It was a usual late August day in Central Texas. This particular summer was famous for having 100 days of 100+ degree temperatures in a row. I worked the evening patrol shift – 3pm-1am. As soon as I stepped outside I started sweating. Out of the shower I weigh about 175 pounds. In my patrol uniform I push about 210. The usual cop stuff, duty belt with all the tools, body armor (I always wore mine no matter what), boots, hat, etc.
On this particular day I was working a rural section of our district. There is a large highway that runs through it and it was an undivided section of road. Usually when there were wrecks, they were bad. Shortly after the start of my shift I responded to a collision with injury in the middle of this highway. Someone had drifted over the center line and collided head-on with another vehicle, both moving at faster than the speed limit, which was 55ish. The debris blocked the center lanes both ways, making the scene a mess. Traffic was backed up for miles as we tried to get everyone cared for and the road cleared. Another unit took charge of the crash paperwork – I took up a position of directing traffic. We were diverting people down the shoulder so we could get things moving. I’m not a cowboy by any means, but I kept a straw hat in my car for when it rained or when it was really hot like this. I needed the shade on my neck and heavy sweat just soaked my ball cap.
The wreck took a while to clear, I’d guess about an hour or two. As people passed by we got the usual rubber necking. Towards the end of it, someone actually handed me a bottle of water. I thanked them profusely and drank it in one slug. I could feel how soaked I was – there was a constant river of sweat travelling down my back under my armor and pooling at my belt. My hair felt like I had just gotten out of the pool and I was thankful for the little shade I had under my hat. The polyester uniform looked great but did nothing for heat management – not that it would have mattered considering the body armor made you feel like you were in an oven anyway. My feet were on fire from standing on the pavement and my forearms were getting a nice sunburn.
I started to feel dizzy and I knew I was dehydrated. I had long killed the 32 ounce Nalgene I had in the car when I finally got the call we were opening the road. I had left my car running with the A/C on – pretty standard practice. Last thing you wanted to do was get into a 140+ degree car after being out in the sun. Unfortunately I was a rookie and I had an old, old car. When I got in I saw the check engine light was on and the A/C was blowing hot. Not good. I tried to put it in drive and it died. More not good. I killed everything and started it again. It coughed to life and the dash lit up like a Christmas tree. I pressed on the gas and it barely wheezed over the crest of the hill I was on. Luckily I picked up some speed (and air flow) coming down the hill and made it to the top of the next one. I knew there was a corner store up ahead and if I could make it there I could hide in the A/C for a while until my unit cooled off enough to put something in the radiator.
I limped it into the station and it died just as I turned into the lot. I coasted it into two parking spaces – I figured I’d get complained on but was past the point of caring. I marked myself out of service and wandered inside. I did the first thing I could think of. I walked over to the coolers and stuck my head in as far as it would go. After about 5 minutes I started shivering and pulled myself out. I grabbed a gallon of water and tried to pace myself putting it down. After I drank a quarter of it I started to feel a little better.
I caught a glimpse of myself in the reflection of the door. My uniform was completely soaked everywhere except where my body armor was. Arms from shoulder to elbow, the bottom ¼ of my shirt under my armor edge, my pants, my socks. I pulled my armor away from my chest and the cold air that went inside made me shiver again – thank god for under armor shirts and boxer jocks which at least kept the river of sweat from pooling up and chafing my skin to death.
My favorite memory of that experience was when I went to go pay at the counter. The middle aged clerk looked at me and laughed. “Water is on the house, my friend. Take another if you need it.” I thanked him and tried not to drip too much on his floor.
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