Maya Angelou – A wish for my father

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A singular moment recalled with the passing of Maya Angelou, sees me accepting a copy of “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” from my father, who tells me as he hands me the book, “You should read this.”

 

 

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My father was a career cop, serving as Denver’s police chief during those dark, and dangerous years from 1968 to 1972, a time when it seemed America was precariously close to the abyss and quite ready and willing to topple into it. He was a hard-as-nails bear of a man, a cop’s cop; considered by many folks of color to be their enemy. That he had read Maya Angelou before I had, that he had seen the worth of her wonderful words and wanted to share them with me, still impresses me with wonder and a lasting wish that I had known him better than I did.

That Maya Angelou had touched something in his heart, or his soul remains to this day not a mystery, but an incongruity that perhaps I will never understand.

I still have the copy he gave me. I often pull it from the shelf, and flip through it to the one and only sentence he underlined: “Bailey was the greatest person in my world.”

I do not know, and I will probably never know why he underlined that sentence.

Again, I wish I had known him better. I wish I could have asked him, “Dad, why did the caged bird sing?”

Godspeed Maya. If you run into the old man, please sit with him for a while. I believe he would enjoy that, and maybe he would share the part of his heart with you that he never shared with me…or anyone else.

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Randy Martin Anderson – June 14, 1954 – May 22, 2014

 

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Recent news that Randy Anderson had died left me with the kind of nostalgia such events usually do, not to mention a sincere sense of loss. Randy was a good and decent man who, in my experience, never spoke a harsh word against anyone. These kind of folks are hard to find these days. Social media has made of us all occasional mongers, practitioners of the cut and run insult or off-color remark. I am myself guilty of this.

I first met Randy in December of 1984. He had preceded me in the City and County of Denver’s Purchasing Division as a newly hired buyer by a couple of months. I arrived in mid- or late- December to find an enormous workload left by a tacit expulsion of the old guard from the division. This was the era of Federico Pena’s Imagine a Great City mantra where many longtime city employees who’d served through the McNichols’ years were necessarily seen as relics of an outmoded system of governance, and were viewed as expendable by Feddie and the Dreamers. In fact, a rather pervasive atmosphere of shape-up or ship-out had been instituted in the purchasing division, and many old timers had chosen retirement or moving on to another agency rather than continuing to endure the pressure from Pena’s new purchasing director, one of the Dreamers who impressed me as ice personified. She did hire me, though, and for that, I was thankful.

Randy had come from an agency of the city called Denver Cares. And, what they cared about was getting the drunks off Denver’s streets, putting them in a dismal place in north Denver for a few hours or days to dry out where they could get some incidental medical attention and a hot meal. I believe Randy was on the intake crew, had seen his share of dismal at Denver Cares, and had understandably jumped at the chance to move to a white-collar position with the city.DSC00058

Randy showed me the ropes when I first arrived in the division, and let me know what the lay of the personality landscape was. It also became eminently clear to me that Randy was a perpetually cool head in all that chaos, a peacemaker if you will, who usually responded to what I saw as a serious big deal with one of his smiles, and often calmed me down when my Irish temper had gotten the best of me.

Through the years, Randy and I became good friends. We helped one another out on a daily basis, both at work and personally.Randy

Our careers in the purchasing division mirrored each other’s, our promotions came at about the same time: Buyer I, Buyer II, Buyer III, Buyer Supervisor. We endured newly appointed purchasing directors mostly with a grain of salt, both knowing that the mayoral appointees came and went like musical chairs, but we would be there for the long haul. We suffered through the most egregious tyranny of an appointed director who was if not insane, at least on the fringe of a dark psychosis that tainted every minute of our workdays. If Randy had not been there at that particular time, I don’t believe I would have stayed in the division. Randy’s kindness, his humor, his smiles, and his immense capacity for forgiveness in the face of unmitigated meanness got us both through those difficult days.

I eventually became the director of the purchasing division, and Randy became my subordinate.

Randy at one point was diagnosed with lupus, an insidious disease that eventually cripples the body if not adequately controlled, and it is not curable. I believe Randy went through periods of immense pain. I say I believe that because I never heard him complain at all, to anyone. When his treatment involved heavy-duty steroids, his face swelled to a point that he was almost unrecognizable. He took to using a cane, his steps across the office that of a man twice his age. Very thin to begin with, Randy became almost a shadow of himself. But again, never a complaint, never a plea for sympathy, never using the disease as an excuse for anything.

Randy’s love for his family was one of his sustaining strengths. His wife, Johnnie, his daughter Marisha, an older daughter whose name I don’t recall, the grandchildren who I believe were raised in his home; all of them were his rock, sometimes his burden as the dynamic of family is for most of us. His faith in the Good Lord was unquestioning, intense, personal only until he joined his congregation in song, and gave his musical talents (he played the guitar) in praise of his Savior, his God. And I am reminded of the Psalm: I will sing to the Lord all my life. I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. May my meditation be pleasing to him, as I rejoice in the Lord. And I do believe without a doubt that Randy’s song was heard, and he will rejoice when his journey is complete.

I have lost touch with most of the old crew since I retired from the purchasing division. Consequently, I did not hear of Randy’s physical travails until a few days ago after he had died. I regret that. I regret not seeing him one last time when we could have laughed for a while about the old days, shared some of the better memories of our friendship, and perhaps have said good-bye.

Godspeed dear friend.

