Front Row Seat
to go: 335.69 [ytd: 1,666.31]
kid looks about
sixteen or seventeen years old: soft, well-heeled, dressed for a Good
Time Saturday Night ...
and obviously scared
has just been
remanded to the custody of his seriously
not-happy parents. Mom is crying ... the kid is trying not to cry ...
Dad looks like he's probably going to get around to crying, eventually.
(Just as soon as he
some Stoopid Teenaged Butt, that is.) Everybody is crying, in fact,
except for the stoic young arresting officer. As the family stands
there in the lobby of the police station,
sniffling and weepy, the
officer somberly reads the list of charges being brought against the
kid and his buddies. Driving without a valid drivers license. Running a
stop sign. Possession of a controlled substance. Possession of drug
paraphernelia. Possession of stolen property.
attempted to use a
stolen credit card to purchase gas," the officer says to the parents.
Which, he adds, is a felony.
we bought with the
credit card was gum," the kid sullenly interjects. His father gives him
a look that says Open your
mouth again, Buster, and you won't even be able to CHEW gum for the
next year and a half.
and I look at each
other, shaking our heads. "See?" David whispers to me. "This is exactly
why you cancel the credit cards, first thing." Otherwise some dumbshidt
teenager is going to be filling his gas tank and charging Bubbleyum on
your MasterCard before nightfall.
nod. Point taken.
love "Cops." It may
not be the most cerebral program on television -- or the classiest
program on television, or the highest-rated, or the most exciting, or
the most anything at all except for what it is: a bleak and unadorned
look at humanity at its most unloveable. But for us it's like a
mandatory weekly refresher course in Drunk & Dysfunctional 101.
It reminds us why we got sober in the first place ... and why we want
that way. It follows the same formula, every week: two or three
depressing segments, followed by one segment that ends on a positive
note, just to restore your faith in people. Plus it's a great Saturday
night *Snuggle-Up-And-Fall-Asleep-Together Show* ... especially after a
long Saturday spent abusing ourselves on the bike trail.
that this week
we're not watching "Cops" from the comfort and privacy of our big messy
bed, surrounded by pillows and pizza boxes.
week, we've got
a front-row seat for the action.
If someone had told me
-- as we were setting out on Saturday morning for our routine 45-miler
the trails of Contra Costa County -- that we would end the day sitting
in a police station, watching somebody else's family come unravelled, I
would have suspected that they'd been huffing the Magic Markers again.
(But then again, if
someone had told me that riding forty-five miles on Saturday would ever
become "routine," I would have suspected the same thing.)
Saturday was tough: a
physically-punishing/ emotionally-rewarding six-hour endurance contest.
When we were finished, we hauled our
trail-battered butts -- and bikes -- back to the Subaru and immediately
headed off in search of lunch. This has become the rule: we try to put
food into us within thirty minutes after a big ride. Otherwise we tend
to collapse, after a little while, like a couple of Hallowe'en
pumpkins left sitting on the front porch until Thanksgiving.
Ordinarily we stop to fuel up at a nearby Walnut Creek diner -- fifteen
minutes from end-of-the-ride to beginning-of-the-Tuna-Melt, tops -- but
we got to downtown Walnut Creek on Saturday afternoon and discovered it
was in the throes of its 43,897,621st *festival* of the year. This time
it was The Harvest Festival, I think ... or the Nut Cup Festival, or
the Butter Squash Festival, or the *Who Says We Need A REASON,
Forcryingoutloud?* Festival. (I honestly can't remember). Parking was
out of the question. So we wound up getting on the freeway and driving
all the way back to Oakland instead, to our #2 lunch destination
Forty minutes later we
were parking in front of the old reliable Buttercup Cafe.
As I unbuckled my
seatbelt and rearranged the Spandex -- dreams of coleslaw and Club
Sandwiches dancing in my head -- David began digging around in the
console between our seats, casually at first, but then with
"Have you seen my
wallet?" he said finally.
"You had it when we
loading the bikes into the car," I replied. "I saw you take it out of
the bike bag, and then you put it ... "
We looked at each
"On top of the car,"
dispatcher waves at us from across the lobby of the police station.
called," she says with a twinkly smile. "He's wrapping up a stolen
vehicle investigation, but he should be here within fifteen minutes. He
said to apologize for the delay."
assure her that it's
fine, we're OK, don't worry about us ... we don't mind waiting. We've
got a big stack of City of Concord Annual Reports to read. We can
admire the architecture some more. (The Concord Police Station has been
recently remodeled, apparently, and it's really quite remarkable: all
vaulted ceilings and cantilevered skylights. It's a little bit like
sitting in a cathedral.) If all else fails, I can always drag out the
cell phone and play a couple rounds of Space Impact.
we don't tell the
dispatcher, of course, is that David and I would probably pay good
money to sit here and watch the family drama being played out right in
front of us.
now Mom has been
doing most of the talking, chastising her errant son in her
buttery-soft Hindi accent. Didn't
we tell you not to hang around with that no-good friend of yours? How
could you let him drive your brand-new car? What were you thinking? Why
were there drugs in the car? Who did the drugs belong to? They weren't YOUR
drugs, were they? What were you doing, driving around with somebody
else's drugs in your brand-new car? Do you want to turn out like Cousin
(Insert Indecipherable Name Here)?
now Dad steps in, unable to contain his anguish any longer.
is the thing we
have done to deserve this?" he says, voice breaking. "Your mother and
I, we give to you everything ... everything
... and this is how you repay us?"
kid looks down at
his $200 sneakers and doesn't say a word.
We turned right around and
went back, of course.
