Just the Other Day: Nine Feet Tall

It was close to noon. We were ready to leave Iowa and head back home to Minnesota. Since both of us were hungry, we decided to stop for a sandwich before we got on the road. I pulled in line. There were several cars ahead of us at the double-lane drive thru. A yellow horizontal sign stretched across each drive thru lane advising: Caution! 9’ Clearance! Melissa noted the warning. “Will we clear that?” she asked. She seems to always ask that when we’re going through a drive up because we have a taller than normal van.


I’ve explained this before, but told her again, “The van is one hundred inches tall; that’s eight feet, four inches plus the roof vent which is another four inches, making us eight feet, eight inches tall. We have four inches to spare…”


“Is the roof vent open?” I wasn’t sure if she was asking me, or telling me.


“…Unless the roof vent is open,” I said, explaining, “at which point, we’re about nine feet, three inches tall.”  With several cars still ahead of me, I put the van in park, slid my seat back, then walked to the rear of the van to close the roof vent. I hurried back to the driver’s seat, pulled the seat forward, fastened my seat belt, put the van in drive and held my foot on the brake. I was pretty proud of myself: I felt about nine feet tall for avoiding an accident. As the line started to move forward, I told my wife, “It’s a good thing I thought of that.” Melissa rolled her eyes.


I opted for the outside lane which had less tight corners to maneuver in a large vehicle. To my left was a black and white Dodge Charger – a city police car. At this point I would normally get the cop’s attention and ask them if they wanted to race. But we were pretty close together and being in a substantially taller vehicle, all I could see was the roof and lights of the patrol car.  We simultaneously pulled up to the speakers in our respective lanes. I must have ordered faster because I beat the squad car off the line. As I was rounding the corner to the left, headed for the pick-up window, I rolled my window down. Knowing there was a cop behind us, Melissa said, “I don’t know what you’re going to do, but you should just leave them alone.”


Hanging my head partially out the driver’s window, I gave the peace officer the peace sign. They responded with a weak, quick wave.  “Oh no.” I said, “I don’t know if I had my fingers spread far enough apart. I hope it didn’t look like I was waving just one finger at that cop…”


…thinking I was flipping them off…the squad car followed me…the officer said…


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Melissa reminded me of her suggestion to leave them alone. “I don’t want them thinking I was flipping them off.” I said and leaned considerably further out the window. I spread my two fingers wide and made sure they were totally perpendicular as I waved again to the officer. This time they responded with a much more vigorous wave and returned the peace sign.


I pulled forward to the window. The man repeated my order and told me what I owed. I gave him my card, then he handed my card back wrapped in a receipt along with a paper sack of food, two drinks and thanked us for our business. I paused at the window and he asked if I needed anything else. “Yes,” I said, “I do. There’s a cop right behind me. I want to pay for their order as well.”


Not sure if I was serious or not, the man leaned out the drive-up window, looked behind my van and asked, “You want to buy lunch for the policeman behind you?”


“Yes, I do.” I said, then handed him my card again.


He ran my card and handed it to me folded inside another receipt. “That’s pretty nice of you guys to pay for their order,” he said, “especially these days.”


I smiled and said, “Please tell them we appreciate the work they do.” I could hear a sincerity in the cashier’s comments and that made me feel pretty good.


As we pulled away from the drive-up window, my wife said, “That was a really cool thing to do, Tom. I’m glad you did that.” We turned right out of the parking lot. The street paralleled the drive-up lane at the restaurant. As we drove past, we heard a horn honking a couple of times. The officer’s hand was waving at us out their passenger window.


At the corner we stopped for the red light, then turned right onto the four-lane street. By the next traffic light, I noticed the cop car was behind us again. A couple blocks later, we turned left onto the four-lane highway – the squad car followed me. They stayed behind us for about a mile, until we stopped again for a red light.


The officer pulled up alongside me and lowered their passenger window; I lowered my window as well. She had to lean our way to be able to see up into my van. “Hey, I just wanted to thank you, again.” She said. “That was a real nice surprise.”


I smiled and told her, “We just wanted you to know, not everyone is against you.”


“Man, it sure seems like it these days.” She replied, shaking her head.


I smiled at her and said, “Just remember the silent majority. The majority of people still support you and appreciate the work you do. I know we certainly do.” She thanked us again. I told her, “You have a nice day and be safe out there.” The light turned green and we both pulled away. We drove along behind her for awhile and then she sped away.


As the distance between our vehicles became greater, I wondered if she had time to eat her lunch? Or, did her lunch break get cut short to respond to a call? Was she rushing off to help someone in trouble or danger? I said a little prayer for her, that she would be fair to all in her line of work and that God would protect her and keep her safe.


It might have been the simple gesture of paying for her lunch; not just as a cop, but as another human being. Or, maybe the words of assurance we offered and sharing our appreciation for the work she does. Whatever it was, it seemed like we made her day a little better and that made me feel really good. As a matter of fact, I felt at least ten feet tall. I took a bite of my sandwich and smiled, thinking, “It’s a good thing we already had our lunch, because being ten feet tall, there is no way I would fit under that nine-foot clearance – whether the roof vent was up or not.”