commuterchroniclesdbh

Driving and Biking in the Big City

Posts Tagged ‘Kennedale

On the cop beat for life

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Recently, I’ve been listening to Harry Bausch’s adventures as written by Michael Connelly in “The Wrong Side of Goodbye,” and I can’t get past the feelings it evokes. “They” say your sense of smell is the strongest sense to activate your memories. For me, hearing can be equally haunting. Or is it sight and reading? A good book, read again, listened to again. A favorite author can feel like home and long ago at the same time. Or, in this case, a same character – Harry Bausch, the hard-nosed anti-hero and Los Angeles cop as written by another former reporter on the cop beat.

This book has me transported to the past. It has me reminded me of quick trips to the grocery store when I could rent a book on cassette tape, mostly abridged and somewhat unacceptable. But I’d take anything on tape to get me through a day of housekeeping or cleaning out when my kids were young and chores were routine.

Or it’s Sunday and the only library that was open was 10 miles away so I’d bike there and bike back – for 20 miles and two hours roundtrip at the minimum. I’d have to plan my clothes – light as possible but with a cover-up t-shirt, two waters and a light weight bag that would be book-laden for the trip back.

Or it’s a road trip to Austin where I would meet my friend from Michigan at her mom’s house so that we could keep up an important relationship for me where she was my rock while my son went through and out the other end of a heart condition.

Or to Lubbock for my westward bound road trip to visit my daughter at Texas Tech. That eight-to-10-hour trip meant a couple of really good books by favorite authors who would keep me occupied but focused.

concrete-blondeI’m transported by Connelly’s new book not because the book is about yesterday because it’s not. But because I’m reminded of some of the first books I ever listened to as an audio book addict. “The Poet,” “Concrete Blonde,” “Trunk Music.”  Ahhhhhh. I may need to listen again.

Listening to audio books is as common in my daily rituals as is my commute to work. Actually, I’ve been listening to read-aloud books far longer. I was first attracted to Connelly, now world famous, of course, long before the charismatic Texan Matthew McConaughey played the role of his “Lincoln Lawyer,” Mickey Haller, an attorney who works from the back of his car, so another commuter. Or before Clint Eastwood played a side character from the Harry Bausch books in “Blood Work.”

I may have listened to “The Poet” as one of my first audio books, if you don’t count the classics or old radio broadcasts that I could find on the car radio or at truck stops. Remember, this is long before the days of the internet or downloads and when libraries seldom carried anything but the written word.

the-poet“Death is my beat. I make my living from it.  I forge my professional relationship on it.  I treat it with the passion and precision of an undertaker — somber and sympathetic about it when I’m with the bereaved, a skilled craftsman with it when I’m alone.  I’ve always thought the secret to dealing with death was to keep it at arm’s length.  That’s the rule.  Don’t let it breathe in your face,” Connelly says in “The Poet,” back in 1996.

Connelly is back to his police procedural hard core in the “Wrong Side of Goodbye,” and I love it. It’s the routine of day-to-day police work. Keeping your notes in order. Working your sources. Doing favors. You scratch my back and I scratch yours. So I’m transported not only to my listening past but also to the heyday of my career as a cop reporter. Back in the day, I rode the beat with cops, went door-to-door with detectives and sat on stakeouts. I’ve discovered bodies, been shot at and, actually, solved a couple of murders myself. We were a team, on the same side mostly.

That’s the police beat as I worked it, back in the day of the press as Fourth Estate. My cop shops were on a rotation – whether it was Port Arthur, Beaumont, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston or a bit of Detroit. The bigger the city, the more often I visited the police station. But even the one-cop towns showed up on my calendar once a month. I called or dropped by. That way, when a body got dumped at Kennedale, a small town outside of Fort Worth, the dispatcher knew my name and would give me the story.

cub-reporter

Working traps on my first daily, the Beaumont Enterprise, two years after I’d started my journalism career at a bi-weekly. 

“Running my traps,” my first city editor called it. Joe Broughton was a feisty hellcat of a newsman with a kind heart but a trashy mouth. I learned a lot from him and from running my traps, a work ethic that has served me well in a writing career that soon will have paid my bills for half a century.