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The Other Great Chase

One thing I found notable about Last Wednesday’s carjacking and subsequent 75 mile high-speed chase along the Colorado Front Range area, was a comment made by one of the lawmen asked to opine on the event. That lawman observed, to paraphrase, “…things like this just don’t happen here.”

The story, of course, is that Ryan Cole Stone, a 28-year-old with an eleven page rap sheet, hopped in a van with a 4-year-old inside, stole the car and commenced a frantic hour-long, 100 mph mindless skedaddle from the cops, carjacking two additional vehicles, and injuring a Colorado State Patrolman who was throwing out spike strips. The story gained national attention, so I don’t have to go into detail.

Back to what that lawman had to say about the event. Well, at least once that I’m aware of, things like this did happen here; on January 29, 1968.

My father, who was Chief of the Denver Police Department at the time, recounted the events of that bygone day in this way:

The Great Chase_4“One of the damndest, bizarre incidences during my time as chief came on January 29, 1968. I was in Berkeley, California attending a conference and Stan Cayou, the Division Chief of Patrol at the time, called me at my hotel and said there was a hostage situation going on that was the result of a failed stickup at the King Soopers grocery store that used to be at 33rd and Dahlia in northeast Denver.

“What happened was that two black males, Daniel Williams, who was also known as Charles Lovelace, and his roommate, Louis Maple, who also had an alias, Charles Davis, entered the store shortly after it opened that morning and herded the employees into the basement at gunpoint. When the manager entered the store at about 8 a.m., he thought it was strange that none of his employees were in sight. So, he headed for the back of the store to see what the hell was going on. As he walked by the meat department, the meat manager came out of the door with some guy holding a gun to his back. The gunman takes the manager and the meat manager downstairs where the other gunman is holding about thirteen people at bay. One of the gunmen then marches the manager back upstairs and demands that he open the safe which, of course, couldn’t be done because it was on a time lock. And, what the gunmen didn’t know was that when they first entered the store one of the employees had sneaked off and wrote a note that a robbery was going on and that police should be called, and held it up to the front window where two young girls saw it and they immediately called the police at a pay phone. So, the cavalry was already on its way.

“When the manager and the gunman were discussing the time lock, a cop entered the store, ordered the gunman to freeze, and the manager just grabbed the gun and handed it to the officer. The gunman downstairs heard the commotion upstairs, and thought something was wrong. So, he gathered all the employees around him and ordered them to go back upstairs. In the meantime, another cop, Sergeant Larry Morahan, The Great Chase_5had entered the store and was beginning to make his way downstairs. When he got to the bottom of the stairs, the gunman surprised him and took his weapon. The gunman then demanded that Morahan get in the group of employees, who were surrounding the gunman as they all made their way back up the stairs.

“The gunman, Williams, then took three of the store employees, and Morahan, and got in Morahan’s cruiser where they headed for I70, as Morahan yelled into the police radio that all cars should drop back or the sonofabitch was going to shoot them. At about 6th Avenue and I25, Williams ordered Morahan to stop the cruiser, and demanded that everybody get out of the cruiser. At gunpoint, Williams stopped a civilian vehicle, and he ordered everybody to get in that car.  Williams told the driver to stop the car once they got to Speer and Logan, where he told Morahan to flag down a van. Morahan did that, and the van happened to belong to Colorado General Hospital, and was occupied by the driver and a two-year-old boy who was being transported to the hospital for therapy treatments for a paralyzing birth defect. Williams let the driver of the car he hijacked go, but ordered everyone else to get into the van, and told the driver to head up Colorado 83 toward Colorado Springs.

The Great Chase_3“About fifteen miles north of the Air Force Academy, one of the hostages tired to overpower Williams. Morahan joined in and the scuffle resulted in two of the hostages getting shot. One of the hostages was bleeding badly. Morahan then began pleading with Williams to stop, telling him that the hostage was going to die if he didn’t get medical attention. So, after about eight miles, Williams did order the van to stop, and he let the wounded hostage out of the van.

“Well, by this time every police agency in Colorado was alerted to the hostage situation, and there was a goddamned hundred car caravan of police and highway patrol vehicles following the van. Even John Love, the governor of Colorado, was there…chauffeured in in his black Cadillac, with a .38 on the seat next to him. Christ, it was estimated that over 300 police officers were involved in the incident with about 100 vehicles in the caravan. There were sheriffs and highway patrol officers posing as gas station attendants along the route in the hope that the van would run out of gas. Other gas stations along the route had been closed down by local law enforcement. Three helicopters were involved in the chase.The Great Chase_6The Great Chase_7

“East of Punkin Center the van turned onto a county road and headed to Hugo, where Williams let the little boy out. A helicopter picked the boy up, and flew him back to Denver. It seems that Williams had some notion about wanting to go to Kansas. But, being unfamiliar with Colorado–he was from back east, New York, I believe–he ordered the van to proceed north, back to Denver.

“Finally, the van pulled to a stop; it had run out of gas on East Colfax. Williams gave his gun and Morahan’s service revolver to Morahan and it was all over. Just like that. Seven hours and two-hundred and fifty miles.

“The hero in all this was Morahan who, during the entire seven hours, kept at Williams to give it up; that he didn’t have a change in hell of getting out it with his life. Larry Morahan was a good cop, a good family man. Christ, he had eight or nine kids. And, you think about what could have happened and all you can do is thank God that it came out the way it did.

“What a goddamned circus it was…”

So, contrary to what that lawman of just a few days ago believes, these things do happen here. Or, at least it did happen about 46 years ago…

 

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