My friends know I’m gearing up to retire from policing soon so I can pursue music journalism. I was having a chat with one of those friends today, and she asked me something no one else has asked.
“What will it be like,” she asked, “to never have to wear a uniform again?”
What an interesting question.
On the surface, the answer seems obvious. But the more I thought about it, the less obvious it got. Let’s face it: between two branches of the military and 25 years on the force, I’ve been wearing one uniform or another since I was 17 years old. And now I’m 52. That’s a long time.
Sure, I’m eager to turn in this clothing and get on with my life. But like anyone else who does this kind of thing, I’m also used to this clothing, and the equipment that comes with it. What will life be like without it?
Without a doubt, this uniform makes people treat me differently, for better or for worse. People looking to be rude and anti-social tend to think otherwise when they see me watching them. The uniform demands and receives — for the most part — a different level of behavior. Am I ready to see people for what they really are 24/7? What will that be like?
What will it be like to open my closet door and not see a dozen or so light blue shirts with my department’s patch on the left shoulder? To say nothing of the half dozen pairs of pants, a commando sweater, and assorted jackets and coats, all strictly made for work. What will I replace them with?
What will it be like to live a life that doesn’t require body armor? As eager as I am to get rid of it, I have to admit that I’m accustomed to the way it envelops me day in and day out. I may hate it on a 100-degree, 90 percent humidity summer day (it’s not exactly “breathable”), but I’ll never take it off. Because you never know.
What will it be like to not put on my utility belt loaded down with various equipment? I’ve been carrying these handcuffs, collapsible baton, flashlight, pepper spray, pistol magazines, and taser for quite some time. People love to come up to me and say, “Wow, that must be heavy! I don’t know how you do it!” I just shrug. Eh, you get used to it. And I have. But soon I won’t have it any more.
How strange will it be to not feel the weight of my sidearm on my right hip? After all, I’m used to it. I’m no gun nut, but I know my right side feels a lot lighter without it. Some will tell me that moving to Chicago should mean I should carry something at all times. And while I get that, I try to spend most of my time in places where the gun won’t be necessary to begin with. Still … it will be odd.
Will I ever get used to not being able to help a fellow officer who might need it? I remember my first vacation from The Job. I was visiting a friend in Florida. She drove past a patrolman conducting a car stop. He was by himself. It was all I could do not to yell at her to pull over so I could back him up until his assist arrived. No uniform, no gear … what the hell was I gonna do? I had to let it go. Soon I’ll have to let it go all the time.
No one will anonymously pick up my breakfast check or offer to buy me a cup of coffee while I’m wearing a Bent Knee t-shirt. I seriously doubt anyone will demand I make my way to the front of a busy convenience store line because my shirt says I visited Dusty Groove.
On the other hand, I won’t have to hear someone shout out “I didn’t do it” every time I walk into a building. People won’t have the urge to tell me they’re not driving when they walk out of a bar. Strangers won’t walk up to me and complain about getting a ticket I had nothing to do with. I won’t be asked to scare the hell out of some eight-year-old kid because he won’t do his chores like Mama asked him to. It is truly odd to realize how normal those things have become. (And no, I don’t yell at children. I suggest to Mama that she try doing a little parenting instead.)
When I take off my uniform for good, all these things will be no more. No more working accidents in the pouring rain. No more standing a post in the blistering cold. No more standing on the highway directing traffic, praying the drivers can see me. No more searching prisoners that haven’t bathed since last Presidents Day. No more overdoses. No more suicides. This despite the fact that I’m used to all of it.
I can focus on music and the writing that comes with it. I can play a round of golf. I can sit and read. I can go to the movies. And I can work part-time at something I really enjoy. All of this starts once I no longer have to wear a uniform.
What will that be like?
I can’t wait to find out.
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