Last weekend, I drove my wife and son down to Garland, Texas for my niece’s baptism. We’ve driven south on I-35 enough times to have a tradition. In Oklahoma, there a few mountain ranges. Now understand, when I say mountains, I mean a few rocky hills, but we love them for what they are. As you drive south on I-35 from my hometown of Norman there is a range called the Arbuckle mountains. There are appealing lakes, waterfalls, springs, camping, and creeks to enjoy. But most importantly there is Arbuckle Fried Pies. We stop there nearly every time we pass. We get apricot and coconut usually. The picture says it all.
And so we stopped thinking we might get a meat pie and and a fruit pie and make a meal out of it, but we were in a hurry and the meat pies would take 8 minutes, so Jenn and I ate apricot pies and Chris ate a coconut. I decided that we would eat burgers to-go at the Denton McDonald’s on down the road.
When we got there, the drive through line was very long, so I parked the car and went in to order. When I entered, I was greeted by the cool gaze of a veteran police officer standing to the side of the counter. He was absolutely classic. Perfectly trimmed mustache. Short spikey salt and pepper hair. Barrel chest. Uniform in perfect condition. He was quiet and appeared very calm.
I wondered why he might be guarding a McDonald’s. What had happened here to warrant law enforcement? What crazed lunatic had caused a ruckus here, perhaps earlier in the day?
I wanted to know, but I didn’t want to be the guy who sticks his nose in someone else’s business so I just asked, “Everything going ok? Having a nice evening?”
He turned his gaze to me and nodded, pooching out his lips as if he were thinking it over. “Yes. Everything is fine.” And then he adjusted his belt a little, reminding me of Barney Fife on the Andy Griffith Show.
“It seems very calm to me. You have a calming presence,” I said only as a friendly observation.
But then he said, “Well, some people wouldn’t say so,” and then he rolled his eyes just slightly. I immediately thought of the Dallas cops recently shot at the rally. Could he have been alluding to the fact that cops were getting a bad rap? Or was he just a toot.
And this was my opportunity to get the story. All I had to do is say, “Oh?” and he might have spilled his guts. He might have said, “Well, we had a guy in here the other day who got the less calm version of me. I had to smack him with my night stick and drag his stinking ass out of here.” Or he might have confessed that he was a member of a rageaholic group.
But I didn’t ask. I really just wanted to get my food and go. I’d ordered it and was waiting. So he turned his focus on a lady in line wearing a t-shirt which said, simply, “California”
He called over to her and said, “Did you just come from California?”
She smile and revealed a missing tooth and called back in a thick Texas accent, “Naw, I just like the shirt. But I wish I was there right now. Probably cooler. It’s been 107 degrees here.”
The cop said, “Was it a 107 today?”
“Well, it was around 98.”
“Is it a 107 right now?”
“Well, it’s not too bad –”
“Well there you go.” And then he went into expert mode. “California is cooler. It’s probably around 85 degrees, but you know what? I said do you know what?” Then he prompted her to answer.
“What” she said, losing her good humor.
“It’s humid. California is very humid, so it feels hotter.”
And then I could see why some might not see him as a calming presence. I’m not sure what his point was, but it sounded kind of like, “Quit your complaining. I just wanted you to know that I’m in charge.”
Later that night, I debriefed my brother about the McDonald’s cop. He was aghast. “That was a missed opportunity. Who knows what you might have learned if you’d asked why!”
But I didn’t need to ask why. I saw enough to give me a pretty good guess.