Thursday, November 18, 2010

Big Pine Winter 3

Eden Pines, the Big Pine Key neighborhood famous for it's Christmas decorations. So famous I have never made the effort to get out here to check them out. 2010 is the year of change apparently, whether we like it or not so this year in one short month from now I plan to be back. Man proposes, God disposes.Cheyenne and I spent a happy hour around here a few afternoons ago, helping me get though a long weekend at work, a weekend that more closely resembled winter than summer in the Police Communications Center. Someone called in a woman sleeping on the sidewalk, she wasn't sleeping she was dead. So often people call in dead people on the sidewalk "...not breathing , " they whisper urgently and they are just sleeping it off in a town where the bars close at 4am. I have never understood how someone can get so drunk they lose track of where they are and simply lay down to sleep on the sidewalk. Around here people do it all the time, yet sometimes, just sometimes they aren't sleeping, they are dead. The good news is we never presume to know what is urgent and what isn't so we always send someone out as quickly as possible to investigate. No call is ever written off, no request for help is ever ignored by us.Also I can hardly believe that the last twelve months have seen two people killed in our fair city. Neither of them left unsolved which is a nice statistic but if you think like I do you have to wonder if the stresses of our imploding economy are going to push more nasty people into being extra nasty. I hope 2010 is just a statistical anomaly, an aberration in a town that rarely sees two murders in three years. Then there were the kids just up the street from my house who found a skeleton at what appeared to be a homeless refuge in the bushes of Little Torch Key. The paper says the body was mostly a skeleton dressed in clothes, gnawed by wild animals, a forgotten human who died alone in the shrubbery just off the road. I was reading the diary of a Finnish woman who joined this website,whatever that means exactly (http://planetzella.blogspot.com/ ) and she was writing about aging alone and some dude found mummified in his apartment long since forgotten which seemed at first blush appalling. Yet I wonder what it is to die "alone." The victim of the unspeakable murder wasn't alone, by definition, but that wasn't what you would call a good thing. The hobo in the shrubbery (if that is what he was) seems likely to have been living life on his own terms, an act of rebellion in a world that always seems to demand participation. The dead Finn may be more to pitied alone among the multitudes in the urban desert of modern rabbit hutch living.Of all the people who live on my street four wave as I ride by of whom two stop to talk when they meet me out gardening. None of them would be concerned were I to die upstairs at home. Only Cheyenne howling might prompt an investigation. The odd thing is I don't mind that notion, not nearly as Zella, who lives alone, seems to dread it. Lying on your back staring at the ceiling waiting for the grim reaper seems like a much worse way to die than simply keeling over with a sudden heart attack. I got a call from a caregiver who found her elderly charge in just such a position after waiting three hours for someone to hear her cries for help. The young woman on the phone was lackadaisical to say the least, almost chatty with me. We were short staffed and I was struggling to run the main police channel while Belen answered the phones, ran warrants and dispatched Fire and Rescue so I was rather curt with the caller. I had the information I needed, I had calls on hold and officers needing attention and I needed her to hang up. She almost refused to hang up until she got the message (I'm not allowed to hang up 9-1-1's by protocol) in my tone. Finally she paused and then said tartly: "You're very rude!" Click. Grrr. Belen was sending an ambulance already, I could hear her across the room as I thought to myself, what's the matter with a caregiver who doesn't care? And will she ever learn the difference between being curt and being rude?
" This my lawyer's number in New York!" the drunk dude was yelling down the phone. Another night at work, same shit. He was mad at officers he had met out on the street and he went home and called us in high, intoxicated dudgeon. He wanted the supervisor so he got me and I couldn't get him to calm down as I listened to his story. He was completely off the chain and he kept calling back ranting about effing civil servants and we would all be sorry. I was feeling bad about the headache he would be feeling in the morning when he woke up sober, hung over and completely oblivious to the nasty rants he subjected me to the night before. "It's your friend," Keith would call across the room as he put him on hold for the fourth or fifth time.
"You're a civil servant and you can't hang up on me! You have to effing listen, you asshole."
"Yes sir. My apologies I had to put you on hold a moment." (To take a 9-1-1, ass hat!)
"What's your name?"
"My badge number is 2836"
"Wha'...?"
"2-8-3-6."
"That's your name...?"
"2-8-3-6. It'll be easier for you to spell and they'll know how to find me."
Providentially a police officer came by to drop off some paperwork and tried reasoning with him.
No luck.
The drunken rants punctuated the early hours of the morning until providentially alcohol must have taken it's toll and sent him to the Land of Nod.
It was a rough weekend with people calling out sick in dispatch and people getting into difficulties outside in the city. We had two motorcycles wipe out on North Roosevelt within minutes of each other and within blocks. One needed a helicopter airlift and the other didn't. They must have been spectacular as the 9-1-1's came in a great flood. It's at moments like these that I find God and pray that the person who sees me go down on the Bonneville and not get up has the presence of mind to know how to call for help.
"Ohmy godohmygodohmygod!"
"Ma'am...where are you ?'
"Ohmygoohmygodohmygod. He's on the ground...blood...ohmygoodohmygodohmygod."
"I can't send help if I don't know where you are." It's the dispatcher's mantra called repetitive persistence. A sentence made up of two phrases one that explains the problem (I can't send help) and the other is the reason (If I don't know where you are). You say that over and over again in an even tone of voice until the citizen at the other end suddenly clicks and says "First and the Boulevard." And off we go to the races, fire ambulance and police. Most people don't handle sudden crises very well, I have discovered.
"Hi this is Lifenet. Are you sure you need a helicopter? I heard there was a motorcycle trauma at the ER..."
"Yup. We got two at once, you're taking the worst one to Miami."
"Oh." A weekend winter night in Key West. The tourists are back, the snowbirds are back and it's hopping on the streets.
A car hit three parked vehicles and a power pole on Whitehead Street at three in the morning. That jolted us out of our exhaustion. We ended up sending five officers, a fire truck, an ambulance, a medical supervisor, two wreckers and a Keys Energy crew to fix the pole.
I got a call Monday evening from a citizen back from a jaunt out of town.
"My car seems to be damaged, but the damage is all cleaned up and I have a police officer's card on the windshield...?" This was the innocent by stander transformed into victim and I had to tell him. He took it well considering, but I felt crappy. Yup, your Ford was disassembled for no good reason while you were gone and I have nothing good to tell you.

