My academy experience literally took a wrong turn before it even started. I tremble at the thought of what might have happened to me if luck had not been on my side on academy orientation night.
The plan for orientation night was to be there early. My goal was to get there and be a blade of grass among the rest of the lawn that was made up of the 52 recruits of class #119 at the Orange County Sheriff’s Academy.
I left with plenty of time from my apartment in Tustin Ranch. What could go wrong since I had been to the academy before on one prior occasion. I knew where it was and who could get lost on such an important night? ME!
I knew how to get there from my police department, but I had never driven there from my apartment. No problem, right? Surrrrrrre.
Twenty years later, I still don’t know how I got lost. The old academy location was off of Newhope south of the 22 freeway in Garden Grove, CA. What a terrible location compared to where the academy is now.
I still can’t tell you which way I went. I couldn’t even tell you which streets I had been on. All of that extra time I had from leaving early was ticking away with every wrong turn, along with my career because there was no way I could be late to this.
If I was late, there was no way of being that blade in the grass anymore. I’d be that dead patch of grass the sprinklers don’t water with a gopher hole in the middle. My ass was grass if I didn’t hurry.
Normally I don’t stress out. I like to think I can keep my cool in any situation. Not this day. Not this moment. I was in panic mode as each minute got closer to the start time. My mind was racing and it was filled with thoughts of being late and getting blasted by the academy staff. Being late to the orientation night of the police academy was unacceptable.
Each red light made things worse. Then, as if a police angel had been sent to save me, I saw a motor officer on a car stop. When do you ever see a cop when you need one?
What I sight I must have been. I was 23 years old with an academy haircut, who was wearing a shirt and tie. In a hurry I asked, “Where’s the academy?” He was a Garden Grove officer and I’m sure he had a good laugh about me after with his friends, but it didn’t matter right now. He was nice about it and I’m sure he saw the urgency of my question. He gave me directions and I ran back to my car. Orientation was at 6:30PM.
I raced into the academy parking lot and parked. I got out of my car and walked as fast as I could because every second counted. It was 6:28PM and I had made it. My heart was pounding as I walked in just ahead of another recruit. The entire academy tactical staff was in the hallway against the wall between me and the room I needed to be in. That hallway looked ten miles long at that point.
I had two minutes to spare, but it felt like I had a huge target on my chest, back, head, legs and every other part of my body as they looked at me with menacing eyes and fist that seemed to be clinching with every step I took.
They stood there moving side to side like football players on the sideline during the national anthem at the beginning of the Super Bowl. They probably had just gotten done watching the opening scene from the movie Full Metal Jacket too.
After a quick introduction with the families of the recruits, we were sent to our classroom. One by one we filed into the room and stood at attention. There was a phone number written on the board. I ended up sitting on the right side of the class, about the fourth row back. Not bad. At least I wasn’t in front. The only problem was the guy sitting next to me. He was the same recruit who had walked in behind me when we were almost late.
The door closed and the category 5 storm hit. Someone from the staff yelled out, “Who was late?” Should I raise my hand and single myself out? I had two minutes to spare and we all know the last two minutes of a football game take forever. That should count for something.
Then we heard, “Who called for directions?” For a moment, I thought the motor had called the academy to tell them about me. Then the recruit, who was next to me, raised his hand. Within seconds, every Tactical officer was around us and yelling at him. They went on and on, which made me glad the heat was on him and not me. Good thing I hadn’t put my hand up.
One of the Tac officers then told all of us to write down the phone number that was on the board. Every head looked down and we started writing on the notepads that each and every one of us had brought. Everyone, except the recruit next to me. The same guy who had called for directions.
He whispered to give him some paper. I tore off one piece from my notepad and gave it to him really fast like a note being passed in high school. The only difference was certain death for being caught.
As we started to write the phone number down this Tac officer yelled, “This is the phone number to the academy. Call it on Monday to quit!”
As our orientation went on, the Tac officers yelled at different people for different things. They told us to write various things down, which we did. The guy on my left still had that single piece of paper I had given him and he was running out of room fast. He was writing in the margins and on the back. It was almost comical how small he was writing.
At one point, a Tac officer walked up and said, “Let me see that.” The recruit handed him the paper, which was starting to curl on all four corners because it had soaked up so much ink. They then found out he forgot to bring a notepad like we had been told. All the attention was then on him again and I was able to survive the rest of the orientation night.
Later on in the academy, I had plenty of chances for the heat to be on me, but not on this night.
Looking back, it’s funny how things ended up working out, but I also know how I lucky I had been because of the cop with the motor wings, who had been there when I needed him. Next time you get a ticket from a motor, give them a break. You never know when you might need him or her.
And finally, I have a message for that Station 32 motor, if by chance he ever gets to read this…..
THANKS! I owe you Starbucks.