October 22, 2002
Front Row Seat

miles to go: 335.69 [ytd: 1,666.31]

The kid looks about sixteen or seventeen years old: soft, well-heeled, dressed for a Good Time Saturday Night ...

... and obviously scared to death.

He has just been remanded to the custody of his seriously not-happy parents. Mom is crying ... the kid is trying not to cry ... Dad looks like he's probably going to get around to crying, eventually. (Just as soon as he finishes kicking some Stoopid Teenaged Butt, that is.) Everybody is crying, in fact, except for the stoic young arresting officer. As the family stands there in the lobby of the police station, sniffling and weepy, the officer somberly reads the list of charges being brought against the kid and his buddies. Driving without a valid drivers license. Running a stop sign. Possession of a controlled substance. Possession of drug paraphernelia. Possession of stolen property.

"They attempted to use a stolen credit card to purchase gas," the officer says to the parents. Which, he adds, is a felony.

"All we bought with the credit card was gum," the kid sullenly interjects. His father gives him a look that says Open your mouth again, Buster, and you won't even be able to CHEW gum for the next year and a half.

David and I look at each other, shaking our heads. "See?" David whispers to me. "This is exactly why you cancel the credit cards, first thing." Otherwise some dumbshidt teenager is going to be filling his gas tank and charging Bubbleyum on your MasterCard before nightfall.

I nod. Point taken.

We love "Cops." It may not be the most cerebral program on television -- or the classiest program on television, or the highest-rated, or the most exciting, or the most anything at all except for what it is: a bleak and unadorned look at humanity at its most unloveable. But for us it's like a mandatory weekly refresher course in Drunk & Dysfunctional 101. It reminds us why we got sober in the first place ... and why we want to stay that way. It follows the same formula, every week: two or three depressing segments, followed by one segment that ends on a positive note, just to restore your faith in people. Plus it's a great Saturday night *Snuggle-Up-And-Fall-Asleep-Together Show* ... especially after a long Saturday spent abusing ourselves on the bike trail.

Except that this week we're not watching "Cops" from the comfort and privacy of our big messy bed, surrounded by pillows and pizza boxes.

This week, we've got a front-row seat for the action.

If someone had told me -- as we were setting out on Saturday morning for our routine 45-miler on the trails of Contra Costa County -- that we would end the day sitting in a police station, watching somebody else's family come unravelled, I would have suspected that they'd been huffing the Magic Markers again.

(But then again, if someone had told me that riding forty-five miles on Saturday would ever become "routine," I would have suspected the same thing.)

Saturday was tough: a physically-punishing/ emotionally-rewarding six-hour endurance contest. When we were finished, we hauled our trail-battered butts -- and bikes -- back to the Subaru and immediately headed off in search of lunch. This has become the rule: we try to put food into us within thirty minutes after a big ride. Otherwise we tend to collapse, after a little while, like a couple of Hallowe'en pumpkins left sitting on the front porch until Thanksgiving. Ordinarily we stop to fuel up at a nearby Walnut Creek diner -- fifteen minutes from end-of-the-ride to beginning-of-the-Tuna-Melt, tops -- but we got to downtown Walnut Creek on Saturday afternoon and discovered it was in the throes of its 43,897,621st *festival* of the year. This time it was The Harvest Festival, I think ... or the Nut Cup Festival, or the Butter Squash Festival, or the *Who Says We Need A REASON, Forcryingoutloud?* Festival. (I honestly can't remember). Parking was out of the question. So we wound up getting on the freeway and driving all the way back to Oakland instead, to our #2 lunch destination choice.

Forty minutes later we were parking in front of the old reliable Buttercup Cafe.

As I unbuckled my seatbelt and rearranged the Spandex -- dreams of coleslaw and Club Sandwiches dancing in my head -- David began digging around in the console between our seats, casually at first, but then with increasing intensity. 

"Have you seen my wallet?" he said finally.

"You had it when we were loading the bikes into the car," I replied. "I saw you take it out of the bike bag, and then you put it ... "

We looked at each other in horror.

"On top of the car," he finished.

The perky blonde dispatcher waves at us from across the lobby of the police station.

"Officer Savitch just called," she says with a twinkly smile. "He's wrapping up a stolen vehicle investigation, but he should be here within fifteen minutes. He said to apologize for the delay."

We assure her that it's fine, we're OK, don't worry about us ... we don't mind waiting. We've got a big stack of City of Concord Annual Reports to read. We can admire the architecture some more. (The Concord Police Station has been recently remodeled, apparently, and it's really quite remarkable: all vaulted ceilings and cantilevered skylights. It's a little bit like sitting in a cathedral.) If all else fails, I can always drag out the cell phone and play a couple rounds of Space Impact.

What we don't tell the dispatcher, of course, is that David and I would probably pay good money to sit here and watch the family drama being played out right in front of us.

Until now Mom has been doing most of the talking, chastising her errant son in her buttery-soft Hindi accent. Didn't we tell you not to hang around with that no-good friend of yours? How could you let him drive your brand-new car? What were you thinking? Why were there drugs in the car? Who did the drugs belong to? They weren't YOUR drugs, were they? What were you doing, driving around with somebody else's drugs in your brand-new car? Do you want to turn out like Cousin (Insert Indecipherable Name Here)?  But now Dad steps in, unable to contain his anguish any longer.

"What is the thing we have done to deserve this?" he says, voice breaking. "Your mother and I, we give to you everything ... everything ... and this is how you repay us?"

The kid looks down at his $200 sneakers and doesn't say a word.