We caught two burglars in the act this weekend. Events seemed to come in twos and two separate car burglaries ended up with two separate arrests. One suspect was kept inside the car by the victim and his neighbors until officers got there. That was quite the screaming match I could hear down the phone. I loathe burglars; they seem like such violators of one's life. The other burglar tried hot footing it but my trainee got a good description and they ended up catching him three blocks away."The good thing about working nights is that you get to deal with lots of hot calls," Belen said as we paused between mayhem for a while. The radio tends to go quiet while the officers are investigating. Then the power went out. Blam. All across the city it went black outside the circle of lights powered by the huge generator at the police department. Belen came to nights for a few weeks to help out our short staffed situation and it's hard to adapt to sitting up when you are used to being asleep. She was jolted to complete consciousness by the string of calls that came pouring into our dispatch center.

"Oh shit," we mumbled in unison as all the lines lit up.

"I'm on vacation and the lights are out."

"Yes sir."

"Well, when are they coming back?"

"I don't know."

"Well, what do I do?"

"Do you have emergency medical equipment powered by electricity?"

"Er...no."

"In that case you could go back to sleep or you could sit up in the dark. If you light candles don't set fire to the house."

I have been following Peak Oil theories for some time now and I dread the day oil gets so expensive people who live in complete ignorance of the infrastructure it takes to run their petty little lives come face to face with reality. I am hoping I am long dead by the time that day comes. I can sympathize somewhat with our leaders who decline to take the energy conundrum by the horns. People who freak out because of a power outage aren't going to take the news of world wide energy shortages very well.

Meanwhile some two dozen fire alarms, business alarms and house alarms went off all at once all across the city for the half hour the power was out. That kept us busy for a while.

"No I have no idea when power will be back. You'll need to call Keys Energy for that information."

People don't really under stand a dispatcher's job is to collect information to send help. We aren't an information clearing house and no one tells us what time the event starts or why the parking rules are the way they are, or what the city commission was thinking. We take phone calls and send help. And no Virginia there is no national 9-1-1 network. Dial 9-1-1 on your cell phone in Key West and you reach the Key West Police Department. Whether you want to or not. One of the reasons I enjoy working nights is that I get up around lunchtime and have the afternoon to myself, and my dog, before I have to ride into work by 6pm. It's a time when I can get out into the fresh air and clear my head and wandering the backwoods and neighborhoods of the Lower Keys is good for me. It's good for Cheyenne too.Oddly enough my wife makes the point that we spend more time together when I work nights because on the weekends when I am working we still get afternoons together, and on weekdays I sometimes go in a little early and we have a con leche together before she comes home. Besides I hate waking up to an alarm clock. The pity of working nights is that not many people share my feelings so most people are anxious to get back to day shift which makes for a continual personnel turn over at night.
It could be worse. The City Commission decided Tuesday to change ambulance companies in Key West next April. They paid some people to study the issue and the result was they went with the low bid and it's all change. The employees at American Medical Response are pretty gloomy expecting a pay cut in a town that doesn't cost any the less to live in. I wish the city had amalgamated the ambulance service with the city Fire Department and cut the profit motive out altogether. I don't think any patient facing an $800 ride in an ambulance is better served knowing there are profit hungry share holders to feed. But that's just my proclivity for looking at the larger picture and right now the city chooses to pay less for ambulance service, which isn't all bad as I depend on the city to keep it's budget balanced, as much as anyone does. . I guess while I'm at work I'm helping to clean up after people, and God knows they need help. While I'm out walking Cheyenne I'm out helping clean up after dogs. I wonder who might happen by to see this piece of advertising in the back of beyond. I wish I had the nerve to live in a blue and yellow house.

When I lived on a sailboat a ten foot fiberglass dinghy like this was and excellent way to get to shore on days when the inflatable and big outboard seemed too jarring. rowing even a modest dinghy to shore form an anchored boat is the marine equivalent of riding a motorcycle to work-the journey itself helps clear your head.

If I didn't take the time to notice my surroundings I wouldn't remember how lucky I am to live here. If you like mountains and snow this place sucks big time. If you don't and if you only work 144 nights a year you have time to walk around and check out why you came here in the first place. Some houses are for sale, others are sold and yet more seem abandoned.
Dispatching is an odd job, stressful and satisfying, awake when everyone else is asleep dealing with the odd situations in life, such that it's important to take the time to remember that not everyone is an emotional wreck, not everyone is wasting their lives drinking and fighting and creating drama. Some people go through their entire lives without calling 9-1-1. Most of us aren't victims of the assholes who suck the living out of life. Most of us are lucky to be living ordinary lives of no great and sudden moment. Walking Cheyenne reminds me how privileged that status is.
Another walk successfully concluded.
It occurred to me as I watched this guy pedal strenuously over the canal bridge I couldn't name the street he was on if he stroked out and suddenly needed help.
If you don't know where you are don't call 9-1-1. And if you do call 9-1-1 please don't call me a fucking idiot even if you are badly stressed. I really am trying to be helpful in my bureaucratic, civil servant sort of way.