My flight from Kansas City to Washington yesterday was remarkable, as in, “I am compelled to remark” on my flight. If only I had a blog! Hey, wait a minute…
Approximately 96% of the people on the KC –> DCA Southwest flight were police officers headed to National Police Week in Washington. I sat next to a chaplain, behind a cop, and to the right of an undercover guy (more on him in a second.) If they hadn’t all been in such a good mood, I would’ve been nervous. There’s nothing like a planeful of cops to make you second-guess your record. That parking ticket in ’99. I didn’t pay it. I didn’t pay!! Don’t take me away, officers! I’m a good citizen, I swear!
It was an unofficial party plane, man. People were calling to each other across the aisle with questions like, “Are you guys staying downtown or in Arlington?” and “Is Rick coming or not? No? What a [bleep]!” Our plane probably sounded a lot like — and I say this with love — a tour bus leaving that very hour from, say, Little Rock with a group of middle school students on their class trip to Washington, DC. It was all excitement, anticipation, and fun. It got more fun when the stewardesses started beverage service, if you know what I mean.
President Kennedy signed into law a remembrance day on May 15th for servicemen and servicewomen who have died in the line of duty. That was in ’62; the first National Police Week began in ’82. There are activities and memorial events held in the city during this time; more than 40k police come to Washington to participate each year. The cops and service-people on my flight were, not surprisingly, mostly Kansas City-based and would represent their state during these events.
I don’t know that I’ve ever met a more congenial, raucous person than the undercover guy sitting near me. Physically he was a tank. If I took a running leap and body-slammed him (I would never do this nor recommend that anyone do this) I would bounce off with a “ping!” and be dead. He was covered in tattoos and had a goatee. He was using chewing tobacco, too, which I had never seen someone do on a plane. When my purse fell into the aisle, he picked it up for me. When he saw a baby board with her mama, he said, “Here comes trouble!” He talked to everyone in a six-seat radius and everyone was entertained — even the chaplain, who could’ve done without the profane words the guy wove (seamlessly) into his vocabulary.
When we landed, the stewardesses thanked the police for their service over the PA and wished them a good trip. Thunderous applause. We deplaned and I entered the jet bridge and walked up the ramp. When I got to the entrance to the gate, I gasped.
There to greet the plane was a line of policemen and policewomen in full memorial uniform. They lined both sides of the gate, standing silently to honor the officers coming off the plane. The black of the cloth was midnight dark, the gleaming metal of the badges, medals, and stripes polished to a shine. Everyone wore their caps or helmets. I didn’t feel worthy to walk through first (I was sitting at the front of the plane.) I bowed my head and blinked my eyes to stop the stinging.
I realize America’s police are under scrutiny right now. There are problems — big ones — and they must be considered and we must be fearless in our examination of process and ethics in this piece of our government. Regardless, we are in debt to the vast, vast majority of our civil protectors All around the airport, people were staring at the display, craning their heads to see, thinking there was a dignitary surely on the flight that had just arrived.
They were mostly right. But there were two hundred dignitaries, not just one.