Friday, November 14, 2014


"Darling, I don't know why I go to extremes.
Too high or too low, there ain't no in betweens." I Go To Extremes, Billy Joel, Storm Front (1989).

In the process of researching my soon-to-be-released novel The Heart of the Matter, I talked my way into a ride along with the Collier County Sheriff's Department in sunny Florida. They surround Gulf-side Naples, and extend into the scrub of Everglade country to bump up against Broward County. I arrived on time at the North Naples substation, and met "Skinny Vinnie," a corporal. He was tall and stout, a native of Long Island who had come to Florida after military service. He was talkative, proud of his organization and the kind of aggressive cop I'd love to have on my team. He drove with abandon to a nothing call (a deputy taking a routine report wasn't answering her radio) and, when I asked why, Vinnie replied stoically "In the next county over they lost three people last year. We take nothing for granted."

Of course, the subject of weather came up in the five hours I spent with him. February in Naples is soft and sweet. The sea breeze offsets Florida's bright sunshine, so that 70's and 80's are not uncommon. Naturally, the summer heat can be daunting.

"I'll bet you guys don't do much traffic direction when it's ninety-five degrees," he observed.

My reply - "Not often" - was more polite than accurate.

Several summers ago, four hours into bike patrol, my usual partner and I decided to stop at the substation to cool off and refill our water bottles. She made the mistake (or exhibited the good sense) of looking at the weather app on her iPhone. "Hey, this says it's a hundred degrees!" Change of plans. We got back into our cars. Our air conditioned cars.

In December of that year, working day watch, I rolled up to a call. I glanced at the car thermometer to see if I needed a hat - it was a brilliantly sunny Colorado mid-day. "-2" it displayed. Yes, I would need a hat. But I was lucky. The night shift cops had worked in seventeen below conditions the night before. It had snowed, those tiny flakes that appear when it's seems the air itself has frozen.

I was a brand new officer in the early Eighties when I was "voluntold" to direct traffic in the middle of a storm at a busy intersection. An early fall blizzard had brought down tree branches, cutting power to much of the community. It was snowing so hard that I could not see even one block. Steady dabs of thirty three degree droplets ran down the back of my neck and under my vest. Twenty degrees, snowing sideways and I'm soaked, cold and miserable. After two hours I was relieved by someone else.

A few days later I was taking a report near the same intersection. The victim of the minor crime observed that the day was nicer than had been those previous. "Some poor guy stood in that intersection for hours, directing traffic," he said. "I felt bad for him. I almost brought him out a cup of coffee." Nice.

"The weather in Denver tends to be beautiful," I told Vinnie. "At least we don't have your humidity."

No reason to go to extremes.

1 comment: