Illustration: Sequoia Blankenship
Police work makes for some strange mealtimes and odd food choices. Having worked all over Arizona, I can say I have eaten some of the best and some of the worst meals of my life while on duty. Crime fighters who regularly read this column know I spent my formative years fighting crime in Tucson, but I have failed to mention the change in my physical dimensions my rookie year.
My beat only had three places to eat on graveyards. One was a fast food joint where you ordered by speaking into a kid's toy. The two other establishments gladly gave you a cup of grease on the side if you wished. To say I supersized may be a slight overstatement but it was the accidental viewing of my new body as I walked by a mirror in the locker room that started me running. Who was that chubby guy walking around with my face? The next week I started running and didn't stop for the next 25 years.
Law enforcement officers tend to die younger than their civilian counterparts, and one of the reasons has to be our diets. I did a stint as a vegetarian on the Reservation when I was training for a marathon and soon found myself fantasizing about burgers, fries, and grease on the side. I discovered real Navajo tacos then and still remember thinking as I walked out of a restaurant in Kayenta that I had just had one of the best meals I would ever eat. Of course, we were heading out to the all tribal rodeo and the odds of someone getting hurt were pretty high, so it was good to take a moment and enjoy gastronomical delight.
I don't think it is an accident a cop often knows the best places to eat. There is something about the nature of risk that heightens all of our senses, and good food doesn't just nourish the body; it nurtures the spirit. In narcotics we had our favorite Mexican and Japanese restaurants and I remember sitting with my gang eating chorizo con huevos and thinking that warrant we were about to serve was only going to be made better by the afterburn of a good jalapeño.
I once did expert witness work in Nova Scotia and must say that the Maritimes leave their New England cousins behind when it comes to the creative ways a lobster will end up. The same is true for what Louisianans turn shrimp, crawfish, corn, and potatoes into. I have sat at a long picnic table in Baton Rouge after a day of the Torch Run eating food so spicy you sweat like you're still running and beer so cold you...Darn, I'm drooling.
Anyway, my point is this: If you want a really good meal wherever you go, follow the local crime fighters. Somewhere in our brains is a junction of sensation and risk (my personal theory), a phenomenon that makes us truly appreciate a good repast. The fact that each meal may be our last is even more real for us than the average citizens going blithely about their day, making it just a little more tasty, a little more satisfying than it might normally be.
It reminds me of an old Buddhist story of a monk who plucks a strawberry from the side of a cliff just before his vine is cut and he falls to certain death below and he thinks, "This is the best strawberry I have tasted!" And like the monk, we tend to eat fast since we are sure a call is waiting or someone needs us somewhere, but we still get the satisfaction of the food. This in no way denies the truth that some of my worst meals have been on the job as well, but the unique sensations a good meal gives those who truly live in the fast lane of life are intensified.
I don't go "on duty" anymore; I go all over the country training and speaking and make a point of asking the warriors that attend my classes where to eat in their area. They are always dead on. From tortas in Yakima to lasagna in Cleveland, my memories are filled not only with my great friends but also with great meals. Ah, too bad I had to give up running...
Dave Smith is the creator of "Buck Savage" and a retired law enforcement officer from Arizona. Currently, he is the lead instructor for Calibre Press' "Street Survival" seminar.