THERE HAS NEVER BEEN A BLACK CLOUD OVER THIS HEAD
I’ve always been struck by the fact that I have consistently been extraordinarily lucky in my life. Quite the opposite of those who seem to go through life with a perpetual black cloud over their heads. I always achieved everything that I set out to do mostly through hard work and dedication, but I have also had more than my share of extraordinary luck. This brief story is one of many similar ones that have occurred in my life.
The year was 1962, and I was an incredibly immature, 21-year-old rookie police officer for the city of Palo Alto, California, fresh out of the police academy. The first assignment for all rookies was patrolling one of the four foot-patrol beats in the city between the hours of 9:00PM & 5:00AM. There were no portable radios in those days so each officer was pretty much on his own. It was a great way to get used to wearing the uniform with reasonably limited interaction with people.
My first beat had the Humane Society on it, and the sergeant would drop me off there every night to commence my beat so that I could leave my lunch. In the middle of the shift, I would stop by and take a half hour lunch break. The significance of this will be obvious later in the story.
During the months that I did this foot patrol, I can recall only two exciting incidents that occurred on the beat. The first incident happened as I was walking along some rather dark, back alleys in a factory district checking the security of the various buildings. Suddenly, out of the darkness there was a very loud, startling noise. My trusty Smith & Wesson .38 Special cleared its holster almost immediately, but due to my rapid assessment of the situation, a rather large compressor that had started up was saved from receiving six bullet holes.
Two months later, the second incident occurred as I was patrolling when I suddenly heard shots ring out. I ran towards the sound only to come upon the sergeant who had his gun drawn and pointed towards a field across the way where apparently an officer was exchanging gunfire with a fleeing suspect. I drew my gun, and the sergeant said, “What’s that,” pointing at my gun. I looked down at my gun, and the barrel had fragments of potato chips all over it. Remember the lunch venue at the Humane Society? Need I say more? I was not the neatest eater of a bag lunch.
But now for the real excitement. I came to work one night at my usual time of 9:00PM. The regular patrol shift came in at 11:00 to do the so-called mid watch from 11:00PM to 7:00AM. That was the shift that had the most action, and was the shift that I would later always bid for prior to becoming a motorcycle officer. All cops want action. It seems that there were an abnormally high number of officers who called in sick that night. The sergeant tracked me down on my walking beat and informed me that I would be taking a police car and filling in for one of the sick officers.
Understand that up until that day, I had not done any solo patrol in a police car, I did not know the streets of Palo Alto, and I was barely familiar with the radio codes in that I didn’t use one as part of my patrol duties. My first assignment was to investigate a large, multi-car accident that had occurred just outside of Stanford University at the very busy intersection of Embarcadero Road & the El Camino Real. It was the first time I had investigated a traffic accident outside of a simulated one at the police academy. Just when I thought I was about to finish the rather long process of the investigation, a rubber necker made a right turn out of the University while looking to the left at the accident. He rear-ended one of the cars that had been in the accident, leaving me another accident to investigate.
I will never forget the next sequence of events. I reported to the dispatcher that I was back in service, but requested permission to return to the police station to type my two accident reports. The following reply came from my radio speaker: “Negative, 80-R6, respond to the Restwell Motel at 1792 El Camino Real Code 3 (use red lights and siren) – report of a potential knifing.” My heart rate probably increased to the levels I now attain in bicycle races as I raced southerly on the El Camino Real with my siren wailing in the background.
Suddenly, I went flying by a sign that said, “Restwell Motel” – I was probably doing 80 mph – my heart was racing even faster. I braked as quickly as I could, made a U-turn and raced back to my target. As I came flying into the parking lot, I saw a man running rather quickly from an open motel door. I screeched to a halt, jumped out of the car, ran the guy down and tackled him. By then, numerous police cars were arriving at the scene. As it turned out, the guy whom I chased down had stabbed another man in the chest who died en route to the hospital. I had captured a murderer on my first night of patrol. Just another typical story in my long list!
For those of you who are interested in the rest of the story, it seems that the suspect’s wife had been cheating on him. He had heard through the grapevine that his wife and her lover were ensconced in the motel for a little tryst. He admitted to me that if he found them together, he intended to kill the guy, which of course then qualified the crime as first-degree murder due to as the law says, “malice of forethought.” He further stated that when I caught him, his next stop was the Palo Alto airport where he kept his private plane and his intention was to permanently flee the area. The last I knew of him, he was serving a life sentence in San Quentin.
I spent almost 24 hours at work on that shift finishing up my two accident reports and my murder report, which I knew that I had to get perfect in that everyone would be reading it.
Did I mention that the described night did not hurt my police career? I would have become the youngest sergeant ever on the Palo Alto police department had I not landed a job as a pilot for Eastern Airlines.
There is only sunshine over this head – no black clouds need apply!!