Nothing has been destroyed since the recent Lonsdale demos and the fire. This past week’s violent winds and rain has caused major damage to the last house on Woodford Way and another home on Bittick. The roof of both homes has been nearly blown off to the point that the airport has added caution tape around Woodford, which didn’t exactly hold me back from getting close enough to take a few shots.
Tuesday evening, I found three teenage kids stranded with a flat tire. I drove past them once just before dark, wondering what a bunch of kids were doing in the middle of the street. I drove by them some time later and they were still there… they were stranded. Who knows what they were doing. Maybe they were mudding through the empty plots of land, or maybe they were just cruising too fast down the street. Whatever they did, their the rim was bent up badly and the tire was dead flat. Nevertheless, they’re kids doing no more than I did when I was 16, so I stopped and asked if they needed help. Turns out that they didn’t have a phone and were scared shitless; it was just after dark by this time. They were highly thankful for the use of my phone.
“Yo, Greg? Dude, you gotta help us! We busted up a tire in Ghost Town! Get here now! We’re borrowing some chick’s phone…. Hey- where we anyway? What are these streets called?”
“Chartley and Celburne,” I replied. I turned to the speaker’s brother. “Ghost Town? Is that what you call this area?” He gave me a guilty grin.
“Ghost Town. Yup, Its creepy as hell here! How do you know about this place?”
“I used to live here. Its not that creepy to me.”
“Man, I’m scared as hell. About five other cars drove past us and nobody would stop, so we’re stuck here in the dark! Where are the cops when you actually need them?”
Just as on cue, as if it was some kind of lame fiction novel or crappy sitcom, a cop car pulls up, and turns the flashers on. The kids start cheering the second the cop gets out of the car. The cop opens his mouth, and starts booming.
“What the hell are you all doing here in the first place? There is NO reason at all for any of you to be back here! Why the HELL are you here? ANSWER ME!” He was a giant man, past his middle age sporting a well-honed cop moustache with and an even better perfected cop attitude, plus a doughy gut to match. If this is the way authority greets a situation, with no ‘hello,’ no sense of calmness, but opens with attacks and veiled accusations, its no wonder people have little respect for police.
“Dude, we were cutting through Bridgeton to get to the Mills!” I didn’t believe him at all, but it was a nicely planned retort; you have to give the kid some credit for his quick-thinking under pressure. Or, just maybe he was telling a small ounce of truth. It is hard to lie under pressure. The cop, however, wasn’t convinced but quickly found other reasons to badger them.
“Why didn’t you guys pull the car over then? You’re in the middle of the damn intersection! I should cite you for obstruction of traffic!” His bantering went on as I almost burst out, “The subdivision is abandoned! Even the stop sign was stolen long ago! Traffic isn’t exactly the problem here as much as it is the kids’ safety!” Instead, in my 30 year old wisdom, I decided to keep my mouth shut, when the cop finally rounded on me.
“What are YOU doing here?”
“Letting them use my phone. They looked like they were in trouble.” He didn’t say anything back to me, but started to call for back-up. I believe he was considering to search their car before he bothered to help them with their tire. Another cop had pulled up at this point, a younger guy who I talked to first and explained the situation. He was much kinder and nodded and told me, “Thank you.” The first kid gave me my phone back as the first cop started shining his light into the back seat of the kid’s junker Oldsmobile.
“Hey, thanks, we really appreciate it,” said the tall one.
“Yeah, thanks, man!” said the other.
“Yeah, we really do, thanks for letting us use the phone, ” said the one who called his friend. I replied, “No problem. Hope everything works out.”
“Hey, have a good night, girl! Be safe!”
