Pulling up to the curb at the airport is always a frustrating event, but my time curbside at the Bangor Airport turned from minor frustration to major professional embarrassment. No, I did not misuse the blue lights in order to take a parking space. At least not intentionally. I am still waiting for someone file a complaint about the abuse of power.
Regional jets still come to Bangor, Maine. We have not been relegated to prop jobs yet. Having a ridiculously long runway is a gift left behind for us by the United States Air Force and the Cold War. From here, you can almost skip a rock to Europe. (Ok, it has to be a really flat rock.)
The smaller jets which frequent our airport hold just enough of a crowd to make the available curbside space a bit too cramped for all who want to come and welcome folks back to our city. We jockey for position on a smaller scale than at the bigger airports. Usually everyone leaves happy.
More cars than spaces -- the rest of the world is used to this. In Maine it’s not typical unless you are holding a yard sale or have placed a clawfoot bathtub on your lawn with a “Free for the taking” sign. You might believe that a home restorers are grabbing the tubs, but it’s more likely someone wanting a water trough for their livestock.
To get between the cabs, hotel transport vans, and faithful spouses and friends who are rubbing their eyes and cursing late night pickups, you have to maneuver along slowly and then shoehorn your way into a parking spot to grab your passenger.
This was the moment I found out my recently issued unmarked police car had a wiring issue.
My position requires me to be on-call most of the time and I was allotted a low mileage Ford Fusion for that reason. It replaced a 2003 Ford Taurus. (I know, how did a 2003 Ford Taurus last so long this far into the rust-belt? The short answer is that it didn’t. Our motor pool employees are masters of making things last, but after several patched rocker and rear quarter panels, they removed that gem from service and it went to the auction. The “bull” now rests in some salvage yard awaiting someone to pull off the remarkably rust free front fenders or the lame yet well-serviced 3.0 liter V6 engine.)
The newer Ford Fusion had been outfitted with all the necessary cop-accoutrements including a Motorola radio and front and rear blue lights. It also was sporting flashing headlights and backup lights for the motorist who is determined not to pay attention to the blue lights. (Yes, they dwell among us.)
Shad had outfitted other Ford Fusions in the past and when we asked him to add headlight wig-wags--a highly technical cop-term to indicate flashing headlights--and blinking back-up lights, he shook his head and furrowed his eyebrows with a condescending disdain. The days of running a couple of wires to the battery, to a light, and to a switch are only in Shad’s “happy dreams.”
Shad pointed out the check engine light was on after his meticulous work was completed. His story: the nose of the Fusion had to be removed to access the headlights and this action unintentionally disturbed the sensor for the outside air temperature display.
Since I needed the car that afternoon, he told me to bring it back on Monday and he would take care of it. I took the car and drove around for a couple of days with the outside temperature display reading at -49 F. That didn’t bother me a bit. I knew that it was 72 degrees and that was all that mattered. Or was it?
The air conditioner was useless due to the fact that it needs data from the sensor (now disabled) in order to figure out if the car needs to be cooled down. In other words, the climate control system ignored my manual inputs and only would blow warm air. I messed with that multiple times, placing it on Max-A/C, turning it to full on frigid- and it still blew hot air. Shad had left me hanging.
Fortunately the windows were not affected by Shad’s magic fingers and apparent misplacement of several pin connectors so I was able to get some cool air the old-fashioned way.
The perpetual check engine light didn’t bother me either. I knew why it was on. I could see it, but only after I wiped the perspiration from my eyes. The backup camera was also now inoperable, but I use my mirrors to back up so I thought that too was no big deal.
What I did not know, but wish I did, was that when I put the car in reverse the newly installed blue lights began to flash.
In the days of strobe lights, you could literally hear the the electronic flash occurring when the light was turned on. With the new LED technology, the lights were silent. However, since it was very dark in front of the airport, the lights showed up in a most excellent way. Everyone saw them.
Just as I tried to back up into a space, I heard a set of tires squeal and also noted that I could see blue lights flashing behind me in my mirrors. Still stupid to the fact that it was my light that was flashing, I stopped immediately and put the car in park, you know, in order to let the unseen police officer go by. The blue flashing lights behind me disappeared immediately.
I was confused for a moment, but since the driver in the car behind me had backed up slightly to allow me the space, I put it in reverse again to back up and get out of the way. It was then that I realized that the blue lights I saw in the mirrors were mine. It was evident that the reverse lights were now directly connected to my formerly well-hidden and surreptitiously installed blue lights.
I was now in a position where I had no choice but to back the Fusion into the parking space. A truck had pulled in front of me so I could not just throw it into drive and go around one more time. This would have been easier because I could have driven away and stopped in a more private location to assess what the heck was going on with my car.
Oh well, I pulled the floor shifter to R (for red-faced) and the blue lights came on again as I backed up and parked quite nicely. It’s amazing how easy it is to parallel park when all the drivers around you are courteous enough to stop and wait for you to put it in the slot.
I got out and waved, mouthed a thank-you, smiled, and tried to act as if I did not mean to use the blue light in order to gain the only available parking spot. I used the shrugging gesture with outwardly stretched upward facing palms in order to gain sympathy. I did not get a pleasant smile back from the driver who had backed up to clear the way for me. I wanted to explain, but I barely understood myself. Who would believe me?
"No sir, I don’t normally use my electronic power and authority to take a space from a commoner such as you. I only recently had it installed."
I didn’t bother. I loaded my passenger’s carry-on and my passenger and jumped back into the car. I needed reverse again (of course) and the lights lit up the night like a blue beacon of stupidity. I left as quickly as I dared. I almost put the siren on as well. Then it would look like I was picking up an important subject who needed to get somewhere quickly. I didn’t do it. I had no idea what else might have happened if I did that.
In a dream-like sequence flashing through my mind, I now understood the puzzled look of other drivers I had run into when backing up earlier that day. I could not see or hear the lights, but the other drivers who had appeared to be overly courteous were probably perplexed--perplexed by the Fusion with a blue back-up light, driven by a pompous moron.
I spent the rest of the next few days finding parking spots that would require no use of reverse. When I did need to back up, I waited until no cars or people were in sight to avoid causing an accident or feeling really stupid. I forgot on a couple of occasions. I began to practice the art of using reverse to get the car moving backwards and then immediately throwing it into neutral so I could roll the rest of the distance until putting it in drive was necessary.
Shad couldn’t stifle his laughter when I dropped the car off for the adjustments. I told him that I have renamed the car the Con-Fusion. Oddly, none of the other Fusions outfitted before mine have ever had similar problems. He said he would have it fixed by day’s end. I’ll check it over a little more carefully when I pick it up.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this article misidentified the wiring specialist as "Chad." His real name is Shad. The author claims this was an honest mistake and not merely an attemt to justify a "hanging chad" joke. Our apologies to Shad and to anyone who laughed at the chad joke.