Will Hitchhike For Shrimp

Tim Cotton

Tim Cotton | Jan 23, 2017

I was recently lured to a conference in Florida. The promise of sunrises and sunsets that can be seen while standing in the same exact location with only a minor 180 degree adjustment is downright magical to a boy from New England.

The annual conference of the Florida Law Enforcement Public Information Officer Association, as imagined by Car Talk blogger, Tim Cotton. 

Where I come from, the average bumpkin needs to walk at least some distance to find a break in the tree-line big enough to see one or both of them. If you haven’t had the foresight to clear out the right trees and brush, some minor sauntering becomes necessary to get out to the road, a field, or higher ground  in order to catch a clear view of this twice-a-day spectacle. On the Gulf side of  Florida, they have sunsets figured out.

By December it begins to get chilly here in Maine. Some might call it cold. While I am not a fan of extremely warm weather, I figured the sunshine state would be sporting temps in the 60s. This is fully acceptable to me and I could travel light, speak to a group of cops, get a free newspaper each morning, and fly home after a couple of days away. I wouldn’t even need to rent a car. Transportation to and from the Clearwater beach hotel would be provided.

I used to rent a car when traveling out of state. What I found is that I ended up paying ridiculous parking fees at hotels and only used the vehicle for one or two days. It just doesn’t make any sense. I am also never afraid to ask for a ride somewhere. I grew up in an era when hitchhiking was an acceptable practice.  When asking for a ride, make sure that you have actually spoken to the folks for a few minutes prior to launching into your request. It increases the chance of success exponentially.

Hitchhiking was once an acceptable practice.

Most all of the other police officers and police department spokespersons were going to be from agencies in Florida. While I might not fit in from a fashion standpoint, cops are cops no matter where you go. I rarely don short pants and my tan lines taper off around October; however, I do have some connections to Florida. I watched every episode of Sea Hunt as a kid. I loved Lloyd Bridges, but I feel he did his best work in Airplane.

Upon my arrival, I ran into Officer Jamie Kenneally. A public information officer from the Boston Police Department, he sounds like he is from, well...Boston. His blue Crocs and plaid shorts were not disguise enough to cover up the accent. Cops can pick out other cops from several hundred yards away. Off-duty, we look for Crocs and plaid shorts.

How to spot an off duty cop. Pictured: Officer Jamie Kenneally. Not pictured: The Crocs. (Tim Cotton)

Kenneally had rented a car. We became friends. (Not for his car and certainly not for his Crocs.) We just seemed to get along. Kenneally had done a stint as a television sports reporter in my hometown years before. I had done some time in AM radio - news, talk and a little music. He looks like a television sports reporter and I definitely have the looks of a man that was destined for bigger things. Maybe FM.

While it is doubtful that Kenneally’s role in sharing information will be featured in the recently released film “Patriots Day” he was instrumental in the Boston Police Department’s media briefings and social media presence throughout the entire four-day period following the horrific bombing at the Boston Marathon in April of 2013. Kenneally’s memorable message on Twitter after the capture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev allowed a city and a nation to rest easy.

Kenneally is an impressive representative of the Boston Police Department, however, he is not much of a car enthusiast. Much of his patrol experience in Boston was walking a beat. From my personal experience in riding with Kenneally, that was probably best.

How to tell you're riding with a beat cop: He grips the steering wheel not at 10 and 2, nor at 9 and 3, but dead center. (Tim Cotton)

Unlike most places in the United States, rental cars in Florida are reasonably priced and far more reasonable if you show up in the late fall or early winter. Kenneally is no fool. He did what any tightwad New Englander should do when standing at the Hertz pick-up counter: he asked for an upgrade. There is nothing particularly wrong with a competent and efficient Toyota Corolla, but Kenneally wanted a convertible. The Hertz employee must have read his mind; she handed Kenneally the keys to a very nice BMW 228I convertible.

