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Law and Order: Checking the Lakefront

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By Ross Olmos

As a young man I thought about how cool it would be to be a motorcycle cop. They had the best uniforms and those big machines they rode were really something.  I was disappointed when I joined the Evanston, Illinois Police Department and found that out of about 150 officers, there were only 12 in the traffic division. It took me nearly three years, but eventually I was transferred from patrol to traffic. Now I was finally going to be one of those cool motorcycle cops!

The uniforms were actually pretty sexy. We wore jodhpur style cavalry pants with high English riding boots; sharply-styled helmets, and of course Ray Ban aviator, reflective sunglasses. Our riding boots were always spit-shined and our shirts starched and pleated. We rode Harley 74s, cleaned the engines with Gunk and made sure the chrome was always shiny.  

Back in the late 60s, those big Harleys were very comfortable to ride, however at high speed they vibrated so much you thought the fillings would come out of your teeth. With all the required police equipment, they seemed to weigh a ton, so the first rule was to never let your bike tip over, and if that did happen, pray you had some help to get it back up.

After several weeks of training, I was pronounced ready to ride the streets with a partner and actually enforce the traffic laws. Now, with my partner Frank, I was ready for my “real” training.  It was a beautiful spring day and we were assigned the 3 to 11PM shift.  I was told by Frank that the first thing we were going to do was “check the lakefront”. Here is where I have to interrupt my story to provide some necessary background information.

Evanston, Illinois sits on Lake Michigan, the first suburb on the lakefront north of Chicago. It is probably best known for being the home of Northwestern University, a large, private Big Ten school situated on the lake front.  At the south end of the campus, there is a large park/picnic area with a beach for swimming. During the late spring, students would use the area to swim, sunbath and recreate.  A number of these students were attractive co-eds. The area was not accessible by squad cars, but was easily accessible by motorcycle. Of course, as diligent, dedicated police officers, we felt it our responsibility to use our motorcycle accessibility to make sure all those college students were enjoying themselves in a safe environment, especially the co-eds in their beach attire.

By now, dear reader, I believe we can safely surmise that you have deduced what the code “check the lakefront” really meant!

During our “safety check”, my partner Frank, spotted a picnic table occupied by two very attractive co-eds with whom he was acquainted and who were waving at him. Frank said, “hang loose for a second. I’ll go over and check this out.”  I sat in place with my engine idling and watched as Frank motored over to the girls. After a brief conversation, he shut off his bike, put the kick stand down and got off. After chatting briefly, he motioned for me to join him where he was seated with the girls.  

By this time, I was feeling pretty full of myself.  Here I was, a cool, young motorcycle cop, wearing my cool, sexy uniform; riding over on my cool Harley to chat up these cool co-eds.  For effect, I revved up that big engine a few times and carefully rode over to the bench where my partner and the lovely co-eds were seated. I stopped the bike and carefully lowered the kick stand. With my left foot firmly planted on the grass I started to dismount. That’s when disaster struck! The bike was not staying upright! It was slowly but surely rolling over on its left side and I was going down with it.  In my haste to join the party I had neglected to find a chunk of solid ground for my kick stand.  It had sunk just far enough into the sandy grass to tip the bike to the point where it was impossible for me to keep it from going down.  I was now flat on the ground, my lower half pinned downed by the Harley. Fortunately, the shiny chrome roll bars had protected my body.

My ego was another matter.  I looked over at my partner and the two co-eds. They were all engaged in raucous laughter. I shouted, “Frank, give me a hand!”  This appeal for help generated even more laughter. I shouted again, much louder, “Dammit Frank, get your ass over here, NOW!” Frank finally stopped laughing, came over and the two of us managed to successfully roll the bike to an upright position. All the while during my rescue, the girls kept tittering under their breath.

Other than my badly damaged pride and some grass stains on my previously immaculate uniform, my body and my motorcycle were unscathed. There is an old saying that no one ever died from embarrassment. Of course, technically speaking that is true.  But, aren’t there times when you are so embarrassed you felt you wished you were dead? I only know that on that warm, spring day while “checking the lakefront” I came awfully close.