Saturday, April 30, 2016

Good Hands

"Working people have alot of bad habits, but the worst of these is work." Clarence Darrow 

Overhead lights.

Snow fell for the second day in a row. The roads were slick, but not icy. Amazingly, there was an accident - a fender bender - in the other lane of traffic. Everyone was out of the cars, and two Lakewood agents - what we call officers - were collecting information and documents from the drivers.

 A woman officer held something in her hand, examining it carefully. The other, a tall young man with glasses, chatted comfortably with one of the owners. He smiled broadly, as did the citizen in front of him. A routine traffic accident, handled expertly by professional police officers.

A newly-minted agent texted me a photo recently, of her uniform shirt bearing her badge. She'd turned in the small recruit badge for the "big" one of an officer now certified to work solo. She'd made it, joined the ranks of those who've been, or are, Lakewood cops stretching back to 1970. The shield didn't strike me as hard as the name plate. 

We are all known professionally by our first initial, and then our last name. My name plate, and the name strips on my cycling uniforms, all say "J. GREER." Regardless of rank or assignment, just J. Greer. She is now... Well, that's not the way we do things at Bikecopblog.

Retirement looms large, the concluding years of a long career passing quickly. I have begun the process, in my heart if not my head, of entrusting the profession I love to these men and women, the "kids" working a traffic accident, the friend proudly displaying her uniform. The cherished culture of a proud cop shop now belongs, in a very real sense, to them.

It'll be cool, friends. They have it.

Upstate Gateway to the World

"Reading departure signs in some big airport, reminds me of the places I've been." Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes, Jimmy Buffet (1977).

ROC, courtesy of Wiki
It's hardly a big airport. The first time I visited, to pick up Dad from a business trip in the early 70's, it was truly a glorified train station. Jet aircraft had been landing there for barely half a decade. One awaited the arrival of friends or family at the gate. Security, if it could be called that, was probably a retired cop who strolled through the terminal trying not to look bored.

Rochester was a vibrant, growing city with something of a singular focus. It is only a mild exaggeration to say that most of us grew up with parents who worked either for Xerox or Kodak. Both companies were in their prime, hogging huge market shares of monster industries. So many people passed through the little airport that it was expanded to accommodate the new 250 passenger DC-10.

Our family didn't fly much. I took advantage of student fares, flew every once in a while when the kids were babies and, in the 80's, caught military hops out of the side door of Concourse A when I served in the Naval Reserve.

You're waiting for a point.

I'm sitting in a concourse pub, watching the planes come and go. The rum drink is frosted over, the extremely loud, brassy city girl bartender telling a story about how she recently broke a stool over a patron's head. "I don't mind offending people" she shouted to the gruff biker ex-history teacher from Boston hitting on the pretty businesswoman. I assume it's practice, or habit, on the part of the biker dude. Or, he's an extrovert. He has given no indication he even knows the old man with the pad ten feet away from him actually exists. He isn't supposed to notice.

I've probably flown into, and out of, this airport fifty times since I returned to Colorado to resume my police career. Many of the flights were so ordinary that they have long been forgotten. But, not all.

One of the first, the result of a cheap fare offered in conjunction with American Express, was undertaken on an old Delta 727, just weeks before the type fell out of scheduled service. I had an exit row all the way in the tail - perhaps 6 feet to the seat in front of me. Across the aisle, the seal on the service door whistled loudly. Just outside the thin layer of aluminum, three engines turned jet fuel into noise. It was one of the most comfortable flights I ever had.

Daughter Katy and I took "advantage" of dirt cheap tickets from fledgling Vanguard Airlines, flying in an ancient 737, destination Buffalo. On the hour-ish drive to my parent's home we stopped for coffee. I bought my mom a latte - the first of perhaps a hundred over the course of the next 15 years. It became a refrain. "Buy me a latte," she would say when I called from the airport upon arrival. Our flight home was delayed by a thunderstorm from hell, with an arrival at Chicago Midway so ragged the guy next to me sighed with relief. "Good enough," he said as we splashed to a stop. Three weeks later, Vanguard ceased operations.

I was a regular at a small restaurant in Boston's Logan Airport during a period when I headed to Rochester three, four...five times a year. I had the same waiter, who was so used to my order - a bowl of lobster bisque and a small bottle of white wine - that he never gave me a menu. On one trip with a Boston connection I could clearly see the glorious Finger Lakes shimmering in the sunshine as we flew over my final destination, thirty thousand feet and, it turned out, almost eight hours away.

I sat next to several fearful fliers along the way. A "puddle jumper" Embraer 145 bobbed and weaved its way down final, while the nice woman next to me clutched the tray table in front of her. "Is this normal?" she asked. Having flown in small planes with the Navy, I could confidently answer...maybe.

