Monday, August 8, 2011


The "NATIONAL NIGHT OUT," program is a community, police-awareness-raising event. Since its inception in 1984, municipalities across the USA and Canada have set aside the first Tuesday in August to promote the, "men and women in blue." (In Texas due to the summer heat, many towns observe this event in October).

In its infancy, this program took the form of a "CRIME WATCH," meeting but few people got involved. Soon, it quietly expanded to, "lights on vigils." Then through innovations like block parties, the idea gained momentum.

Earlier this week on August 2nd, my township (Galloway NJ) boasted its biggest National Night Out. Over four thousand people attended, (a thousand more than last year). The genius of this, "night out against crime," is bolstered by our economic downturn and the fact that August is the only month without a major holiday. So people gladly take advantage of the inexpensive, festive opportunity. Then in a fun and informative way, the police are honored while displaying their skills and services. The fire department, EMT squads, the military and other agencies also got in on the action.DESIGNED TO SHOW HOW THE POLICE KEEP US SAFE, MARSH BOAT PATROLS, THE K-9 CORPS, HELICOPTER RESCUES AND SWAT TEAMS WERE AMONG OUR EXHIBITED HIGHLIGHTS.

On my way to work that night, I passed Patriot Lake, at Galloway's municipal complex. I felt a twinge of jealousy as I saw the carnival-like atmosphere interwoven into the various demonstration booths with revelers full of civic and American pride participating.

A week earlier, our college search for my son Andrew led us to the University of Maryland, in the town of College Park. The traffic on Interstate-95 was so bad that our guided campus tour was over when we arrived. Luckily, we found a gracious tour guide who answered our college-life questions. Then she directed us to the admissions office where another upbeat representative gave us valuable entrance criteria info.

Afterwards we did a short...okay, very short... walking tour of the beautiful grounds, (it was 97 degrees). One of my regrets was missing the Jim Henson and Kermit the Frog statue.


On our way out of town, I suggested going to Baltimore's Little Italy. I was left with two unenthusiastic shrugs. I said we deserve a special dinner after we killed our self to get to the college, only to miss the actual tour, have no lunch and broil while wandering around random buildings. Neither my wife or son was keen on the idea but grudgingly agreed.

While leaving College Park, I noticed several advertisements for their National Night Out. With police in mind I jokingly said, "We're headed into the teeth of rush hour traffic, too bad we can't get a motorcycle escort." This attempt at sophisticated humor went unappreciated.

We hit no traffic during our twenty-five mile jaunt. However, along the way, one of the digital signs on the interstate read; "North of Baltimore, three lanes closed...expect major delays." That's when I reminded my troops that; by stopping for dinner, that'll give them time to unsnarl the traffic.

The mile drive off the highway to Little Italy took an eternity. But we were rewarded with a nearby and ultra rare, free parking spot. We walked one city block and were suddenly faced with more than a plethora of dining choices.

I have been fascinated with Baltimore's Little Italy since 2002. That's when we had a day trip to the Inner Harbor. We shopped, took my son to the aquarium as well as the Children's Science Museum and mistakenly hiked up Federal Hill, thinking it was Fort McHenry.

We wanted to end the day with a nice meal and walked to Little Italy. Every restaurant (and remember there was more than a plethora of them), had lines out the door into the street. Rather than wait, we retraced our steps and wound up at the tourist trap, "ESPN ZONE." To make matters worse, between our "gourmet" burgers and the arcade games, our tab probably added-up to close to what the authentic Italian dinner would have been.

From working in casinos, I have met tons of people who swear by Baltimore's Little Italy. The consensus was, there's so much competition that all the restaurants are great. So I have secretly pined to return for nine years.

Last week when Sue, Andrew and I made our triumphant return, there was a fancy-looking eatery on each corner at the first cross street we saw...with another ten in sight. We were tired and hungry. It was still 97 degrees and I was under the impression it didn't matter where you ate. Of course, we picked the wrong place, (unless they all suck). We paid top dollar and everything we ordered was worse than okay or awful. Plus, when the dissociative waitress awakened from her aloof trance, her bitchy attitude was a disgrace.

On our way back onto I-95, we made fun of our terrible eating experience. In the middle of laughing, I saw a similar digital; major delays north of Baltimore sign. Except this one included the problem's location, (mile marker 64). Ten miles later, in full daylight, we learned just how serious our bad luck was. We came to a near standstill with the problem four miles away.

We inched along for forty minutes. That's when I noticed that my gas tank was on empty. It was a long time till the next exit. When I could squeeze by, I drove on the shoulder to get off. After filling up, I saw a roadway running parallel to the interstate. I only needed to go four miles north to avoid the big traffic jam. But after one mile, the road to the I-95 on-ramp came up. In the twilight, without knowledge of an alternative way around the problem, I got on...and immediately came to a stop. We crept along. On two occasions, we had to move aside for emergency trucks.

This must have been one horrible accident because it was at least two hours since we saw the first digital sign for it. And a fire truck and an ambulance were still en route from a place called Rosedale.

The situation got worse, it was now dark and we were at a complete stop. I had the car in park and soon turned off the engine. Like a dating service, people got out of their cars in the harsh hot breeze to meet, compare notes and complain. When I looked backwards, I could see what seemed like the whole country, in the form of headlights, backed-up to the horizon. This was indeed a national night, in...our cars. Even worse, looking forward, I couldn't even see the interstate.

An hour later, people up ahead came running back to their cars. At first we were inching but soon we were rolling and stopping. At the crest of a hill, we finally saw our three lanes merging onto I-95. And in the extreme distance, I saw the beginning of the end, flashing lights.

I guess we had been at a complete stop because they temporarily closed the only open lane so work crews could safely open a second lane. When we got close enough to "rubberneck," we saw no crushed cars, the worst was over. Most of the remaining thirty emergency vehicles were filing away. On the wet roadway, firemen were coiling their hoses and stowing gear as the army of rescue personnel encouraged us weary motorists to keep moving.

The usual two and a quarter hour drive back from Baltimore took five and half hours. In the thirteen and a half hours from the time we left home until we returned, we were out of the car for a mere three hours.

Sometimes we need a kick in the head like a National Night Out, to remind us of the greatness and bravery involved in being a policeman, fireman, an EMT or be in the military. Also, because we need the assistance of civil servants so infrequently, it's easy to forget all the good they do.

If you still take these bastions of selflessness for granted or you're too self-centered to care about anything but your own convenience, please remember what a wise man once said; it is far better to be stuck in a terrible traffic...than to be the cause of it.

Next year, I'll meet you at the National Night Out. In the mean time, please support your local men and women in blue.


Before knowing the true spirit of the National Night Out, (in my November 15, 2010 blog, "GETTING HOOKED-UP BY NEW YORK'S FINEST,)" I mistakenly mentioned that there should be a day commemorating the police in a manner similar to Veteran's Day.

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