I was listening to my all-time favorite interviewer, Milt Rosenberg, talk to a few Chicago cops. Like most cops talking in public, this interview starts out a bit stilted, but they open up by the end.
[I was on this show last year--my life's dream! I've been listening to Uncle Milt for about 30 years (and I'm only 38). He would come on after away Cubs games and I would just listen even though I was far too young to understand all the discussion. I think he's why I'm an intellectual. And just for the record, Milt is quite conservative (though I think he's become more conservative over the years). But, unlike, say, Rush, he's an intelligent conservative. Listen to this discussion about Obama to hear his show at its best.... Now if only I could figure out why my interview isn't on their archives.]
One of the cops, Martin Preib, wrote a wonderful book, The Wagon and Other Stories From the City. I keep meaning to write on it but haven't (his book is not the only thing I mean to write on but haven't). It's great. Buy it. Read it. If you're reading this, you'll like Preib's book. It's not super light reading (published by the University of Chicago) but I mean that in a good way. The guy can write. And it reads really really well. It will stand the test of time.
So these guys got me thinking. Brought me back to the old days (shocking to think it's been 9 years since I've walked the beat).
Here's one thing I don't miss about being a cop: Hyper-Alertness (I just made that term up).
What do I mean?
1) When you walk into a store, is your first thought, "Is the place being held up?"
2) When you're looking in the mini-mart fridge, are you looking in the reflection in the glass to see who enters the store?
3) When you enter a room of strangers, do your eyes move to people's hands?
4) When you sit in restaurant, do you always sit with your back to the entrance, ideally with your back to wall?
5) Do you assume that everybody is lying?
6) Is the thought of taking a nap in a public park completely insane?
7) Do you always carry a heavy badge and credentials?
8) Do you feel a bit naked without your gun?
9) When you're off duty, does the thought of hearing these words terrify you, "I know you!"
10) (...if you're a cop, feel free to add what I'm forgetting.)
If you're a cop, you'll say yes to all these things. These are the things that just come natural to cops. If you're a cop, you can't imagine doing otherwise.
I quit the P.D. in 2001. It took about two years before I could stop carrying my badge (though during that time I never pretended I was a cop). It took another two years and taking another job (my current job) before I could ignore the above rules and... relax.
And remember, I was only a cop for two years (and I'm a pretty relaxed person by nature).
Being hyper-alert is part of the job. It keeps cops alive. And if you start being hyper-alert, it's not something you can just turn off in public.
[If you're not a cop but happen to ride a bicycle in the city like I do, you can kind of understand hyper-alertness in a different way (at least if you're alive to read this). Now imagine that level of alertness 24/7.]
But being hyper-alert doesn't make life more fun. Ignorance can be bliss. Sometimes it's nice to tune out. Sometimes it's nice to put on headphones, blast techno music, and ignore everybody around you. Because if you're not a cop, there's a good chance that nobody will hurt you.
And you know what? Most people can live all their lives oblivious and unarmed and die peacefully in bed surrounded by loved ones.
I don't miss being hyper-alert. I'm happy I'm no longer hyper alert. Though obsessionally something will trigger it.
Does not being hyper-alert make me less safe? No doubt. But not being hyper-alert makes me so much happier.