Until the airlines discovered that people would pay a premium for...premium seats,  I was successful getting seat 1A on smaller American Airlines craft. I met several delightful flight attendants, whose seat was mere feet away. They were as bored as me, so striking up a conversation was easy. One, a young lady from the South, talked about how she had dreamed of being a crew member, sitting on her back porch every night until a plane flew over. She and I killed nearly two hours of a ramp hold talking about our jobs. When she pressed the button for the canned "Seat belt and life jacket" speech...Spanish. I laughed, she told me to shut up. She made it into an Amy Painter manuscript - I often wonder what became of her.

US Air cancelled more than a few hops, although I accidentally discovered the best wings in aviation when rerouted - a small joint in Pittsburgh, an airport that looks like a mall with runways.The best concourse margaritas are in a Mexican restaurant in Detroit. Hot dogs in Chicago Midway sit best over the long flight to Rochester if the jalapenos are kept to a minimum. 

Northwest Airlines pilots (absorbed by Delta in 2010) are humorless. We were halfway down the runway on landing at DIA, and still fifty feet above the ground, when the A320's crew decided to go around. Rather than extend gently to the north, they gunned the engines and stood the plane on its side. It rocked and rolled, roaring and climbing, as if the pilots needed to get back into line NOW! Out came the barf bags. There was a lot of screaming. Touching down, there was no mention of why the landing was abandoned, just "Welcome to Denver, where the local time is..."

I wrote to the airline, a brief observation that when the crew fly the airframe, not the cabin, a little bit of pilot humor might help soothe white knuckle fliers. "In honor of our go around, everyone gets ten additional frequent flier miles" or something like that. I was informed - tartly, I might add - that passenger safety is their most pressing concern. Roger that.

I don't have fifty more trips to Rochester in me. That's a shame. I have a million fond memories. That's a blessing.

At the conclusion of each trip I would drive away, my mom standing at her condo door, waving. Only after our kids had grown did I understand what it is like to watch your child drive to an airport to fly home.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Show Me The Money

Law porn alert...

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's passing sent myriad commenters scurrying to their keyboards. It is not an exaggeration to write that a wholesale stampede of pundits, some of whom may have actually known of which they wrote, sallied forth with dire predictions of governmental collapse, as though a Supreme Court having a scant eight members was tantamount to a Marine Corps with no bullets.

The justices have, perhaps accessing greater wisdom, superior intellect or, more likely, breathtaking egos, soldiered on with the business of deciding cases and controversies. Today's decision reveals a court mindful not only of its constitutional underpinnings, but wholly unimpressed with the extra-judicial limits others attempted to place on their deliberations.

In a case all about jurisdiction, Johnnie Roberts and the Supremes duke it out about a lawsuit that has been in the offing since Ronald Reagan's presidency. In 1983 a terrorist attack took the lives of 241 Americans, almost all of them Marines, after an attack on a building used as barracks. The families of the fallen sued, and won. It was something of a reach (the details of venue are really a way) but that isn't what the instant case is about. It's about following the money.

Let's say, for the sake of argument, that you are a multi-billionaire who has somehow been found liable for a judgment of...oh...billions. The money is frozen, but that doesn't mean anything in the ionospheric world of international banking. In a series of paper chases, the relationship between Bank Markazi, the government of Iran (the defendant) and the money became attenuated - which is what any reasonable defendant would do.

A billion dollars. There is no chance - none - that my lovely wife and I wouldn't own a Bahamian island were someone to give me a billion bucks. Goat Cay, for example, is for sale at an ultra-affordable seven and a half million. Let's say I get carried away and get a ten million dollar house, complete with a five million dollar boat dock and a million dollar sailboat. Let's do the math - we'd still have nine hundred seventy-ish (Greer Math) to pay a friend who promised to be my bodyguard. Clearly, the billion and a half being argued over here is worth all the legal maneuvering.

Congress passed a series of laws saying, in essence - "We're often stupid and act idiotically. Often is not always. Don't fuck with our legal system." I know it will confound my good friends of the Right, but the O-man is on board with all of this, issuing Executive Orders (I know, right?) and signing the bills passed in 2012.

Well, to get back to my original point (if you have read this far...sorry). With the skeleton crew available to John Roberts (please, no Ginzberg jokes), six justices had seen enough. Along with the seemingly obligatory nod to the 1803 Marbury decision, at Bank Markazi's insistence they consider the 1872 Klein case. I pretend no previous experience with Klein, about which the Court seemed lukewarm, in any case. Muddling through, a divided and paralyzed Judiciary creaking and groaning in the background, the aforementioned Justice Ginzberg wrote an opinion joined by five others (although Justice Thomas did not join as to one section - yeah,  whatever). That's not the coolest part. Hey, man. Check this out.

