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Park Ranger Palmer, Retired: My Recollections of the Urban Realm

Park Ranger Palmer, Retired: My Recollections of the Urban Realm
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Essay 1: A Red Car Arrives

As many of my readers know, I spent two decades as a park ranger for the City of San Diego, during which time I enjoyed numerous adventures in the urban realm. While many careers can be peacefully forgotten in retirement, law enforcement occupations cannot, often needing to be shared for public awareness as well as personal healing. For both of these reasons, I have started a new essay series which will offer periodic glimpses into my patrol life. Are you ready? I do hope so.

After my relationship with management began to deteriorate, and a position at Chollas Lake Park opened, I was shipped out for the remainder of my career, which actually turned into something of a joyful adventure, with a new swathe of land to explore and all sorts of people to encounter. I enjoyed it, for the most part. At any rate, our story has me approaching 54th Street one morning, specifically, the intersection my old supervisor called "The Four Corners of Death," so named for the 1980s gang violence that plagued the area. However, by the time of my career, things had quieted down considerably. The gang members who had battled in previous decades were either dead or in prison, for the most part, with a few peacefully enjoying middle-age. That said, the four corners retained a certain aura of violence, always reminding me to remain aware while in uniform and on patrol.

I was heading for Chollas Lake in the grip of a terrible headache, of the sort that resulted from stress and unresolved back problems. I knew the shift would be difficult without aspirin and my remaining morning coffee. With that, I wondered if I should stop at a local drugstore--in the midst of the four corners--and fortify myself with aspirin for the hours ahead. Good idea? No.

As soon as I parked and exited the vehicle, I became distinctly aware that I resembled a sheriff's deputy in my green tactical pants, duty belt and beige shirt, which I had ironed and adorned with a freshly polished badge. In this part of town, my appearance might be something of an issue. Then the red car arrived, an older sedan with big wheels that seemed ominous and, rather oddly, a bit comical, a perfect prop for a land of contrasts.

Soon, that gut feeling became palpable. No, I should not have stopped.

Out jumped a man who might have been in his late 30s, tall with muscles upon muscles erupting from his tank top and, of course, the requisite baggy pants. I was a bit on-edge, wishing he had not parked directly in my path, but his reaction was even more pronounced.

We locked eyes and he stood, as if rooted to the ground, grimacing in contemplation of his next move. It was clear that he was alarmed and moving quickly into fight or flight mode. For my part, I would look like prey if I ran back to my vehicle, which is never a good idea. However, if I continued walking in his direction, I might antagonize him to the point of no return. I was beginning to worry. How would this situation end? At that point, something unexpected happened, a reprieve that took us both by surprise.

Unbeknownst to me, the man's female companion had been watching and understood the danger I was facing. Thankfully, she took action and shouted across the roof of their vehicle, "It's just a park ranger! It's just a park ranger!" Her cries were enough to jolt the man back to a rational state of mind and soothe his nerves, as well.

After a few moments of terror, I had been granted safe passage to the drugstore by a helpful citizen. I appreciated that assistance.

Years after the event, I can still recall those moments vividly, and that feeling of terrible foreboding. Patrol work is like this; you never know how and when an ordinary day might escalate to the point of injury or even death. And, through it all, the administrators attend luncheons and sit in their wood-paneled offices. I'm sure that little has changed since my retirement.

I kept detailed journals of my patrol shifts and experiences, which is something I suggest all civil servants do, no matter how tedious the task seems. The information comes in very handy indeed.