I’m tempted to do drive faster than normal every weekday at 4:00. Or find some good music on the radio. But I never do. Because I know that just down the road where the city opens up and two lanes turn into four, he’ll pull up beside me in the left lane. Just two guys heading home from work, ending their day with an exhale.
He’s a policeman; that’s apparent by the car he drives—an unmarked sedan with meshed steel separating backseat from front seat. He has the face of a cop, too. Not serious, but steady. Guardian-like. It’s a face that says Don’t worry about it buddy, I got your back. Just don’t let me catch you speeding or playing with the radio.
I’m not sure how long we’ve been sharing the road on our ride home, but I noticed him about three months ago. It’s never for long—anywhere between thirty seconds and three minutes, depending upon the flow of traffic. Exactly why he stood out is an answer I do not have. Chances are I share the road at that time of day with plenty of the same other people, too. I suppose the same could be said for him. After all, I’m just a guy in a truck trying to get out of the busy city and back to the quiet country.
Then came yesterday.
Weather: dreary, cold, February-like. Mood: sour. Workday: bad. There was nothing more I wanted than to do than mash the accelerator put the day behind me. Couldn’t do that, not with the knowledge that the Holy Spirit on four wheels would shortly be pulling up beside me. And he did, of course, at the stop light where he usually does.
Most days a fleeting glance is all I offer. The bulk of my attention is focused on the traffic and the stoplights. But yesterday my glance lingered long enough for him to return one of his own.
I lifted my chin hello. He lowered his and helloed back.
The light turned then. We both drove the hundred yards or so until the next intersection. The light was red.
I felt his gaze and tried not to look. That’s common, I think, whenever you’re in the presence of a police officer. But I kept feeling it and looked anyway. He saw me and pointed to the sign in front of the gas station to our right. I looked. A gallon of regular was $3.09.
I looked back to him and shook my head in a sad way. He offered me a What-are-you-gonna-do? shrug.
Green light, another hundred yards. At that intersection a group of teenagers were milling about in typical teenaged fashion, waving to pretty girls and taunting everyone else. They stopped when they saw the policeman beside me. Even pulled up their sagging pants. He looked at me. This time it was he who offered the sad shake of the head and I who answered with the What-are-you-gonna-do? shrug.
Green light, red light. I slumped back into the driver’s seat, sure that the universe had aligned against me in an attempt to sour my mood even more. The man beside me did the same. I made a motion with my hands that suggested he could turn his flashers on and get us both out of there. His laugh told me that probably was not going to happen.
The last stoplight was where we parted ways. I took a right toward the peaceful roads of the backwoods, while he pushed onward through the city. I offered him a wave before I pulled away, which was returned. Another one down, we seemed to say to each other. See you again tomorrow.
I hope so.
Funny things, those little moments. Just two guys putting up with the minor inconveniences of their lives. Two guys just trying to make their way and get back home.
It’s easy sometimes to build a cocoon around yourself, to think that your problems are unique and unshared by others. I found out yesterday that wasn’t true at all. We’re all daily on the front lines of living, trying and stumbling and trying again. What unites us aren’t our joys as much as our challenges.
I’m going to try and keep that in mind. And I’m thankful for what taught me that lesson—
The best conversation I never had.