We didn't even stay
enough to have lunch: we immediately zoomed out of The Buttercup Cafe
parking lot, got on the freeway and drove the forty miles all the way
back to Alamo, to the exact spot where we'd parked the Subaru seven
Once there, we
searched the side of the road, the ditch, the bushes,
the grove of oak trees next to the trail ... but the wallet wasn't
there. We didn't really think it would be, but you know how it is: we
wouldn't have been able to sleep that night if we didn't at least go
back and look.
After that, we drove
around all the neighborhoods
bordering the trail, and then we retraced our route from the trail to
Walnut Creek -- keeping our eyes open, the whole time, for a slim brown
leather wallet laying by the side of the road -- but after about an
hour of fruitless searching, we finally gave up and headed for home.
The wallet -- my
birthday present to David, earlier this year -- was gone.
"We'll cancel my
cards first," David said, as we drove back to Alameda. "And then you
should call your bank and cancel your ATM card." (I routinely stick my
debit card into his wallet when we're out riding, just in
case I encounter a once-in-a-lifetime Mystic Spirits CD sale
on the trail or something.) Fortunately we'd been carrying very
cash with us that day: a single dollar bill, folded in the cash
compartment. I wanted to say What's
the hurry? Why don't we wait and see if somebody finds the wallet and
calls us, first, before we turn off all of our credit cards?
But the sense of urgency in David's voice convinced me that the
quicker we moved on this, the better.
After all: he had more
to lose here than *I* did.
As I listened to David
talking to one Customer Service representative after another --
GoodBank, CityCard, MasterExpress -- I was reminded why I fell in
love with him in the first place. His calm demeanor and unfailing good
humor, even in the midst of yet another Big Stoopid Crisis, beats
slamming doors and hurled invectives any day. He was pissed: there was
no doubt about it. He even said so. "I'm pissed," he said between phone
calls. "Some mook is probably out there with my credit card right now,
pricing car stereos." But he didn't take his pissedness out on the
Customer Service representatives.
Or on me.
Once we'd made all of
our phone calls -- once all of our cards were safely unplugged -- we
got back in the car, one more time, and drove over to the other side of
the island for some long-delayed/ sorely-missed/much-needed food. We
settled for plain old burgers at Ole's Waffle Shop, mainly because
we'd just unplugged our credit cards and we were perilously low on
cash. By this point it was nearly 4 p.m., and we had begun that awful
collapsing-in-on-ourselves process ... exhausted to the point of utter
inertia. While we waited for our food to be delivered to the table, we
propped ourselves up by the elbows and attempted to maintain
conversation. And consciousness.
"I'll have to go get
Driver's License replaced this week," David said wearily. Not to
mention his library cards ... all of the medical insurance cards ...
the Blockbuster card and the Safeway card and the Hello Kitty Store
card. All of a sudden, he started to look more like a collapsing
pumpkin than a man filled with calm and unfailing good humor.
And that, of course,
the precise moment his pager started to beep.
The kid is weeping
The young police
officer, attempting some emotional connection here, aligns himself with
the parents. "You know," he tells the kid, "when I was your age, my mom
and dad gave me nothing. Nothing.
Do you even realize how lucky you are, having parents who buy you a
brand-new car?" I'm not sure that this is the message that will put a
dent in the kid's conscience, frankly. My gut tells me that this kid is
going to get off easy ... that his fond foolish overly-indulgent
parents are going to offer up some sort of token punishment -- garaging
his Ford Explorer for 48 hours, maybe -- but by the end of the month
he'll be back on the road.
he'll probably have a new car stereo.
At least all of the
drama is helping me stay awake. Between the bike ride,
the trauma of losing the wallet, all the trips back and forth on the
freeway, the delay between riding and eating ... my limited energy
reserves have become dangerously depleted. Plus I've been wearing these
same sweaty bike clothes for fourteen hours now, and I'm more than
ready for a hot shower and a cold pillow. So it's a relief when the
perky blonde dispatcher waves at us once again from her station across
"Officer Savitch is a block away," she says. "He
you to meet him out in front of the building."
David and I thank her
for her help, gather up our stuff and head out the door. As we're
leaving, I pass within inches of Mom. She looks at me sadly --
Maybelline running down one side of her face like an oil leak, dripping
onto the collar of her expensive silk blouse -- and I give her a
tentative, sympathetic smile. Believe
it or not, Lady, it says, I
can totally relate.
She doesn't return the
Moments later, a City of
Concord Police squad car pulls up to the curb in front of us. "Are you
Dave Rafter?" asks the burly blond police officer driving the car, as
he leans out the open window. When David says yes, that's me, Officer
Savitch hands him a small brown leather wallet.
"You might want to check
and see if anything is missing," he says. "The woman who gave me your
wallet said she didn't even look inside it, when she found it on the
street. But you never know."
David opens the wallet
as I stand behind him, watching over his shoulder. We gasp in unison.
"Oh wow," I say. Everything is there: David's Drivers License, all of
his credit cards, all of his photos, my ATM card. Even the single
dollar bill is still tucked in the cash compartment.
"You're lucky," says
Officer Savitch. "Not everybody is so honest."
Don't we know it.
As we drive away from
the police station, a moment later -- David's wallet tucked safely into
my purse, along with a copy of the City of Concord Annual Report -- I
can see the sad disrupted little family, still standing there in the
lobby. From the looks of things, they're going to be there for a while.
I feel sad and sorry for them ... but I feel unapologetically relieved
for David and me.
After all, if you're
going to star in your very own Saturday night episode of Cops ... it's
nice to be the segment that ends on a positive note.
throw a rock