An old friend lost an old friend the other day. Jim said they were both getting up in years and he just happened to outlast Herman. Jim was black and Herman was white but that had never mattered in a town where some thought it should.

Herman had been mayor of their small town for 24 years. He was not only the mayor. He was Jim’s dentist and his good friend.

Jim was a teacher and taught Herman’s children. Jim also worked with Herman on different social projects to make life better for the poor in the community. There were quite a few poor people in town. Some had jobs and others were unemployed. Jim and Herman worked together to make life better for all of them, as much as the donations they collected would allow.

One night Jim had a chance to test his friendship with Herman. He had been to the hospital visiting Mrs. Carmichael, a widow Jim and Herman had come to know through their efforts to help the poor. Mrs. Carmichael was in the process of dying a slow death and the thought of her impending death bothered Jim a great deal.  They had known each other for years.

Jim came out of the hospital that evening thinking about Mrs. Carmichael, got in his car and remembered he had a book he needed to return to the library.  He drove out of the parking lot but failed to notice a traffic island he knew full well was there. He swerved to miss it and did but when he turned left to go to the library, a policeman drove up behind him, lights flashing.

Jim pulled over to the side, put both of his hands on the steering wheel and waited. The policeman asked for his license. Jim kept one hand on the steering wheel and put the other in his back pocket. He took out his wallet, opened it and pulled out his license. The cop looked at it and said, “Mr. Jackson, have you been drinking?”

Jim said, "I don’t drink.”  The cop shone his flashlight in Jim’s face with the high beam directly in his eyes.

Jim blinked from the light and said, “Sir, I have spastic optic nerves.  My eyes will jump all over the place.”

The cop said, “Get out of the car.”

Jim said, “If you think I’ve been drinking, take me to the station.”

The cop said, “Walk that line.”  Cars were passing and blowing their horns.  Jim was mortified. He knew the cop had called in his name, and people all over town were hearing it on their scanners. Listening to a police scanner is something some people in towns and big cities do even while watching television.

Jim successfully walked the line, placed his finger on his nose with both index fingers and recited his ABCs.

About that time another police car drove up. The new cop rolled down the window and hollered to his colleague, “You had better let him go; he’s the mayor’s friend.”

Jim was livid.  The policeman looked at Jim and said, “You know I could arrest you.”

Jim replied, "If you think I’ve been drinking, take me to the station!”

The cop turned and walked off leaving Jim standing there.

When Jim got home, he phoned his friend Herman, the mayor. He told him what had happened and what the two officers did. He told Herman that he had neither expected nor wanted any special favors and that his cousin Jimmy Joe had been killed some years back by a drunk driver.

Herman spoke calmly to Jim.

“If you had been drinking and were arrested, Jim, I wouldn’t get the police to pull your ticket. You’re my friend, but I don’t know why they think I would cover for you. I’ll get to the bottom of this.”

Jim found out that Herman had a meeting the next day with the police chief and the two officers involved in the incident. Herman let all three know that no matter who broke the law, they were to be treated with courtesy but without favor. And that was especially true if someone was a friend of the mayor.

Jim respected Herman even more for doing what he did. He was a true public servant, Jim said, and there aren’t enough of those around now. He said the town has had some good mayors since Herman retired, but even in death that man stands tall as one of a kind.

Donal Mahoney

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