Last year I set off an emergency signal on my mobile phone, and I am still not sure how it happened.

A dispatcher called, asking what the emergency was; I told her I did not know what she was talking about.

Minutes later, a Knox County Sheriff rang, asking about my emergency. I could feel my face flush in an instinctual guilt complex, but I gave the same message to him, although in more pleasant tones.

“Okay,” he said. “I will be down to your home shortly. What is your address?”

“Why?” I rudely asked, rattled that the police officer did not believe me. He did not answer.

Geez, did the police not have anything better to do?

“We are required to see you in person,” he said later, “to make sure you are not being held hostage and made to say pleasant things. That has happened, even in our area.”


He was easygoing, and even educational.

When facing police officers, I am no Cool Hand Luke; call me Clammy Hand Mike. When I see a police car, my face turns a shade of red, followed by sweaty palms.

Years ago, while driving in Augusta, I saw in my rearview mirror the flashing lights of an unmarked police car about a quarter of a mile behind me. I took an immediate right – Bonnie and Clyde style – through a crowded parking lot, hoping to lose the cop just in case. My hands were clammy.

“Why are we at Dunkin’ Donuts?” my wife asked.

“Um, I had an urge for a Dunkin’ coffee,” I said.

“Why is there a police car parked behind us?” she asked seconds later.

Getting a speeding ticket in front of a sugar-high Dunkin Donuts crowd and a chuckling wife was no fun, but the officer was professional and pleasant about it all, even though I had been a knucklehead by driving too fast and trying to evade him.

There is a small – microscopic, actually – part of me that is a radical non-conformist. As it relates to driving, this is where my fantasy of looking like Cool Hand Luke kicks in; I almost always – hang on to your hat – go 5 mph over the speed limit, except in school zones, then it’s 15 mph over. (Only kidding. Really. No need to complain to the editor.)

But it is not cool to be a Cool Hand Luke where there are workers – or children – in or around the road and when traffic safety people are directing traffic to protect them. Almost all the safety folks act a little bored but are watchful. While we drivers sit impatiently, they are nonchalant about their roles, standing hour after hour, relieved maybe by cigarettes and a thermos of coffee or water nearby. But they keep everybody safe, and we owe them thanks for that.

Occasionally, though, I come across a safety person, usually a skinny dude (almost always a guy) with an official crisp yellow nylon vest and a dingy, backward facing baseball cap, who exudes newfound power. He takes his time letting the lane go forward to show who is the boss. Then he vigorously pumps his hand, palm down, to signal an even slower speed, scowling as you pass.

When police are the safety people, I find they are almost always professional, even kindly. If you are going a bit too fast for their comfort they also pump their hand, but lazily. No power trip for them in this role, just protection and overtime.

One afternoon while sitting at my desk, I looked up and noticed a Knox County Sheriff park his car in front of my truck, which was in its usual space at my house. He got out of his squad car, hitched up his belt heavy with implements, took out a pad of paper, and wrote notes as he looked my truck over. I scurried outside, face flushed and palms sweaty.

He politely asked, “Is this your truck?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Your OnStar Emergency signal went off, showing you were in an accident. Are you okay?”

The 2014 truck had not been in an accident, but more interesting I had never been a subscriber to OnStar. The officer listened patiently, accepted my story after he could detect no damage to the truck or injury to me, and suggested I have the car serviced to find out what happened. He drove all the way down the peninsula from Rockland to check out an accident that did not exist and was even kind about it.

Whether facing the police for an acknowledged infraction like speeding, or when they show up unexpectedly to check on my well-being, I feel embarrassed about causing unpleasantness. When I read the Court News in the Courier-Gazette, I see that the they have their hands full with calls for disorderly conduct, OUIs, domestic abuse, fraud, and other unpleasant human frailties.

They do not need me to act like a Cool Hand Luke, too.

As Mike Skinner is a writer who lives in Tenants Harbor. Skinner was a medic in the U.S. Army, a hospital executive, and a college educator. He is the author of “My Life as a Non-Valedictorian,” available through Maine Authors Publishing, local bookstores, and Amazon and Kindle.