If the walls could talk

Drive south along Toronto’s Yonge Street and just north of Eglinton you might spot an old brown-stone building on the west side of the street which more recently has been used as a film set for a police station. That’s because, at one time… it was a police station.

Back in my day 53 Division meant nothing more than the place we took our scout cars to get the radio fixed. The entrance way to the radio repair shop was a narrow alley barely wide enough for our early 1970s era two-door Plymouths. Oh yes! If those walls could talk.

After doing my time walking the beat (the joy of which I failed to appreciate at the time) I was detailed to a scout car for the first time. I viewed this as an advancement in responsibilities and increased trust by my supervisors. I reacted to the opportunity with humbleness, which I thought would be appreciated.

I mentally rehearsed my speech of gratitude. “Well sir,… I am honoured to be selected for such duty. I am humbled by the faith you have put in me to accept this increased responsibility.”

The sergeant did a double take at my smiling face, then looked back down at his clip board. “You’re just filling in for some guys on holidays; don’t let it go to your head, rookie. You can keep your snowmobile boots at the barber shop for a while yet.”

How did he know this contraband was kept there? All us beat officers left the station with shiny boots which we swapped out for warmer footwear stored on the beat. I thought it was my little secret.

Deflated, I picked up the keys from the weary night-shift driver. “Everything okay with the car?” I asked as congenially as I could. The officer gave me the same look as the sergeant. “You mean other than the empty gas tank, two inches of dirt on the dash, the puke on the back seat and cigarette butts on the floor? Oh yeah.. and the radio isn’t working. You’ll have to take it to the radio repair shop.”

Now this was a challenge. I approached the station sergeant with the fact the scout car might need some maintenance. “Get on the road. The dispatcher is screaming for cars. You can clean it up if you have time later.”

I explained the limitations I might have with a defective radio and the sergeant stared at me as he leaned over the counter. After a couple of seconds of watching the wheels slowly turn in his head he reached under the counter and slapped two dimes on the counter. I thought he was re-assigning me back to my walking beat, as this was the daily stipend for beat officers to check into the station.

Take it down for repairs, he told me, and if there is any problem on the way, check back by land line – “but first, hit the radio a couple of times with your night stick,” he suggested. Apparently this was the tried and true way to get the post World War II vacuum tube Motorolas back in working order.

I went to the parking lot to check out the car, finding to my dismay, that it was just as described by the night patrol officer. Thankfully the puke on the back seat was caked, dry and half worn off so the smell wasn’t as bad as I had feared. There were ashes all over the well worn seat and cut up dash and the car was running on fumes. At least my five-second debriefing had been accurate.

I circled the car to check for marks and scratches. Golly, where was I to begin? After noting a few of the larger ones in my memo book, I checked the car’s file and discovered most had not been entered. I asked the sergeant to come to the car with the file.

“You know you’re a pain in the ass, don’t you?” he growled. He noted the fresher marks and curtly left my presence. I suddenly pictured many years of walking the beat in my future. As suggested I banged the radio box on the dash with my night stick. Nothing! A passing officer said I was doing it wrong. I raised my head expecting a word of advice on how I should have slugged it but the officer continued into the station.

I filled the gas tank and headed out. Suddenly I realized “Out” was the operative word. I had never been outside my own division during my police career. “Where the heck is the radio repair shop?” I wondered. A strong feeling of trepidation came over me when I thought about returning to ask the sergeant for directions.

Unable to communicate with other cars, I headed for the officer who walked the beat next to mine. He gave me directions to 53 Division and warned me about the alley. “It is narrow – I mean inches to spare narrow. Watch your outside mirrors closely. You might need Vaseline to fit through,” he concluded with a smile.

Going south on Yonge Street I initially missed not only the alleyway but the entire station. A few drive-bys and I found the alley. There had been no exaggeration. The narrow passage had a stone wall on one side and a brick wall on the other.

“Okay,” I thought, “hundreds of other guys have manoeuvred this alley way. Surely I can too.” As I began to excrete the car down the passageway, I quickly saw why it had so many scrapes. The brick walls were covered with a two foot stripe of chrome yellow paint, beginning a few feet above the ground. This was capped by another foot of scrapes, gouges and striations of metal. If the walls could talk, I thought, they’d scream the expletives of a thousand injured mule skinners… or a multitude of coppers moaning about the reports they would have to submit.

My prayers were answered as I got to the end without incident. It opened to a small courtyard large enough for about eight cars. Six spaces were occupied. I made a sharp left turn into the garage and the technician came out to greet me with a tired smile.

I described my adventure negotiating the alley but it clearly had no impact. He had heard it all a thousand times before. I asked why had nothing been done? He simply shrugged. “It’s been this way for many years and I don’t suppose things will change much for many more.” He went to his bench, pulled out a 25L6 vacuum tube, crawled under the dash, opened the radio’s badly beaten metal housing, plucked out the bad tube and effortlessly inserted the new one in its place.

“Okay then,” he said curtly. “Give me your night stick.” He tapped the box twice and the staticky loud voice of the dispatcher suddenly leapt out of the Motorola speaker mounted above the dash.

“Oh,” I said. “So you have to tap that box UNDER the dash.”

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