By Michael T. Heath
It was a warm day, causing me to shirk half my territory and stick to the shady side of every street. No matter: there were 1400 parking meters in town, and I was assigned a ton of them. The keyboard of my Alyn 255 hand-held thrummed as I clipped a $12 fine under the windshield wiper of yet another Acura. Cars run in waves in the parking enforcement business: today it was Acuras; yesterday it had been Toyotas. I sighed and ambled down the block, trying to do my job and still hold back from getting all gung-ho about it like most of my co-workers. Some of them acted like wanna-be cops, writing scads of tickets and towing every vehicle they could. (I abhor this attitude, the pain I inflict, and the job itself, but circumstances dictate I’ll keep tapping that damn keyboard well into the foreseeable future.)
My radio crackled to life: “All units. A reminder to be back to the station by noon—sharp. The Chief will be addressing everyone in the conference room.” Our police chief was vaguely militaristic and a stickler for detail. It would not be wise to challenge him today, of all days. I checked the time: 11:38. Better head back; maybe there’d be a few goodies the cops hadn’t yet scarfed up.
The large space was packed to the gills, and the few doughnuts were long gone when I arrived. I snagged a bottle of water and a chair near other members of the parking enforcement crew. Nods all around but little talk—most were thrilled to be among the boys in blue on a big day. A trim man in a spotless uniform strode to the podium and the chatter died quickly. “Good afternoon. We are fortunate to have with us today several officers from the Shelburne, Williston and Colchester police forces to assist with the First Lady’s visit. Additionally, our parking enforcement department is pitching in to fill a few gaps on her route. Deputy Chief Decker will instruct non-BPD people where you’ll be posted.” I’d heard that in Secret Service parlance ‘pushing a post’ was the term used for a station along a presidential detail’s route. It looked as if I’d get the chance to participate (however feebly) in protecting Mrs. Obama just this once in my life.
Assignments given, we caught rides to our appointed stands. Mine was a little-used side road off Main Street which already had traffic cones dotted across it. I waved to my ride and then tuned my hand-held radio to channel 2. This was used exclusively by BPD, and soon clotted up with brief check-in messages from the two-mile stretch of road her VIP convoy would take. When my number was called I responded affirmatively. Turning to look down Summit Street, I saw three vehicles approaching my position. The lead car (an Acura, of course) stopped and a well-dressed woman leaned out her window to ask what was going on. I told her the road would be closed for the next five minutes and she smiled. “Mrs. Obama is coming through, isn’t she?” I nodded and she put her car in park, fiddling with the radio. Before I could speak to them the other drivers had executed swift U-turns and were headed back to see if they could get around the obstruction (unlikely, I thought). I paced comfortably around the mouth of the road, adjusting the orange cones slightly to better cover the area. Another car drove up at a fast pace with windows open and raucous music disturbing the calm air. The driver impatiently revved his engine and tapped his horn, waving me toward his driver’s window. I returned the gesture, unwilling to leave my place in front of the first car. He flipped me off, squealing tires as he rapidly backed into the closest driveway, turned and blared off back the way he’d come. Works for me.
The woman in the front car smiled and we both shrugged our shoulders as if to say, “What are you going to do?” She had adjusted her mindset to waiting patiently, philosophical about the delay. My portable radio crackled once again, warning us the convoy had begun to move out. I turned and watched as four police motorcycles and then a line of SUVs and limousines scooted past and vanished down the street. A few moments later, I was given the “All Clear” signal and I picked up the barrier of cones, waving my lone charge through. She stopped alongside me briefly, unperturbed by the short interruption of her journey. “I didn’t mind waiting for her,” she said softly. “She makes a difference no matter what she does each day.” Her car eased past me and rolled away on Main Street. Perhaps just this once—in a job I detested—I had, too.
Photo provided by Michael T. Heath.