I took my phone, and left them in their continued verbal abuse by the larger cop, while the younger cop remained silent. One of the kids started to get on the defensive as I got in my car. He was shouting back to the cop about how it was just an accident their tire broke and they really were going to the mall. The real issue here, I thought, is respect. When you show someone a little respect, regardless of age or circumstance, that respect will go a long way. When you open a dialog with aggravated comments, you’re going to get disrespect back. That cop will never win those kids over, and those kids will lose respect for adults and authority faster than they can change a tire. The sad part is, those kids are perfectly capable of showing respect and humbleness, as they did for me.
Driving away, I realized that it was 14 years ago that I had a run-in with that very same cop. Eerily, the situation was almost exactly the same.
It was raining, and it was late. I was 16 and was way past my curfew. My mind was wrapped around a surprise kiss from a boy I liked at a party I was at just 20 minutes earlier when the light at St. Charles Rock Road and McKelvey had changed to yellow. The car in front of me slammed on their brakes at the last second. I snapped out of my blissful recollections and in turn slammed on my brakes. The car instead decided to go through the light, while I am still carrying out my split-second decision to swerve and avoid the car in front of me. I ended up with my front right tire up on a concrete divider, with my tire flat. I went to the gas station right there and called, not home for I knew I would catch all kinds of hell, but the police. Maybe they could help me change my tire, since the kid behind the counter at Shell didn’t seem interested in helping me at all. The booming-voiced cop, a little younger and a sporting a smaller gut, but nevertheless the same attitude answered this call.
“Why the HELL were you going that fast down McKelvey!”
“I wasn’t! I didn’t think the car in front of me was going to stop at a yellow light!”
“Oh, so now you think its funny to get smart with me! You’re going to wait in the car until I call your parents.” He then proceeds to handcuff me and put me in the back of his cruiser and goes into the gas station to avoid the rain and make the call to my home. For 15 minutes, I am crying my eyes out, wishing desperately for the happiness I had 45 minutes ago to come back. My parents come, I get chewed out by three separate adults, and the car gets towed on my dollar to my grandpa’s house so he could fix it. Supposedly, according to the cop, the rim was broken and they wouldn’t let them just change out the tire. My grandfather told me that there is no way I could have been going too fast at all for what little damage there actually was. Nevertheless, the cop gave me a warning for speeding; he told my parents he wish he could write an actual ticket for his inconvenience.
In all fairness, most Bridgeton cops actually are good people. About a year after that incident, I snuck out to go to Dennys with some friends; a random thing teenagers do I guess. At 3 AM on the way back to my house, Mike’s car broke down. A cop came along to see what the problem was, and we explained the issue Mike was having with his battery, and that we all were 18. Seeing that Mike and Troy appeared to be pretty able 18 year olds (actually they were 16 and 17), he told them to go ahead and walk to the service station a half mile away. He looked at me and said, “I’m taking you home. Where do you live?” I, too, was scared shitless; I just told the cop I was also 18 when I was just barely 17, and past curfew for under age. He asked me what school I went to, and we had a conversation about Pattonville- he had kids who also went there. I didn’t tell him that I was in classes with one of them; it would give away my age. I remember thinking how awkward it would be to sit in class with his son in a few hours’ time, knowing his dad just picked me up, knowing his dad would soon talk to my parents and realize I was out beyond curfew.
“So, this is it?” He said, pulling up next to my house.” I nodded and gulped out a quiet, “yes.”
“And I take it that your parents don’t know you’re out?” Again, a gurgling “no” was somehow squeaked out of my mouth. “You really should let your family know where you are going from now on.” He then turned off his headlights, pulled quietly into the driveway and said, “I’ll go and check on your friends. Have a good night.” Shocked beyond belief, I quickly jumped out of his cruiser and waved a quick, ‘bye’ that I hoped also translated as, “thank you.”
I never snuck out again. From then on, I made sure that my mom always knew where I was going, even if she didn’t approve, just for that reason; out of respect. Sure I still did some stupid things there after… but I had the respect to at least let someone know. I still thank that cop for being kind enough to take me home, for sharing a good conversation to make me feel somewhat calm in a bad situation, and obviously, for showing me how to have respect.