#001 In which our hero relates a regrettable incident from his sordid past.
An introduction, by way of a story:
I was my senior class president in high school. There were only about 100 in my graduating class, so it's not like it was a landmark achievement, but it was an achievement, nevertheless. I got three of my buddies to run with me, thinking that we might present an attractive alternative to the same all-female officers that had dominated the offices for the past three years (and, truth be told, always done a better job than I was capable of). I made up buttons and posters, calling the four of us, collectively, THE SYSTEM. Budding copywriter than I was, I branded every piece of collateral with the tag: "THE SYSTEM works!" I even created my own hand-drawn font.
We won the election, much to the chagrin of the four girls that were hoping to list a clean sweep of officer positions on their college applications. I was wholly unprepared for this responsibility, and managed to alienate our teacher advisor, screw up some important decisions, and break out into hives due to the pressure. Oh, and get arrested at our Senior Class Picnic.
I'm from a small town outside of Youngstown, OH (if you're reaching for your atlas, it's right on the OH/PA border, and has a distinctively biblical name. I'll let you puzzle out the rest). This means that we're only a short bus ride from Cedar Point, the roller coaster capital of the WORLD! This was the site of our final outing together as a class.
When you enter the park, you almost immediately pass a sign pointing to the Cedar Point Police station. I thought this was hilarious; where they like the Keystone Kops, in long coats and derby hats? Or maybe they wore oversized animal heads and carry inflatable batons? Had I known I would be visiting their manifestly un-humorous holding cell later that day, I might have had more respect.
A little background: I have a history of petty theft. Don't ask me why, I was raised by two honest, loving parents that certainly taught me better AND gave me money pretty much whenever I needed it, but that didn't stop me from shoplifting. I stole candy bars, magazines, small toys... I once stole a kite by stuffing it down my pants and walking stiff-legged out the store. I never got caught... except once.
So there I was, president of my class, about to graduate and enter a brand new and exciting phase of my life, having the time of my life with my friends at a amusement park, and with a flawless criminal record. I was on top of the world.
I was with a pack of my friends as we approached another roller coaster. A guy running one of those rolling carts that sell refreshments (this particular cart sold fruit drinks in the shape of the fruit you were drinking) was re-loading his cart. There were stacks of drinks on a pallet conveniently within reach as we passed. I casually reached out and took one. No-one saw me do it, or so I thought.
I was the consummate professional. I didn't brag to my friends about my theft, I just drank it then properly disposed of it in the trash. As we were waiting in the cattle chute of a line, I noticed a cop waiting alongside another park employee at a bend in the line ahead. They both seemed to be looking at me.
When the line wound around to them, the cop - who was dressed like a real police officer, which he was - politely asked me to step out of line. He asked me about my drink, and I tried to bluff my way out of it.
Looking back, I wonder if I could have talked my way out of trouble, if I really tried. It was basically my word against the vendor's... and isn't the customer always right? As it was, I finally tried to laugh it off and admitted that I had taken what was not mine to take.
Again, I had never been caught before, and had no idea how shoplifters were prosecuted. I really expected them to tell me to pay for the drink (which was exactly ONE DOLLAR) and send me back on my way. I was really, really wrong.
They took me to a holding area, which, thankfully, I didn't have to share with anyone else. Another cop came in and took my statement. I was definitely scared, but still hoping for a reasonably quick resolution. He told me that I'd be fined, and would have to got to court over this. In discussing court dates, he said to me, "When's your graduation?" I told him, and he replied, "Huh. Looks like you might not make it."
That put me over the edge. I started to cry; and I mean I balled. Stealing was one thing, having my parents pissed at me was one thing, but missing graduation was something altogether different. I had been thinking about this day for four years... not to mention the whole college thing.
One of our student advisors - Mrs. Bumgardner, bless her heart - sat with me and tried to pull me together. I had mostly regained my composure when the cop came back in and said that they couldn't hold me there any longer, and I'd have to pay bail or I would be moved to the county holding facility (i.e., real jail!).
This put me back over the edge. The bail was something like $250, and I probably had $20 left at that point. Mrs. Bumgardner left me in my pitiful sobbing condition to speak to the crowd of classmates that had assembled outside. She explained the situation, and amazingly, enough people gave me some of their money to pay the fine.
That's right, my class bailed me out of jail.
I had to spend the rest of the day at the principal's side, which wasn't as bad as it could have been. But he did make me go back to the fruit drink stand and pay the guy a dollar (a dollar that I had to borrow from the principal since I had put all my own money toward bail).
So, my parents didn't kill me, I was able to move my court date, and I graduated with my class. All in all, it didn't turn out nearly as badly as it could have.
And I really think that sums up my life, give or take: I sometimes do stupid things, am sometimes the recipient of unexpected kindnesses, am often rash in my decisions, and usually land on my feet.
But, just to be safe, I haven't been back to Cedar Point since.