July 14, 2008

180 Degrees Of The Law

Charlene asked if I was going to wear a coat and tie downtown. I told her I didn’t want to stand out but blend in. I was thinking more in the way of sandals, raggedy shorts, and a vomit encrusted tee. The dreaded day was here to go to traffic court and deal with my speeding ticket which I was cited for in Anchorage last Derby day. Ben is in full uniform and he will try to “fix” things for me. He didn’t make any guarantees and I didn’t expect any, as a matter of fact I didn’t have high hopes for my fine to just go away. I thought that the officer who cited me would be in a foul mood for having to come downtown and would not dismiss the charge. In any case, Ben’s effort is appreciated very much.
We enter the Hall of Justice and Ben breezes through the doors without having to go through security, whereas I had to de-metal myself and go through the detector. Court security doesn’t, as yet, make you remove your shoes. Ben tells me where to find courtroom 102 and will meet me there later. The wide hallway outside the courtroom is packed with the tempest tossed huddled masses. I walk into the lobby and look into courtroom 102. It is almost empty. I walk in, sit down, and this seems to trigger a stampede of about 250 people to file in also. I didn’t know I would be such a trend setter this morning. The court room starts to become very noisy and a sheriff’s deputy gives the tired speech about being quiet and turning off cell phones out of respect for the court. I see Ben flipping through the tray of dockets up near the bench and I assume it’s mine he grabs, and walks out.

If you enjoy people watching, the Hall of Justice is the place to come. I saw a bouncer sized man who was dressed in his jammies with tattoos covering both arms. I saw a bouncer sized woman stuffed in a pink polyester sausage casing. There was a young man in tee shirt and jeans who sported the “Portland Fade”. This is a style of haircut of which Ben had told me about some time ago. It's popular among the young men of Portland. The hair is cut very close all over and is gradually left longer until it peaks toward the front of the head. A few people were well dressed; most were dressed in raggedy clothes. I saw no vomit encrustations. The bailiff started calling the first group of names off his list. One man’s name was Johnson Jones which struck me as an odd name. I imagined it could belong to either a self appointed cult messiah, a game show host, or a pimp.

Judge Judith Bartholomew looked before her “Barry McClain”. If I had any spit in my mouth I would have swallowed my tongue. I lose my power of speech and stand up. She sees me and says “Are you Barry McClain?” All I can do is nod. “The charge against you has been dismissed, you may leave.” I want to pump my fist in the air and say ‘YES!’ I feel everyone’s eyes on me as I leave and a woman says to me “you’re lucky.” I agree, I am lucky thanks to Ben. Ben is outside in the courtroom lobby and waves an invisible magic wand in the air when I see him. He told me he spoke with the Anchorage officer. Ben told him that he was my son-in-law and could he do a fellow officer a favor. “Do you like him?” Ben said yes and the Anchorage officer granted the dismissal of the speeding charge against me. I treated Ben to breakfast at this little place across from LMPD headquarters and then we left for home. When you're riding in a police cruiser everybody is such a courteous driver, using turn signals (even when changing lanes!), obeying the speed limit, and everyone in front of you magically gets over in the slow lane on the interstate.

Ben recently switched over to work the second shift, which is ten hours long, because he likes to get the four-days-off-in-a-row benefit. We leave Ben and Noelle's in his cruiser about 2:30 and I'm still amazed at what it's like riding among utopian drivers within the one hundred yard invisible bubble around Ben's police car. We see a small pick up truck with a huge flat screen television in the back, strapped down with bungee cords. I hope this isn't the way they're going to deliver ours. We arrive at the First Division station on 29th Street. Ben's beat tonight covers most of the community of Portland. Portlanites are a proud and defensive bunch mostly because they are generally maligned or made fun of by the rest of the city. Portland's population is a largely caucasion island within the mostly black population of western Louisville. The Falls of the Ohio above Portland caused river traffic to stop and people had to portage themselves past the falls before continuing on their journey. This is how Portland became a small town. A series of locks were built at the Falls in the mid 19th century which increased river traffic and therefore increased the size of Portland even more.

I think one of the best advantages of being a police officer is the convenience of driving and parking anywhere you want to when you're downtown. Ben wants to go down by the river, under I-64, which is a frequent hang out for the homeless. Ben drives down the narrow asphalt paved River Walk and sure enough we come upon three of Louisville's homeless, two men and one woman. They all wave at us from their lawn chairs like they couldn't be happier to have company. They all appear to be in their forties and the two men have tattoos all over their shirtless torsos. Ben doesn't hassle them too much and we leave them in their gravel and broken glass strewn living room, interstate roof, and a fine view of downtown through their non-existent window. I can't imagine a more hellish existence.

A call comes over the radio which sends us to the YMCA, where a man in room 308 slit both his wrists with a rusty razor blade. Walking through the halls of the YMCA reminds me of the dorms at UK. Ben recognizes the man as a previous arrest of his. The man is a year younger than I am and has been to University Hospital before for suicide attempts. There is blood all over the room but the wounds are now coagulating and it appears to me as a half hearted attempt. He agrees to a voluntary stay at University Hospital again and EMS drives him away. Another case of chronic depression. The man will get medical attention, psychological counseling, and probably a few anti-depressants thrown in for good measure.

The "highlight" of the patrol that evening was a call about females fighting at 22nd and Muhammed Ali. We get there and Ben is talking to some of the girls there who were involved in or witnesses of the fracas. I was standing well away from Ben and the other officer who came to assist, thinking this was a boring dispatch. I see Ben and the other officer go down an alley with their flashlights on and about a half a block away I hear POP POP POP... POP POP.. POP POP. At first I thought it was left over 4th fireworks which we had been hearing off and on all evening but then I hear women's voices "Oh my god, they're shooting at us!" among other shouts and screaming. Ben comes running out of the alley and says to me "jump in". I feel the urge to do a Bo Duke style slide across the hood of Ben's patrol car.

We're booking down Muhammed Ali at least 80 mph, looking for an iffy description of a white Dodge Charger...Yeeeehawwww. We fly down random streets in the area looking for a white car and then we hear on the radio that another officer has stopped a white car that sped up when the police car turned in behind him. We drive there and it's a white Marquis. The alleged shooter is lying on the street in cuffs. They're turning the Marquis upside down looking for the gun but find none. It wasn't the shooter but the search turns up a bonus of hidden marijuana. Ben and I go back to where the shots were fired and look for shell casings but find nothing.

Ben's driving real slow down Duncan in Portland and then comes to a stop and points to a house and says "That's was Harold Tabor's last known address in Louisville." I get out and take a picture and a woman comes out the door asking what we're doing. She appears slightly drunk. EVERYONE in Portland, it seems, is in various stages of drunkeness. I say "Do you know Harold Tabor?" She says, "yes, he's my half brother, we have the same mother." Instantly I can see her resemblance to Mama Tabor, particularly the red hair and green eyes. At one point she says Harold was a crazy genius. I'm not so sure about the genius part, but it's a sure bet Harold was way off the bell curve for normal. She asks if Ben and I want to come in and have some beans and cornbread Ben says no maybe later and as we're driving off we hear her say "you like that $h1t?"

The evening brought us to twenty-two calls, most of the calls were for fights, threats, and general trouble. Most all were appreciative of the police response and I heard several thanks-you's. I've been in Portland before and it never ceases to seem unreal, as if I'm in some kind of theme park, complete with drunken Disney-like animatronics. I feel fortunate to live where I do and thankful for Louisville's finest, who enforce the laws and are all we have between between order and anarchy.

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