Forty-three years ago tomorrow, February 6, 1978, I was scheduled for my first interview with the Rhode Island State Police. It was a career choice not always on the top of my list, at least not consciously, but through circumstances or perhaps inevitability it had moved to the top.
My father had been a trooper, I would follow in the footsteps.
Then, serendipity struck. A snowstorm turned from just another winter event into the storm of a lifetime. It snowed for thirty-three hours straight, sometimes coming down at four inches an hour.
Early on the morning of the 6th, I received a call from State Police Headquarters; they were postponing the interview.
I was disappointed but, at the moment, thought it would be just a week or two before they rescheduled.
Since I was a member of the RI National Guard at the time, I dove into doing my part with digging the state out of the deluge. Woonsocket, RI set the state record with fifty-four inches of snow.
It was a big storm.
Several days after it stopped snowing, equipment and personnel from outside the state arrived to help. I recall a crusty old highway employee from Buffalo, New York, if I remember correctly, stepping off a plane, looking around, and saying,
“Blizzard, this ain’t no freakin’ blizzard. This is Saturday night in Buffalo.”
I guess perspective matters.
Once things returned to normal, I awaited the call for a new interview. It never came. The state imposed a hiring freeze, cancelling the scheduled class of new troopers.
One of my best friends, Ralph Ezovski, had joined the ranks of the East Providence Police Department. They were hiring. He told me to apply. I didn’t even know, in typical Rhode Island fashion, where East Providence was let alone city hall or the police department.
I declined. The State Police would call, eventually.
Undaunted, Ralph arrived with a copy of the application and convinced me to fill it out. He may have plied me with alcohol, if so it was effortless. I filled out the application, but either intentionally or subconsciously didn’t send it in.
No worries, Ralph took it and stuck it under the door of the Personnel Office the day the applications closed. I forgot about it and resumed my wait for the state police.
Several weeks later, I received a notice for the written exam for EPPD. “What the heck,” I thought, “can’t hurt.”
Cutting to the gist of the story, I passed the test, passed the agility, and passed (imagine!) the psychological test. All that remained was an interview with then Police Chief George Rocha.
“What the heck, it will be good practice,” I thought.
After the usual preliminaries, Chief Rocha said something that changed everything. Looking me in the eye, a bit of a suspicious grin on his face, he asked, “So, are you gonna run out the door as soon as the State Police hire again?”
Everyone, including myself, thought I would go to the state police. This consensus started a long time ago even if I wasn’t part of it. Somewhere I have a copy of my yearbook from Ashton School (The Scotty!) in Cumberland, RI. In it, my second grade teacher wrote, “Best of Luck to a future Rhode Island State Police Detective.” It would seem destiny had a plan for me. Not because of any talent or ability or calling, but because my father had been a trooper.
It was at that moment it all changed.
“No sir,” I said. “I applied to be an East Providence Police Officer and, if I get hired, that is what I will be.” The rest is history.
In 1979, I received a new appointment for an interview with the State Police. I turned it down. East Providence PD was, and remains to this day, one of the finest police departments in the country, and I am proud to have spent twenty years as a member of that agency.
I’m not sure if Chief Rocha believed me at the moment he asked that question about leaving. Later, when I was in a unit that reported directly to him, he asked me why I hadn’t gone to the State Police.
I smiled and said, “Because that’s what everybody expected me to do and I wanted to blaze my own trails.”
“You should have done it, kid,” the Chief said, “they make better money.”
Perhaps, but I bet I never would never have done the things I did with EPPD, worked alongside outstanding EPPD officers, or created the memories I cherish, and I do not regret one moment. While I have the utmost respect for the RI State Police and had the opportunity to work many cases with some outstanding troopers and detectives, I’m glad things turned out the way they did.
I like to think there was something inside of me directing my choices, even if I have uncertainties about such things. I like to think I somehow heard those messages sending me down an unexpected path. I don’t know if I will ever know why I chose one path over the other when I came to “two roads diverged in a yellow wood.” Yet, I will be forever grateful to a changing weather pattern that put a blizzard in the path of one road, sending me down the other, less traveled.
It may not have been much of a blizzard to that guy from Buffalo, but it was a life altering experience for me. I’m not a big believer in mystical messages, kismet, karma, or any other such things. I tend toward the more rational. It’s likely I would have ignored any subtle intuitive notions. Because of this, it took a blizzard to get my attention.
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