We turned right around and went back, of course.

We didn't even stay long enough to have lunch: we immediately zoomed out of The Buttercup Cafe parking lot, got on the freeway and drove the forty miles all the way back to Alamo, to the exact spot where we'd parked the Subaru seven hours earlier. 

Once there, we searched the side of the road, the ditch, the bushes, the grove of oak trees next to the trail ... but the wallet wasn't there. We didn't really think it would be, but you know how it is: we wouldn't have been able to sleep that night if we didn't at least go back and look. 

After that, we drove around all the neighborhoods bordering the trail, and then we retraced our route from the trail to Walnut Creek -- keeping our eyes open, the whole time, for a slim brown leather wallet laying by the side of the road -- but after about an hour of fruitless searching, we finally gave up and headed for home.

The wallet -- my birthday present to David, earlier this year -- was gone.

"We'll cancel my credit cards first," David said, as we drove back to Alameda. "And then you should call your bank and cancel your ATM card." (I routinely stick my debit card into his wallet when we're out riding, just in case I encounter a once-in-a-lifetime Mystic Spirits CD sale on the trail or something.)  Fortunately we'd been carrying very little cash with us that day: a single dollar bill, folded in the cash compartment. I wanted to say What's the hurry? Why don't we wait and see if somebody finds the wallet and calls us, first, before we turn off all of our credit cards?  But the sense of urgency in David's voice convinced me that the quicker we moved on this, the better.

After all: he had more to lose here than *I* did.

As I listened to David talking to one Customer Service representative after another -- GoodBank, CityCard, MasterExpress -- I was reminded why I fell in love with him in the first place. His calm demeanor and unfailing good humor, even in the midst of yet another Big Stoopid Crisis, beats slamming doors and hurled invectives any day. He was pissed: there was no doubt about it. He even said so. "I'm pissed," he said between phone calls. "Some mook is probably out there with my credit card right now, pricing car stereos." But he didn't take his pissedness out on the Customer Service representatives.

Or on me.

Once we'd made all of our phone calls -- once all of our cards were safely unplugged -- we got back in the car, one more time, and drove over to the other side of the island for some long-delayed/ sorely-missed/much-needed food. We settled for plain old burgers at Ole's Waffle Shop, mainly because we'd just unplugged our credit cards and we were perilously low on cash. By this point it was nearly 4 p.m., and we had begun that awful collapsing-in-on-ourselves process ... exhausted to the point of utter inertia. While we waited for our food to be delivered to the table, we propped ourselves up by the elbows and attempted to maintain conversation. And consciousness.

"I'll have to go get my Driver's License replaced this week," David said wearily. Not to mention his library cards ... all of the medical insurance cards ... the Blockbuster card and the Safeway card and the Hello Kitty Store card. All of a sudden, he started to look more like a collapsing pumpkin than a man filled with calm and unfailing good humor.

And that, of course, was the precise moment his pager started to beep.

The kid is weeping openly now.

The young police officer, attempting some emotional connection here, aligns himself with the parents. "You know," he tells the kid, "when I was your age, my mom and dad gave me nothing. Nothing. Do you even realize how lucky you are, having parents who buy you a brand-new car?" I'm not sure that this is the message that will put a dent in the kid's conscience, frankly. My gut tells me that this kid is going to get off easy ... that his fond foolish overly-indulgent parents are going to offer up some sort of token punishment -- garaging his Ford Explorer for 48 hours, maybe -- but by the end of the month he'll be back on the road.  

AND he'll probably have a new car stereo.

At least all of the drama is helping me stay awake. Between the bike ride, the trauma of losing the wallet, all the trips back and forth on the freeway, the delay between riding and eating ... my limited energy reserves have become dangerously depleted. Plus I've been wearing these same sweaty bike clothes for fourteen hours now, and I'm more than ready for a hot shower and a cold pillow. So it's a relief when the perky blonde dispatcher waves at us once again from her station across the lobby. 

"Officer Savitch is a block away," she says. "He would like you to meet him out in front of the building."

David and I thank her for her help, gather up our stuff and head out the door. As we're leaving, I pass within inches of Mom. She looks at me sadly -- Maybelline running down one side of her face like an oil leak, dripping onto the collar of her expensive silk blouse -- and I give her a tentative, sympathetic smile. Believe it or not, Lady, it says, I can totally relate.

She doesn't return the smile.

Moments later, a City of Concord Police squad car pulls up to the curb in front of us. "Are you Dave Rafter?" asks the burly blond police officer driving the car, as he leans out the open window. When David says yes, that's me, Officer Savitch hands him a small brown leather wallet.

"You might want to check and see if anything is missing," he says. "The woman who gave me your wallet said she didn't even look inside it, when she found it on the street.  But you never know."

David opens the wallet as I stand behind him, watching over his shoulder. We gasp in unison. "Oh wow," I say. Everything is there: David's Drivers License, all of his credit cards, all of his photos, my ATM card. Even the single dollar bill is still tucked in the cash compartment.

"You're lucky," says Officer Savitch. "Not everybody is so honest."

Don't we know it.

As we drive away from the police station, a moment later -- David's wallet tucked safely into my purse, along with a copy of the City of Concord Annual Report -- I can see the sad disrupted little family, still standing there in the lobby. From the looks of things, they're going to be there for a while. I feel sad and sorry for them ... but I feel unapologetically relieved for David and me.

After all, if you're going to star in your very own Saturday night episode of Cops ... it's nice to be the segment that ends on a positive note.

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