Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Policeman at Scottsdale Pavillions Car Show

I’m peacefully admiring a 1968 Jaguar XKE. For some reason, no one else is. Do they not realize what this car is?

No matter. I’ve been wanting some alone time with a quality classic like this. And this one is all business- just beautiful.

My face is inches away from the front left wheel (checking the spokes for specks of dirt and finding none) when I hear a voice behind me.

“What a car! It looks great!”

I straighten up, and face the voice. It’s a policeman.

Now a few years ago I would have instantly turned a sweaty, nervous pale color. But not anymore.

“Oh it certainly is,” I smile. I quickly think of reasons he could have picked me out to approach in particular.  I must feel him out, play this right.

“Well what, uh. What is it?” he asks, rubbing his chin, eyeing the car.

“It’s a ’68 E-type, Jaguar. You’ll see examples like this every year at the Barrett Jackson auctions going for new-house type money. My dad had a white one when I was a baby.”

He nods at the Jaguar. We both do for a moment. He appears to think I’m this car’s owner, letting his guard down completely.

Do I really come off as that… mature?

“Wow well it sure is pretty. My wife, she knows all about cars and stuff. It’s her thing. I bet she’d be all freaked out over this one. I don’t know cars very well. But you know I figure I’ll get a muscle car or somethin’ pretty soon. Retirement’s gonna happen soon.”

"Well a good number of these are for sale?" I gesture to the lot of '60s Camaros and Mustangs.

He grins some good teeth. Certainly doesn’t look retirement age. I’d say upper 30s to early 40s. Short cropped sandy hair. His skin is nicely reddened by a long day under the sun. His gear makes him look bulky, but underneath, I know he’s my height and weight. Normally cops act large and in charge, but not this one.

From his relaxed, friendly demeanor, he seems much happier just blending in like anyone else.

“So what brings you here?” I ask.

“Well they called in and said they needed me at the McDonald’s. And I was like, heck yeah.” He taps the little radio on his shoulder. It chirps garbled words and numbers which he pays no mind.

“I was workin' the baseball game this mornin'. They pay good for that one too. I mean it’s been a long day, but workin' the McDonald’s is my favorite gig man.”

He tells me about the owner of this particular McDonald’s. The one that hosts this weekly car show, arguably the most popular and longest-running car show in Arizona. He knows the owner very well, and has for years. 

Mr. Policeman tells me his name, which is John. Officer John's handshake is just like mine in grip, though his fingers are shorter and thicker.

We’re discussing which restaurant chain he should start getting into after retiring from police work, when his pants ring.

He takes out a smartphone from his pocket, slides his thumb across it, “Oh it’s the wife, hang on. Hey honey. Yeah I’m here…. What? Oh I don’t know what that is… sure, sure, I’ll come look at it. Just gimme a sec. Okay. Love you too. Yes. Okay.”

He thumbs the phone off and puts it back in his pocket, a little embarrassed.

“She’s here. Says there’s some Buick here and she’s all excited.”

“It’s probably the GNX,” I offer. He doesn’t know what a GNX is, he smiles and shrugs bashfully.

I notice eager onlookers now. From a distance, they think I’m in trouble with this cop. Like something's about to go down.

I imagine getting into the E-type, yelling something about you’ll never catch me copper and skidding away.

“So how long you been working this gig, John?” I ask.

“Years, man. They pay forty bucks an hour for this. Sometimes fifty. So I get to look at some cars, the wife’s happy, and then I get to catch a few kids bein’ crazy later on. It’s the best!”

“Crazy kids, hmm?” I say, thumbing to a burnout in the distance.

“Yeah, that kinda crap. I mean come on dude, we got a great thing here. Why ya gotta do stuff like that,” his brow furrows for a moment.

Even with his gun, and his furrowed brow, he still looks miles from intimidating.

“Little while back there were at least a dozen of us workin' this, I’d guess. This week is pretty mellow though,” he says, nodding at the scene around us as he spoke.

He tells me about the ‘riff raff’ that show up later on. And how it doesn’t completely stop until after midnight sometimes.

"It's like every week there's a new batch of morons. Excuse my French," he shakes his head, hands on hips like a disappointed mother.

"You wouldn't believe sometimes, though. You get these kids with daddy's money out here. They don't care about anything, they never earned a cent of it.”

"So they don't care about crashing it, either," I respond. John nods.

"In Phoenix, you know it's just like little old Civics and Altimas with silly wings. But at least they bought it with their own money. They're less likely to do something crazy, because they're worried about hurting their car. These kids out here though, are spoiled. I mean you get a 16 year old kid with a brand new 500hp mustang and it's big trouble."

“You need to get in their head, John. Don’t just ticket them. They won’t learn."

"Whadya mean?"

"You gotta tell them they’re an embarrassment to the scene when they act like that. And that real car guys find their public-road burnouts and crap irritating. Like, prove it at the track, son.

He laughs. “Good idea, think I’ll try that!"

After a bit more chit chat about ‘kids these days’ John’s pants ring again.

“Well Andrew. I should probably get goin'. The wife, you know how they get and stuff.”

I smile and shake his little hand again. Then we part ways.

I hear a slight groan of disappointment around us. No, I’m not a criminal, people.
 If anything, I look like an undercover, just chumming with a coworker. I felt kinda cool about that.

An hour later, I’m moving through the crowd towards my car to leave.
“Hey it’s Andrew again!” Officer John beams. Like I’m the only friend he’s got here.

I smile and wave to him, to some surrounding confusion, get in my car and drive off.

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