starts with an airplane accident, but from the point of view of Jane Conrad, whose husband Pete was a Navy pilot. Wolfe describes the phone tree of chance, the exchanges of informational snippets among Navy base wives when "something" had happened to someone. We see inside of the anxiety, the horrible uncertainty, and the gnawing fear service wives (this was the 1950s, after all) endured even in peacetime. Mrs. Conrad knows the drill, and when military personnel approach her door she just knows that "something" has happened to Pete.

In fact, Lieutenant Conrad is slogging through the muck of a primordial bog, looking for the airplane that has crashed. It is his job to conduct an on-scene investigation. He finds the aircraft - and the pilot, who is a friend. But, the friend has been decapitated. Wolfe's description of the moment Pete discovers how is pure storytelling gold.

The more I read the book, the more I felt a certain, if humble, connection to these men. I had begun my career as a police officer during a time when more than two hundred men and women were killed while on duty each year. I shared in the pilot's sense of humor (Wolfe's retelling of the pilots' stories about "Accident-prone Mitch Johnson" and his scrapes with certain death are worth the price of the book) and the way they accepted the dangers they faced. And I found, in his words, the way to remind myself that I was willing to face danger, as were my friends. It gave me peace during a time of great personal uncertainty.

Wolfe's other books were quirky, counter-culture. The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby? I enjoyed From Bauhaus to Our House, improbably about architecture. I soldiered through Bonfire of the Vanities not because the subject appealed, but because Wolfe can tell a compelling story.

Wolfe was not without his critics. Neil Armstrong was a fan of the story Wolfe wrote about the astronauts, he said. But, the author had played loose and fast with the facts. It must be said that Wolfe had labeled Armstrong as something of an automaton. Who knows, maybe they were both right.

But it was Wolfe's treatment of Chuck Yeager, the first man to officially exceed the sound barrier, that made the book - and Yeager - famous to those of us for whom the pilot had been a distant historical figure. It seems that Yeager and his friends were known to "knock back a few" at the slightest provocation. The sun setting, for example. Yeager, after a few drinks, decided to go horseback riding just hours before his flight. It didn't end well.

The day of his attempt to break the sound barrier in October 1947, he climbed into his plane - Glamorous Glennis - and discovered that, because of the ribs he had broken after falling off of his horse, he could not close the hatch on his aircraft.

The solution, provided by his friend and fellow pilot Jack Ridley, involved...

But, that would deprive you of the great gift Wolfe possessed. He tells this, and other incredible stories, so well that it is impossible not to be drawn into the book.

Mr. Wolfe, you had an incredible gift. Thank you for sharing it.

Monday, April 30, 2018

A Short Memory About Long Ago

"Before the war, it was said 'the United States are' - grammatically it was spoken that way and thought of as a collection of independent states. And after the war it was always 'the United States is', as we say today without being self-conscious at all. And that sums up what the war accomplished. It made us an 'is'." Shelby Foote, historian, The Civil War, (1990).

It is axiomatic - etched in stone, as it were - that on-line political arguments waste time, offend and confound. Often, the bold statements are baldly false, opinions masquerade as facts and friends...FINOs?...excoriate each other mindless of years, or decades, together. Nothing good comes of entering the fray. Or, does it?

Much has been said, written, screamed about guns and gun laws. It is good, to revisit the text of the Second Amendment:

"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

Americans, and American courts, have struggled with this amendment for two centuries, inasmuch as it is one sentence composed of...

There my writing teacher would get out her famous blue pen and wonder (aloud, at least as aloud as ink on paper affords) which the writer intended as the subordinate clause. Does the right to keep and bear depend on one's status in a Militia, or does the Militia depend on the arms kept and born by the people?

Such was the pretense of the argument into which I waded. A friend had made a reasonable point about an essay posted on line. Another individual (an honest and reasonable man) had pointed out that my friend's beef, and ensuing exchange, were with the author. The author entered the fray and we were off. 

We exchanged pleasantries. There were a few pointed comments. It got me thinking. It got me reading - one recommended book and several I have read before. It brought me back to the initial argument. It brought me back to A More Perfect Union.

I've already written a lot about this subject. The e-book is 360 pages long. Guns, drones, constitutionalists...

And, the story of a young woman of immense character who finds herself torn between ideas as they existed over two hundred years ago, and the here and now of her law enforcement life. It's about freedom, and the price paid to understand and safeguard it in the Twenty-first Century. It is fiction - and I hope it always stays that way.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Boundless Grace

"At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a friend, a child, or a parent." Barbara Bush, Wellesley College, June 1990.

Mourning the passing of a singularly graceful person, former First Lady Barbara Bush.

Imagine Ms. Bush on September 11, 2001. In addition to the profound emotions of anger, horror and grief felt by nearly everyone world wide, her son - President George W. Bush - would be the person to decide what to do about it.

She was not a newcomer to politics. Her husband had been president during a war in the Middle East. George HW Bush was vice president during the largely successful but tumultuous Reagan years. He had once headed the CIA...

Through it all, she showed remarkable stamina. When asked for comments during the difficult years following 9/11 she was invariably supportive of her son, without beating war drums. Whatever advice she may have given stayed between mother and son.

So much has been written about her since she passed. Scores of retrospectives. meaningful quotes and anecdotes. It is tribute to her charm and wit that the bipartisan nature of her funeral is so unusual as to spark comment by the pundits. She was surrounded by her Secret Service detail, who refused to leave her side until she was finally laid to rest, who to a person remarked on her kindness, the lengths to which she went to make them feel valued.

She was once asked, during the Clinton years of serial sexual scandals, if she would find herself the target of similar rumors.

"Oh, I hope so," she responded, laughing.

Fare well, and thank you.