So, on this rainy day when I can’t be running the roads, I think I’ll finish “The Wrong Side of Goodbye” while I do my house chores and then run through some repeats including “The Poet.” I think I may even have that one in hard copy.

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Thelma, Louise and Me

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You know you are in for a Texas-style road trip when it starts with the question, “Do you mind if I bring my gun?” Vinny and I always feel pretty safe on the Big City streets, but we are never ones to encumber our guests. Thus, we hit the much traveled road from Houston to Dallas for a weekend at my girlfriend’s ranch, only miles from the original Southfork for the TV series, “Dallas.”

All the law and order talk was highly appropriate for my travels north because the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex was the sight of this old cop reporter’s heyday. The towns and streets become places in my mind instead of places on the map. I revisit big stories, and, in my case, they were mostly murder and mayhem in a day when crime wasn’t so common place.

First inkling that I’m reliving my glory days is the big city of Ennis, Texas. I covered a man’s murder of his four young kids, his wife and then himself. Turned out he was a religious zealot who had become more and more introverted until he saw no way out. Sound familiar? Everything old is new again.

There’s always a small town near a big metropolitan area that becomes known as an easy place to stash your unwanted victims. Kennedale was that place when I was covering cops in the area. When I was at the Beaumont Enterprise, we had the nearby beach front for unsuspecting joggers to trip over a long dead murder victim. High Island comes to mind.

Nearby is Mansfield where I wrote a really fun story of the police chief. He was a legend in the cop shops during those days because he had solved a hit and run with good old fashioned detective work. At the scene of the crime, he picked up some pieces from a headlight and stashed them in an evidence bag. Only miles away, he was at a gas station, filling up and spotted a car that looked like it had been in a wreck. He took his chards of glass and fitted them perfectly into the broken headlight for an arrest.

Then, I’m in Arlington, my true stomping ground and one of the first suburbs where a huge mall was built. That’s where I attempted to solve the tragic murder of young Cheryl Calloway who already was a cold case when I moved to town. I spent weeks revisiting the clues and witnesses and wrote a beautiful story that I read over and over again in the classes I taught at University of Houston. I’m sure my students got tired of it, but I never did. It almost had a happy ending when I received a tip in the mail. “I know who killed that girl,” it read simply. I thought I’d solved the case, and so did the cops  . . . until the suspect passed a lie detector test.

The cops did give me credit for solving a diamond salesman’s murder. But first, they credited me with being a big pain in the ass. I was the only reporter who took a family’s story seriously and ran a missing person piece. As you CSI watchers know, no one gets serious about a missing adult. But this gentleman had gone missing with a trunk full of diamonds and it made for good headlines. When the story ran, a bartender spotted some familiar details from one of his regulars. The poor guy was found dead in a traditional unmarked grave, having been killed the day he’d gone missing.

Of course, I can’t tell stories of the olden days without thinking of the biggest crime ever in Dallas – the murder of John F. Kennedy by lone gunman Lee Harvey Oswald. On the 20th anniversary of that tragic day, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram had a team of reporters revisit the event. My assignment was an interview with Marina Oswald Porter. I was the only reporter she spoke to that year, and we had a very brief but unforgettable chat. She reminded me that she was only 19 years old at the time her husband killed the president and then was killed himself. She had lived another 20 years by the time we spoke and was 39 years old.

“Who were you at 19?” she asked me. “How can you compare yourself today to that person?”

During my tenure in Dallas and Fort Worth, the old Texas School Book Depository building was the source of many news stories. Should it be demolished? Sold?  The subject was very controversial. Most folks wanted to put this terrible event in the past.

Historic minds prevailed, and it has now become the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza. I recently revisited the finished site and was pleasantly surprised. I probably enjoyed myself because it is as much a tribute to the newspapers in the area as it is a record of the tragic events of the day. The exhibits weren’t gratuitous or political; it was a simple chronicling of a pivotal time in history. Those were the days when you could be proud to call yourself a newspaper reporter.

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

September 4, 2012 at 5:52 pm