Some of my fondest memories in my life as a Wyoming state trooper are not arrests at gunpoint, chases of stolen cars or drug arrests; although there were plenty of each over the years. Nor, are they the endless thousands and thousands of traffic tickets handed out to honest but speedy drivers, tailgaters, stop sign violators, folks with expired tags or bad drivers licenses.
I hoped a few might have changed their driving choices but most, I am certain, just cussed me for a few moments until the next rise and then, defiantly looking in their mirror, laughed, as they resumed their lawless, outlaw ways. Bless their hearts.
No, the things which bring me a smile or twinkle to my mind’s eye, are the memories of the many moments when; rather than protect, I served. Rather than capturing a wanted, dangerous felon or removing a drunk driver from the path of some innocent family sharing the highway, I helped a stranded and often frightened lone motorist in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere, on some lonely highway. Or perhaps, it was the times I found a lost or runaway child regretting choices they had made and just wanting to go home.
Sometimes, I found myself helping one of God’s four-legged or winged creatures; injured and in distress, with a phone call to Game and Fish. Other times, like once with a heard of migrating elk on the Battle Mountain Highway at midnight, simply needing me to stop traffic as hundreds of them crossed the pavement in search of water and better tasting browse.
On occasion, I held traffic for livestock moving to a fresh pasture, watering hole or to market. And, sadly, far too often my service was to God; ending the suffering of one of His deer, elk, moose or other big game animal, helpless, scared and in pain, with a devastating injury from being hit by a motorist.
In the career of a state trooper much is made of the drama, danger and risk but very little of the vastly more common services he or she will provide. A 300 mile “code 3” blood or antivenin relay across the state or region; the talks and driving safety classes taught to schoolchildren, teenagers, the elderly and others. The changing of a flat tire for a handicapped or elderly motorist or the few minutes to help a tourist by explaining little known but well worth-the-time shortcuts and alternate routes around the state to our various wonders.
All of these are a part of the job. A trooper can deliver a baby or, an emergency death message with equal skill and compassion. He or she has the power, knowledge, skill and courage to stop an evil act in its tracks by taking a life if necessary or, to keep you alive until an ambulance arrives. They can give you a map, directions, pointers, a warning or indeed, a costly traffic ticket; all with equal enthusiasm.
In my two decades of wearing that cool hat I enjoyed it all; however, in a vastly more important and meaningful sense, the best memories I took with me when I gave that hat, badge and cool black and white back to the state, had nothing to do with the moments of drama and adrenaline pumping terror and excitement. It was more, the simple smiles and handshakes I received, the high fives from kids and on a few occasions, the warm hugs of thanks.
Finally, I am reminded as I write this, of a particular antelope I worked free from being tangled up in the fence along I 80 near Rock Springs, shortly before I retired.
A mature buck, with a handsome set of horns and good curl; he grunted, as I lifted the last strand of wire from his ankle and he busted free, bolting off into the Red Desert. He stopped after a hundred yards or so and looked back at me. A second or two of stillness and another grunt, he was off again into the horizon to find his herd and hopefully someday make some fawns and live a long life with a harem of ladies. I estimated his speed was above the limit as he ran full tilt, but I left him with only a shout of admonishment:
“Run like hell, pal. Get lost!”
Jim Geeting is a retired Wyoming state trooper and author. He lives in Rock Springs. You can write him at [email protected].