I don’t know if the actual color was Moonlight silver metallic or Glacier silver metallic, but it was silver. I had read a few articles about this particular automobile and while we did not test all of its capabilities, there was no question that the driving experience was far better than a Japanese economy ride with a CV transmission. I loathe the “seat-of-the pants” feeling that CVTs provide. I wait for the succinct and distinctive shift. It never comes.

Tim's advice: Upgrading your rental car is always worth the money -- especially when you're not the one paying. (Tim Cotton)

The first time I rented a convertible in Florida was around 1995. I dropped the top exactly two times on that trip and the sun and humidity made it very uncomfortable. I finally decided that I would put the top up and run the air conditioning for the rest of the trip. Convertibles are not an expense that I could ever justify, but since I did not have a dime in this particular ride, I felt it was well worth it.

The car was delightful bonus to the perfect weather but we had to put the top down just to fit Kenneally’s golf clubs in the back seat. Being the mopes that we are, we found out that the roof wouldn't open up if the trunk was overfilled. Convertible professionals would know this. We did not.

Q. How many off-duty cops does it take to put the top down in a convertible? A. Our lawyers at Dewey, Cheatem & Howe have advised us not to answer this. (Tim Cotton)

Sensors would not allow the roof to move into its compartment until space was made available. Moving the clubs from the trunk to the pavement, opening the top, and then placing the clubs in the back seat was necessary for us to enjoy the wind through the hair experience. Kenneally has a shaved head, so the wind really only blew through my hair and even then the resistance was minimal. If I could afford a convertible I would probably invest in Rogaine as well. Possibly a comb.

"Kenneally wears a handsome hat to avoid excess sun. He wears it in a fashion similar to how Norton wore his hat on the Honeymooners." 

Our experience driving across town to a social event was an eye opener for both of us. Sure, we didn’t know where we were going and the car didn’t have navigation (that we could locate), but we got more horns and fingers from the local population than we ever did in our respective police cruisers. Poor lane selection and last minute blinkers seem to make everyone mad.

We did have a discussion about the possibility that the brand of the car might have increased the tough love that folks were displaying toward us. We have no data to back it up.

It is possible that in a hardtop we would not have heard the horns so clearly. We even got the finger from a fellow operator of a BMW. Apparently even those with “tiger-blood” eat their young. It hurt. Hopefully next time we can get a Jag.  

With the top down, you can really hear the outraged honks of your fellow motorists.

The car had plenty of power, a great stereo and we made it to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium to see a dolphin with a prosthetic tail. Winter, the Dolphin, had starred in Dolphin Tale 1 & 2. She lived at the aquarium. We ate shrimp and scallops while we watched her swim. I felt like I was taking food away from the poor girl. I switched to meatballs (after the shrimp were gone). It was a heck of an outing put on by our friends at the Florida Law Enforcement Public Information Officer Association. Good people with a difficult job. Even more difficult is pronouncing the acronym of the organization when we were questioned by security at the back door. We finally just said we were cops and we were here to eat shrimp and watch the dolphin. They let us in.

The car was great. Too many electronic features for me. I would have preferred a real gearbox. The seats were comfortable and there was plenty of legroom, even with the clubs in the back seat. The only niggle in the trip was when Kenneally tried to find the PARK position with the little shift knob. He found it each time, but not without some confusion. Even now I cannot tell you how it happened.  I would have liked shifter detents rather than a joystick. I can’t imagine sending some people out in a car like that without a short tutorial on the operation of all the features.

"We ate shrimp and scallops while we watched her swim. I felt like I was taking food away from the poor girl."

When I say “some people,”  I mean Jamie or me - simple people with more patience for bad drivers than most of the vehicle operators in Clearwater Beach. Of course if you are wondering if we reciprocated the flipping of the bird back at the impatient people, we did not. We were far too busy enjoying the warm weather and pleasant driving/riding opportunity that was afforded to us by the kind lady at the Hertz counter.

Next time you are in Florida, it’s worth asking for an upgrade. Your car might not come with an aging cop with the manners of the guy who tries to force feed you pre-toothpick’d teriyaki chicken at the mall food court, but if I see you being offered the key-fob to a German convertible, I will not hesitate to ask you for a ride to the beach.

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