The Beat: True Stories From the Streets
Page 25 by Harry Martin
Artwork by Jaynee Levy-Polis
The Nickel Ride
Years ago and even now, there has been a practice on the Police Department
called “The Nickel Ride” named for an amusement park ride that cost a nickel
about fifty years ago. It was used by the police officers to get
“even” with unruly prisoners who they were transporting in police vans.
Usually, the prisoner had been verbally abusive, or was kicking at the
doors or walls of the van. The police officers often had been attacked
either physically or verbally by the person now prisoner. They took
the prisoner for a “ride” with his hands cuffed behind his back.
(That way, he couldn’t right himself.) Sometimes, the prisoner was
thrown head-first into the police wagon—a van—to be taken to the station
house to be arrested or transported further to a prison cell downtown in
Philadelphia. Cops felt such anger toward the “dirt bag” in the van,
they would take him the “long way” and bump their way downtown. Quick
stops and turns along the old railroad tracks and deep ruts along the river
were de rigueur. The prisoner sat on a small wooden seat just maybe
wide enough for an eight-year-old. As the officers sped down Delaware
Avenue (along the river), lights suddenly turned red and the brakes were
heavily applied with screeching tires. They turned corners on two
wheels, and their “low-life dirt ball” was tossed around like a sack of
potatoes at a loading bin. If he were lucky, he might just have bruised
a limb, or his back. Lots of times, the angry prisoner was a mass
of bruises, but not severely injured. All the while, the friendly
police officers were laughing about the noise issuing from the rear of
the wagon. Once they arrived at their destination, if they were asked
how the prisoner was hurt, they could say a dog or cat ran in front of
the van, they had to make a fast stop at a traffic light, that traffic
was heavy, or mention how bad the potholes were on Delaware Avenue.
It is easy to understand how good people can fall into this kind
of behavior. A police officer can get sadistic after being a cop
for a while. He or she becomes jaded about life and the public.
Dealing with criminals and street-wise folks day-in and day-out can make
a cop fall easily into a negative mode of behavior. The thin blue
line between the criminal and the law-abiding people fades. It is
like an old-timer told me years ago, “It’s a whore’s job, son”, a whore’s
Copyright 2001 by Harry Martin Polis
Jaynee loves cookies, but she
herself can be a tough cookie. A cross between a kind of Jekyll and
Hyde, she can be really sweet but when her mother’s side comes out, watch
out! I just got done telling her that there is no need to be angry
at the things she gets angry at. Things can be annoying and that’s
all it takes. She makes mountains out of molehills and is ready to
machinegun the anthill. Over and over, she repeats her behavior.
I tell her she will get the same results if she doesn’t change her old
response. “Do what you always do and get what you always get.”
Copyright 2002 by Harry Martin Polis
WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU A POTATO, MAKE POTATO SALAD
Under this heading, you can use the old
saying about making lemons into lemonade. This is a variation on
that old standard. Life has handed too many of us lemons in one way
or another. We can get it at birth, or anytime between the cradle
and the grave. No one escapes this life without some rain falling
on his parade. Some people have more than their share of hurt and
pain. Most of us just go through periods of problems, which we handle
or don’t handle. The problems eventually are resolved and we move
on in our lives. Relationships are the hardest situations to deal
with because they involve other people, usually our families, friends,
or lovers. These relationships can seem, and drive people crazy.
We walk around in pain, in a daze and sometimes we don’t even know who
we are. We want solace in our lives and what we get is stones thrown
at our windows to the world. We want to breathe deeply but are stunted
into short breaths, struggling to catch the oxygen. “Life is tough
and then you die.” That is another pithy saying with an honest sentiment.
Someone you love loves you. Someone you love falls out of love with
you. Someone you love has started to hate you and wants to leave.
Your family has left. Your heart aches and your friends turn against
you. They talk behind your back. Life is hard. Your glass
is half full, or half empty depending on your point of view.
Copyright 2002 by Harry Martin Polis