I saw the red and blue lights in my rear-view mirror. Uh oh... I was speeding, admittedly, but inadvertently. I was engrossed in a good conversation with my passenger and frankly was not paying close attention to my speed. True confessions.
I have many good friends in law enforcement, and I was even an acting police chief for a few months, but to this day, when I see those flashing lights in my mirror I get a pit in my stomach. Hmm … maybe it’s the residual emotional trauma from my adolescent years when I decided to test the rules of the road — so much in fact that the judge chose to take my license away for 90 days so I could reflect and perhaps gain a new perspective on the privilege of driving in Colorado. It worked — I’m still in counseling though.
When the Colorado State Patrol officer pulled me over this time, the first thing he said (respectfully), when he got to my car was, “What, are you going to a fire”? My first thoughts were: “How did he know I was a firefighter? My car is not marked.”
“Does he say that to everyone he stops for speeding ... I could probably get out of this one if there was actually a fire to go to. I am the fire chief after all.”
I could think of plenty of excuses, but that’s just it – they were clumsy excuses, and, my adult son was with me. It’s never too late to set an example by owning your own stuff. Busted.
Excuses. The cops hear them all. My friend Kurt Mulson, a cop, wrote a book on the stories they experience and excuses they hear every day when they stop someone for speeding. He gave me permission to share a few favorites, including: “I was going uphill; I’m on vacation; It’s a rental car; the other cars were speeding; the road conditions were bad so I was trying to get home quicker; my brother is a cop; my sister is a cop; my dad is a cop; I want to be a cop; my sunglasses were too dark so I couldn’t see the speedometer; I was trying to show my kid just how good of a driver I am at high speed (can’t believe that one didn’t work); I know I was speeding, but I have my seat belt on so it’s OK (another good one).”
Everyone has an excuse, but none of them (except the teaching your kid one) are anymore than an attempt to avoid guilt, and maybe get off free. Of course, some of the best (worst) excuses, with the most devastating consequences, are from intoxicated drivers, such as: “I’m drunk, but I don’t like to ride the bus because there are too many drunks; I’m not drunk, I’m stoned; I just wanted to see if I could get home without getting caught by the cops; I know how to compensate when I’m drunk, especially when I’m driving … I’m a professional; I was too drunk to walk.”
I made a decision not long after I lost my license at 17, that I would make no more excuses (for speeding that is) and just take my due punishment. Fortunately I don’t get stopped a lot, but the whole truth thing is cathartic. Will it save you from getting a ticket? Don’t know, but try it. If nothing else you will drive away knowing you really did teach your kid something.
I don’t write this column to admonish, although you may think that’s what this is. It’s just to get you to think about truth, and how ludicrous it sounds to hear all the excuses we use. Or, it could be that I’m still feeling a bit raw about one of our fire engines getting hit on I-70, by a car going too fast for the conditions. A firefighter could have lost his life – it was that close. Not sure what the excuse was, but I would have felt better if it was something like: “I made a mistake. I was going too fast. I was not paying attention. I could have killed someone. This has changed my perspective,”
People do make mistakes, and most of the time, simple ownership of the mistake, rather than an excuse, is a salve that makes a world of difference. Own your own stuff.
I was asked recently how well we (cops, firefighters, paramedics and dispatchers) get along. The truth is, the verbal jabbing is incessant. Always has been. Cops think that all firefighters do is watch TV. Firefighters think all the cops do is eat donuts. Paramedics seem to have the good sense to stay out of it, happy to just save lives and push drugs – the legal, life-saving ones. Dispatchers listen, and then tell us where to go ...literally.
We respect each other. We fight with each other over budget. We love each other. We would die for each other. We jab. Firefighters aren’t crazy about a bad guys shooting at them. Cops don’t get the whole running into a burning building thing. Paramedics think we are both crazy. No matter the differences, firefighters, cops, paramedics and dispatchers all share something. It’s this profound, unexplainable affinity, a kindred spirit.
Still though, we jab. But, when it counts, and I mean really counts, we are there for each other, sharing the tears of tragedy, the celebrations of accomplishments, the laughter of excuses, promotions, a life saved, and, especially what goes far deeper than the superficial, external or obvious. The presumptuous boldness that we have each other’s backs — no matter what. Yep, nothing sweeter ... except for the donuts of course.