One of the many advantages of living in Houston, Texas is that it, along with Dubai and Aberdeen, is an oilfield hub. This is important if you happen to be on the periphery of that industry, as I am – an accompanying partner or to use the more derogatory name, a trailing spouse. The benefit of such locations is that people you have known around the world often end up in the same place. Some of course you wish hadn’t.
Not in that category are a family we first met in Singapore nearly twenty-five years ago. They have followed us to new postings and we have followed them. They are an integral part of our lives. As nomads it is the friends made in out-of-the-way places that often become your global family. They are the ones who remember shared joys and woes in foreign lands. It is their children who often hold the position of honorary cousin to your children, and you honorary aunt. Or as I am sometimes referred to when in stern mode, “my second mum”.
We followed this family to Houston and, except for the three years we spent in West Africa (a place they did not follow us to) before returning to the Texas shore, we have shared many occasions.
The youngest of the two family’s children is a young man, let’s call him David. I have known him since birth and it is only with love that I say the following. He has a tendency to not always be in complete control of his limbs. Barefoot he is 6’5” and lean, and though an excellent athlete, in ordinary life he is inordinately clumsy.
This came to the fore at the weekend. David is an Aggie, which means he is a student at Texas A&M University. Formed in 1876 as the first public institution of higher learning in the State, it is now home to approximately 39,000 undergraduates, with 10 colleges on a 5,200 acre campus. It is one of the few universities with land-grant, sea-grant and space-grant designations and is essentially the town of College Station, and most people there are in some way connected to the Campus.
All was well until just after 2 am on Saturday morning. A driver had been designated and took his role seriously, shepherding his flock of friends all gently inebriated but not drop-down drunk and all over the age of alcohol consent (21 in the USA), along an alley filled with other students all intent on heading home, the bars having shut. Young men letting off steam after a few weeks of intense study.
My young friend, remember he is by nature a klutz, while talking over his shoulder to his pals and therefore walking half-backwards, admittedly not a very sensible thing to do, stumbled into a man standing astride his bicycle at the entrance to the alley. The man was knocked off his perch but did not fall to the ground. On good authority, the sober driver of the party assures all concerned that David’s immediate reaction was to apologise profusely – he being an affable inebriate.
The response to his words was to handcuff him. Ignoring protestations from the rest of the group now quickly sobered, the man on the bike, a policeman, called for a Black Maria and threatened to charge David with “assaulting a police officer” which can turn from a misdemeanor to a felony in a heartbeat, even if violence is not actual.
David was tossed in a cell with men in very much worse stages of alcohol consumption, many puking their guzzled gallons on the jail floor. He was charged with public intoxication, a Class C Misdemeanour. His phone was confiscated but he was allowed one call. Like most of us, all his numbers were in his mobile and not his brain cells, and the number most easily recallable was his parents which he did want to dial at that hour of the morning. He finally contacted a friend who appeared forthwith armed with the immediate $400 bail but was detained a further five hours.
David finally freed, his sisters due to arrive respectively from Houston and Phoenix for a football game, then ran back to his shared house to arrive, dishevelled and distressed, as they pulled into the driveway. The story then unfolded.
Now I know I have some personal stake in this story. David is a loved ‘almost’ son and so yes, my version could be skewed. But it’s not.
It is a tale told far too many times, in far too many places on both sides of the Pond, but on this side they carry guns and tasers, both of which they use with frightening regularity. A tale of over aggression from those wearing a uniform.
Talk of community policing is just that. Talk. Until the police get out of their patrol cars and off their bikes, let alone their high horses, there will not be the element of trust those in braid declare vital to the success of their force, that dare I say those old-fashioned words, “respect for the men and women in blue” ring true again.
We don’t know the end of the tale yet. Probably a fine and community service but hopefully the charge, trumped up by the loss of face of one disgruntled, over-reaching police officer, will be expunged from David’s record.
Once again a friendship between families, made quarter of century ago in a land many miles from America, kept alive through the power of firstly flimsy blue aerogrammes, then the internet and now frequent get-togethers between the parents, has proved its worth.
When next we all nine of us gather again from our different parts of the world, maybe over the Christmas table or a birthday barbecue, we will laugh at David’s story along with our other shared adventures, but right now we are all too indignant!