I was twenty-one when I joined the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, but I looked like I was seventeen. Not only was my teenage looks a challenge to being an effective cop, I was raised in a tiny Manitoba town that didn’t have a stop sign, never mind a street light, or a transit service. So I was anything but worldly.
In August, 1978, I got transferred from basic RCMP recruit training in Regina, Saskatchewan, to beautiful Vancouver Island in British Columbia on Canada’s west coast. I thought I’d won the Mountie lottery for postings.
I arrived in Courtenay, a small city of 30,000, and was immediately assigned to be trained by an experienced officer. My role was a uniformed General Duty position which attends everything from car accidents, to barking dogs, to violent domestic disputes.
In street policing, things can go from dead-boring to flat-out chaos in seconds and there’s nothing like years of experience to equip an officer in responding properly and safely. So, it’s standard procedure that a rookie pairs up with a vet for a few months before they’re ready to go out on their own.
Now on my third week on the job, I was starting to feel kinda comfortable wearing the yellow-striped uniform and packing heat in my Sam Browne. One warm, summer afternoon in mid-week my trainer was called up to court, leaving me hanging around the police office. A call came in about a bicycle being found about a half-dozen blocks from the cop-shop.
My old Sarge was strapped for guys that afternoon so he throws me the car keys and tells me to go straight down, pick up the bike, and come straight back; warning me “Whatever you do, do not get yourself into any trouble.”
I was feeling pretty proud of my first patrol alone as I drove the marked Police Cruiser (PC) down a quiet thoroughfare in residential Courtenay. About four blocks from the office, I see this guy standing alongside the street to my left.
Now you gotta remember that this was in 1978 and community policing was a dream yet to come. It was a real us-against-them mentality between the ‘pigs’ and the ‘scroats’ and the cool street look was long, greasy hair, zitty-faces, beards, and crude logo’d tee-shirts. This guy was a poster-boy scroat and he was standing there with his arms folded across his chest, giving me the stink-eye as I drove past. I watched him in my mirror, waiting for him to flip me the bird or make a run for it, but he just kept standing there, staring, till I was out of sight.
I dealt with the bike thing, putting it in the PC trunk, and bungeed the lid down. As I was driving straight back to the office, like Sarge ordered me, I’m looking ahead and here’s this same guy, still standing in the same place. His arms are still folded across his chest and he’s staring at me with beady little eyes and a scowl like he wants to slice off my nuts.
I figgered “Okay. Okay. This guy’s up to no good.” So I pulled over to my right, put on my hat, and got out. As I rounded the PC hood, this guy stays standing with his arms folded, never breaking his stare.
“What the fuck do You want?” he says.
I’m standing three feet from him with my hands on my hips. “Just wondering what you’re doing loitering about the neighbourhood,” I tell him.
His right arm breaks from the fold. His forefinger points straight up. And he says “Like waitin’ for the fuckin’ bus?”
I look up at the sign, then down at the ground.
“Very well. Carry on then,” I said as I got back in the car and drove off with a face the colour of my brand-new Mountie Red Serge.