Why I Patrolled

I still feel it today—the quick panic as I travel down the road at night and catch a brief reflection from the median. Pushing the brakes, already too late, I pass a jet black car camouflaged by the night, its headlights on now, as it comes out onto the road and disturbs the darkness with flashing red lights. Caught, I pull over to the side of the road, the flashing car pulling in behind me, and wait for whatever comes next.

So who is this person who sits like a hunter in a duck blind, who patrols the roads like a fisherman sitting in his favorite spot waiting for the big strike, the one that will make the whole day worth it? For eight years I was this person sitting on the side of the road, only I had a white car, hidden by terrain features, waiting for you to come over the crest, and hoping you were coming fast.

I was three months from graduating high school when a recruiter from the army called asking what I wanted to do with my life. I had no plausible answer to give him and eventually agreed to meet with him. He showed up at my house one night looking exactly like a professional soldier and exuding an air of confidence that filled the room as soon as he walked in. Two hours later, I was hooked. He gave me pamphlet listing all the jobs the army offered and told me to pick two or three and that he would be back in a week to take me in for testing.

I scanned the list as soon as he left. The army offers close to 200 jobs, everything from Infantry to accountant, but Military Police jumped right out at me. It had a lot to do, I think, with some childhood dream of being a police officer. What kid doesn’t look up to the police officer—the loud and fast car, the crisp uniform, the gun and authority. So I called up the recruiter and told him I had decided and eight months later found myself, an eighteen year old kid straight out of high school, patrolling the roads of Fort Benning, Georgia, home of the Infantry and one of the largest Army installations in the United States.

It took me a while to get into traffic stops as I was shy and generally tried to avoid people. At first, I would stick to patrolling the sparsely populated areas of Sand Hill and Harmony Church, miles away from main post, the crowded housing areas and the bustling shopping malls. But I soon grew bored and started stopping people for expired tags and speeding and eventually started arresting drunk drivers.

I found traffic stops to be addicting and was soon going through ticket books at a rapid rate. After being sent to Germany for two years, I was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, where I realized my dream and became a traffic accident investigator. I loved the traffic section because all I did was traffic enforcement. No more dealing with complicated lovers’ spats or drunken brawls at the clubs, all I had to deal with was speeders, drunks, and accidents.

But why did I do it? Was I protecting the community, making the roads safer for everyone? Maybe that was a part of it and it always felt good to get a drunk off the road for the night. But there was more to it. A lot more. That feeling of panic that you feel when you see the car off to the side of the road and know exactly what it is. The dread you feel when you see the car pull out and the lights come on. Imagine sitting in that dark car on the side of the road, seeing that car coming, and knowing exactly what they’re feeling as you reach down and hit the switches that will ruin their night, their month, maybe even their year. That kind of power is intoxicating. And more than just a little dangerous.

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