It is commonly held in the NYPD that life in the department is less like an episode of NYPD Blue and more like an episode of Barney Miller, and there is truth in this. For every day doing something exciting, there are 10 spent doing paperwork, going to court, conducting surveillance, and doing more paperwork. Where the Barney Miller analogy fails is not on that 10th day when a cop does something exciting. It fails on the 100th day, when a cop does something extraordinary. On that day, life is not like NYPD Blue, it is like the best movie you ever saw, only you are the hero. Today was not one of those days. Today, my lieutenant discovered that I was a little unclear about the meaning of “daily” as in “daily activity report.” I had to spend some time catching up. A chief at headquarters required some statistics immediately, and I was dispatched to deliver them. I am sorry to report that the most exciting part of the workday was a brief meeting with an assistant district attorney about a year-old arrest. At least I got to relive past glory, even if it wasn’t a big case. That wasn’t one of those 100th days either.
The most exciting part of the day came at the end. After a great workout at karate, I was gratuitously invited out for a late snack by the prettiest girl in the class. I had so much fun that I lost track of the time. Afterward, I eagerly offered to drive her home. I promptly discovered that I had left my car in a spot whose witching hour had come and the car had been towed away by none other than the Traffic Division of the NYPD.
So as the blood pounded at my temples, I withdrew the $150 necessary to free my car and stalked up the street to find a taxi for me and one for my friend. Lo and behold, this lovely girl offered to accompany me to the most miserable spot on the island of Manhattan, the tow pound. I told her I couldn’t possibly expect her to go with me. It really wasn’t necessary. I would be all right. Then I realized I was being a very considerate moron. I was going to the Valley of the Shadow of Death to get my car back and I was turning down a traveling companion. I accepted her offer.
We arrived at the tow pound to find it filled with drunks, kids from New Jersey, recent immigrants unaware of the finer points of New York City parking regulations, and several transvestites, all trying to get their cars back. It began to dawn on me that despite my delight at having such an enviable companion, showing a girl this little version of hell might make for a bad first date. She asked me, “Can’t you just tell them you’re a cop and get your car back?” As I was thinking of an answer, we became aware of the woman ahead of us telling the cashier, “Listen, I am a police officer and I only have $138. Isn’t there any way you can help me?” The cashier was shaking her head with what looked to me like satisfaction.
As we were waiting to go get the car, the man behind us turned to his wife and said, “This is un-f—ing-reasonable. Can you believe this? A hundred and fifty dollars! That f—ing Giuliani! I hate him and the cops.”
In my most friendly voice, I told him, “Listen, I think this sucks just as much as you do, but it has always been like this. It was like this when Dinkins was mayor and when Koch was mayor and probably before that. I think it always cost one-fifty. And before Rudy, they didn’t take credit cards. Also, while NYPD does run the Traffic Division, it is made up mostly of civilians, not cops.”
The guy looked at me like I had two heads and he was going to punch me in one of them, then went back to talking to his wife.
A man in a fur coat was yelling and pounding at the window, “What do you mean, I need picture ID? Is this some sort of police state where we have to carry ID? Hey, I am talking to you. Hey!” His wife and another man were trying to soothe an increasingly nervous cashier who seemed to be on the verge of calling in the real police.
I stole a look at my companion. She was having a good time! This was a good show and we had great seats. Albeit expensive ones. We retrieved my car and headed down the West Side Highway with the lights of my city sparkling all around us.