Roberts himself wrote the dissent, which Justice Sotomayor joined. Okay, read that again. I'll wait.

Uh huh. Split, not along "partisan, ideological" lines but between six justices who don't see a separation of powers problem, and two who do.

Okay, so what? Well, I decided to read the Harris case, also decided today, on the off chance a cycling friend had somehow gotten dragged into the hallowed halls. Alas - a voter redistricting case from Arizona. Well, they can sometimes be tasty little bits of partisan sniping... Shit. A unanimous court.

Clearly, the Republic is finding a way to live with eight justices (for the moment, at least). So, everybody just calm the frick down.

Rubicon Nightmare

Rubicon: Metaphorically, a point of no return.

Four twenty. 

My daughter Katy posted on Facebook this morning, an excellent and heart-felt recollection of a day of unspeakable horror and loss:

Seventeen years have passed since this horrible day. Most of the victims hadn't even been alive for 17 years and now somehow they've been gone from this Earth longer than they were on it. 17 years ago, this was an unfathomable situation. 
But we will never forget them. We will never forget how it changed our community, changed family friends who were there, changed the way we look at the world and each other. I was 15 and a freshman at a high school not far from there, we sat in math class in utter silence. My teacher was good friends with the principal at Columbine and all he could do was sit at his desk with his head down getting periodic updates from the office. 
My extended law enforcement family was there helping those scared wounded teenagers who fought for their lives inside their own school. An innocence died that day in everyone, an innocence that was never regained. School shootings have become a "when" it happens again not "if."
But we will never forget these precious Souls whose lives were taken far too soon. Today, we pray for them, their families, and the entire Columbine Community who lives with this every single day.
 A courageous man told me, in the aftermath of the shooting, that he had gone home that night and wiped blood and tissue off of his gas mask pouch. He had been part of Patrick Ireland's rescue, caught on film and broadcast all over the world. He wondered what would become of the young man who was so grievously injured in the school's library.

Sadly, the tactics and techniques law enforcement developed in the cruel shadow of Four Twenty have found too-often use. After each such incident officers review what happened, how we responded and what can be learned. Recently, in the midst of a training session designed to teach officers when and how to engage an active killer, one of the scenario facilitators asked tartly, as "gunshots" rang out and the participants hesitated - "What is the correct number of victims we need before we go in and stop that?"

The only acceptable answer, in the aftermath of Columbine and other active killer situations, is zero.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Preparing For The Road to '76

“Let us step into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure.”
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince 

I made every mistake imaginable; some were beyond imagination. With little cycling experience beyond day rides in hometown Pittsford, or college spins around Boston, I nevertheless prepared for a journey to cover four and a half thousand miles over the course of ten weeks. I would do it, alone.

I bought the wrong bicycle, having become enamored of a cutting edge bike, a Viscount with aluminum frame and "sealed" bearings. That they were sealed only meant that when they failed, they could not be serviced, nor replaced in modest shops in small towns. By the end of the ride, neither pedal could be turned by hand.

Long-distance cycle camping was in its infancy, at least as a popular sport. Few manufacturers offered panniers, an old English variation of the French panier, which means bread basket - saddle bags meant to carry items while draped or attached to a rack. Those companies that carried them were quickly overwhelmed by the increased demand in the run-up to a summer that (officials operating Bikecentennial fervently hoped) would see fifteen thousand cross-country cyclists. When the brand I wanted was sold out until 1977, I bought a different pair. The design flaws inherent in these bags became quickly apparent.

As a cold and rainy Rochester spring unfolded, articles and stories about the  approaching Bicentennial celebration filled the airwaves. We were an America still wrestling with the ambiguous end to a long, painful war in faraway Vietnam. President Nixon and his "advisors" had somehow bungled their way onto prime TV, investigated for (and, ultimately brought down by) their involvement in a clownish burglary and ensuing cover up. Yet, down to our souls, we were ready to party.

The grand and the gaudy were everywhere, shouldering their way into the celebratory limelight. The real voice of the season belonged to one man, Charles Kuralt, a reporter for CBS. Chubby and rumpled, balding, jowly - he was "On The Road to '76," traveling in an RV with a bare-bones crew. His voice was at once recognizable, a soft baritone that evidenced no accent, with diction crisp enough to be jovially conversational. What he offered was not portraits of the rich or powerful. From a Slate article written by Seth Stevenson:

 There's the retired fellow who fixes up old bicycles and doles them out to the poor children in his neighborhood. The Kentucky hillbilly who adopted croquet as a hobby and ended up competing against the best players in the world. The Denver man who heats his home with junk mail. The South Carolina town that holds a festival every year to fill in its potholes. 

