"One hundred dollars for a tune-up?!!!" I shrieked as I read the estimate at the auto mechanic's shop for a tune-up on my aging pickup truck. Alex, the mechanic-in a way only Alex can reply--laughed and said, "Mitch, you cab pay me little bit now for a simple tune-up, or you can let it go and pay me big bucks later for a complete overhaul."
I feigned heart failure and paid the bill. Alex spoke the truth and I knew it.
I was reminded of this while assigned as a detective in training after about seven years as a patrol officer. I was fairly comfortable in my abilities and decision-making skills and felt a bit "seasoned" or "salty."
I was assigned a very simple "found property" case. Apparently, a patron at a mall had found a wallet in the parking lot and took it home. The person found a telephone number inside and found the wallet belonged to the manager of a nearby sporting goods store. The patron called the manager and promised to drop the wallet off. But two days passed and the wallet was not returned. The store manager telephoned the police, requesting assistance in retrieving the wallet, as he felt he would never see it again.
I telephoned the patron, who lived in a neighboring city and asked her about the found wallet. A very cordial woman on the other end explained that she did find the wallet in the parking lot and contacted the store manager, promising to drop it off. She explained that the reason for the delay was that she'd just had a family emergency and had no transportation for the 5-mile trip to the mall.
Feeling rather "salty," I instantly concluded that the woman was just being lazy. I felt that I should just go to her home and pick up the wallet before it disappeared, and I could close out this case and move on. The woman promised she would not leave home.
On the way over, I muttered to myself about what a waste of time the whole thing was and about how I had more important cases pending.
At the residence, a very proper-looking, 40-something lady welcomed me into her apartment. She apologized profusely for the delay and handed me the wallet, showing me that it was in the condition in which she'd found it. Not wanting me to leave without explaining herself, the woman told me why she delayed returning the wallet.
She said her 16-year-old son was dropping his girlfriend off after a date, in a notorious gang area in another city. Gang members surrounded the car and challenged the young man who was not "from this neighborhood." When the young man denied gang membership, the crowd opened fire, shooting the young man but sparing his girlfriend.
The woman explained that the incident had devastated her. Her son was a student, not a gang member. But he's chosen to fall in love with someone with gang ties. The wallet issue still weighed heavily on her mind, despite the tragedy.
She said that her household had a single car and that her husband and 13-year-old son were out trying to find mortuary services. She said she did not want me to think she was a bad person for delaying the return of the wallet.
I left the apartment in a daze. I was floored by the woman's concerns of civic duty in the face of the loss of her child. I began thinking of the way I'd pre-judged the situation, based on experiences and being "salty." I was humbled into remembering the reasons why I got into law enforcement-the reasons most of us do the job day in, day out. We love people and we want to help people.
I began to think about Alex, the mechanic, and the $100 I felt he'd robbed from me for a simple tune-up. It then hit me like a ton of bricks. The case I'd handled was a career "tune-up" and also a personal one. I realized that to get through a 30-year law enforcement career, we need personal tune-ups to prevent burnout-or the need for a complete overhaul.
Tune-ups come in many forms, so be on the lookout. I'm looking forward to the next one.
I hate it when Alex is right.
Mitch Mana is a deputy sheriff with the Sonoma Co. (Calif.) Sheriff's Department. The 13-year law enforcement veteran serves as a patrol deputy, field training officer and firearms instructor.