Riding with rocket man

By John Ford Sr. | Jun 28, 2010

It was July 1982 when yet another Maine State Police trooper moved into the Unity patrol area. At that point in my 12-year tour as an area law enforcement officer, I'd witnessed several troopers come and go for various reasons.

Some decided law enforcement wasn't really their forte – while others had proven themselves within the agency and moved up the ladder of success to bigger and better positions.

Trooper Reitchel was the latest to be promoted, accepting a detective position within the agency. No longer would we cruise the same roads, chasing the bad guys and making and sharing great memories. It seemed as though I would just get used to working with one man in a blue uniform and like a magical wave of the wand, he would be gone.

Trooper Mark Nickerson became the next member of the Maine State Police to invade my sacred territory by laterally transferring from Greenville to Unity.

As I set out to break in another trooper to share experiences, little did I realize at the time what a treat his presence would become. Some of the experiences still make me shudder to this very day. I don't say this in a negative way by any means. I simply base my comments on what a wild and independent cowboy it was with whom I'd share much of the rest of my law enforcement career.

To say we created a long list of memories for the diaries would be a misstatement at best. Hell, I could write an entire book just on the scrapes and episodes we got in.

First of all, jumping on board for a ride with the rocket man was like climbing into a capsule on some Disneyland thriller ride. I swear, Mark cruised at one speed and one speed only and that was flat-arse out. It was a real challenge to be a passenger in his cruiser, especially when a crisis arose that required an immediate emergency response.

There were times when I felt as though I was a front seat passenger in a low-level government jet flying at Mach 2 or higher as we soared across the highways en route to a variety of dire situations. Through it all, I never once felt that Mark didn't have the rocket under his complete control.

I think it was nearly a year after I'd retired before my eyeballs finally caught up with me, especially after flying over back roads at g-forces that normal people never get to experience.

Mark's expertise behind the wheel gained him a position at the Maine State Police Academy teaching pursuit driving. For several years he taught more than one young trooper how to safely steer a ship on dry land at ultra-high speed.

Mark was an expert at what he did, there was no doubt about it. I simply reckoned that practice made perfect, and there was one thing about it, Mark always practiced. On certain occasions, my shorts could properly avouch for the fact.

Yup, unlike the others who proceeded Mark as Maine State Police troopers within my assigned patrol area, this fast trip down memory lane was going to be one hell of a show. Every day would be a new experience.

I'm sure many of you have read Mark's columns in which he recalls his own memories in the off-week, opposite of mine. The stories are all true. Although I noticed sometimes a few of the finer details have been conveniently left out, which probably is a good thing – which I'm sure will draw a sigh of disgust from my partner in crime when and if he reads this.

Mark was aware it took a willing and cooperative game warden to help him successfully leave his legacy of a productive law enforcement officer. I'm sure this comment will draw yet another sigh of disgust from my pal in blue, but as time goes on you'll see for yourself that more than once a game warden came to his rescue.

From what I hear, wardens around Greenville were also among his best of allies.

One of Mark's biggest attributes was his uncanny ability to recognize a drunk driver. He could pick out an intoxicated operator among a field of more than 100 in a demolition derby, for cripes sake.

Mark had an eye for the obvious in spotting these folks. This trait, in all probability, saved several lives over the years since he removed these threatening menaces from the highways.

At the last count, I believe Mark had nabbed more than 1,000 drunk drivers for their sins — a record that probably will stand for many years, if not forever in the records of the Maine State Police.

Mark was very congenial and easy to get along with when dealing with the general public, especially females. But that's a story of a different kind, perhaps even another complete book in itself.

On more than one occasion, I watched Mark single-handedly defuse a tense situation simply by carefully choosing his words. Such a trait was hard for some in the field to understand and even more so to accomplish, especially when there was an irate person with their fists clenched, spitting in your face, just hoping you'll say the wrong thing so they can cold-cock you upside the head.

But more often than not, Mark would say the right thing and within minutes he'd be holding a sensible and logical discussion with the person.

However, there were a few times when I had to bail him out of a mess after he had said the wrong thing. I'll be writing about some of them later as I continue down memory lane picking highlights from my diaries.

In fairness to Mark, though, there were a few times when he bailed me out of a mess, too, during times, if you can imagine, when I managed to say the wrong thing at the wrong time.

We worked together extremely well as a team. We both finished our great careers patrolling the same area. And to think, we did it without getting fired or physically hurt in the process.

Although, more than once, we had reprimands and frequent ups and downs with the powers to be, especially after pushing matters to the edge on issues that we felt strongly about. Mark told his boss there must have been something vile in the area drinking water that brought out the stiff independence and stubbornness that both he and I shared.

I'm not so damn sure that he wasn't right – the water did taste funny and we always seemed to create our own personnel problems. Another thing we shared that was quite evident — neither one of of us ever climbed up the ladder of success by being promoted.

As I look back upon it today, I'm some damn glad I didn't. The times were constantly changing and for some of us old-timers not all of these changes were for the best. I'm sure my partner in crime probably felt the same way.

Stand by when, in the days ahead, I methodically travel through the journals. You'll read a few of the many hair-raising experiences in which Markie and I were involved. It truly was quite a show.

A real front row seat to what life was truly like in the fast lane, riding with the rocket man!

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