Kuralt revealed an America made up not of news makers and law breakers, but of ordinary people living common lives in peace. It was (and is) the beauty of our country that the constituent parts are men and women who are as diverse and rich as the land they call home. He reminded us that the blessings of liberty, fought for two hundred years before, allow us to venture forward to find our destiny ourselves, whether at a volunteer fire hall in rural New York, or working in a family restaurant in Rapid City.

Armed with Kuralt's enthusiastic optimism, I accumulated camping and cycling gear, pored over maps and waited for my chance to find the road to '76, and meet people along the way.


Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Best of the Free Life

Well I hear you had an adventurous youth, makin' love in a telephone booth
And I even hear you did a little stretch in jail.
But now you got a big ranch house with a bar
And eight, nine, ten of them fancy cars
And every other week a check comin' in the mail. "I'll Change Your Flat Tire, Merle," (Nick Gravenites).

Noting the passing of country music legend Merle Haggard.

The man always seemed the perfect contrarian. "Okie From Muskogee," a signature piece from the late '60s, was recorded because Haggard was angry at protesters. In his mind, they didn't know any better than the country folk in Oklahoma. He did not want the record company to release "Fighting Side of Me," preferring a song about a white man who falls in love with an African-American woman. He lost, the record company fearing for his reputation.

He'd indeed done "a little stretch in jail."  He was arrested several times as a juvenile, and then as an adult. He ended up in San Quentin prison after a botched robbery (according to Rolling Stone he was pardoned by then-governor Ronald Reagan in 1972). He emerged a changed man, having narrowly escaped participating in a prison break that led to the murder of a police officer and the execution of Haggard's proposed co-conspirator.

He had a string of hits and successes. Many of the songs growled and sputtered at things for which he had little patience. "Rainbow Stew" seemed to suggest that, when politicians did what they said they'd do, we'd "all be drinking that free Bubble Up, and eatin' that Rainbow Stew. Eatin'g Rainbow Stew with a silver spoon underneath that sky of blue." Like that would ever happen, he inferred. He wondered, in the song "Are the Good Times Really Over," if, having been lied to by Richard Nixon, the best of the free life was behind us.

The digital revolution had overtaken music in the 1990's. For those of us who grew up with FM radio and our fingers poised over record buttons, it was like the world was made anew. One could order, for a modest sum, one song at a time. There was piracy, and lawsuits, and haggling over the billions of dollars chasing a technology that refused to be stilled. In the midst of it, dipping my toe into a rapidly filling ocean of sound, I heard Merle sing these lyrics:

I've been throwing horseshoes over my left shoulder.
I've spent most all my life looking for that four-leaf clover.
Yet, you ran with me, chasing my rainbows.
Honey, I love you too, and that's the way love goes.

I had to have that song. It was the first I downloaded, for $.99. The best of the free life - for me and the woman with whom I continue to chase rainbows - was still yet to come. 

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Not Over Till It's Over

"No, Tumbleweed. Bad Tumbleweed." Irv Blitzer (John Candy) in a bar in Jamaica, listening to a radio and screaming at the losing horse he bet on, just before smashing the radio with a pool cue. Cool Runnings, 1993.

"Okay," he says calmly, setting the stick aside. "Next race."

They're still dancing on University Hill in Syracuse. We are...


No S'Cuse Offered

"Carolina was too big and too strong for us. We had to have an almost perfect game." Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim's post game comments to TBS's Craig Sager.

They were flawed. They were fallible. It wasn't almost perfect. Early in the game, tied at 18, one of the Orange stepped to the free throw line. Shooting two. He missed them both. The Tar Heels really never looked back.

In a game where Syracuse had to shoot well, they didn't. Breaks didn't come their way. They had to defend their own basket, but second and third looks for North Carolina were routine. Turnovers came in bunches. The most common sound at the charity stripe for 'Cuse players was a sickening clang.

An improbable run came to an end. Syracuse's men's basketball team wasn't expected to make the tournament, let alone the Final Four.  Along the way, they beat excellent schools, demonstrating heart and determination. 

 Hell, given the turmoil over the course of the season they were lucky to have more wins than losses. I'm still not sure what the NCAA sanctions, suspensions and forfeits were all about. Coach Boeheim wasn't even allowed to be around the team for nearly two months. Yet, this gritty team refused to let the naysayers, the doubters and reality set in until nearly midnight on a Houston evening.

And then... Sideline reporter Craig Sager is battling a particularly nasty form of leukemia. Boeheim told him "I'm proud of you." Sager was a fighter, something everyone should aspire to, an example to follow. And then he complimented Sager's tie, with it's orange highlights.

The players gave a proud, fierce though ultimately vain effort on the court. Their coach demonstrated amazing class afterward. 

We are, proudly, SU.