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It Was The Best of Times/Worst of Times

Some of my earliest and fondest cigar smoking memories took place at around four in the morning. It was a decidedly unpretentious affair.

The stick was a machine made Garcia y Vega Grenadier purchased in a box of six along with a bag of Cheetos and a bottle of Snapple from a 24 hour mini mart. Back in the 80s, this was often what passed for dinner on midnight shift on the police force since you could eat it on the fly and, if interrupted, it wouldn’t get cold. After the domestic and tavern disturbances faded into silence it was time for a cigar. I’d call my partner on the talk-around channel and we’d meet up in the dark parking lot of a manufacturing firm or pre-dawn mercury-vapor lit commuter train station.

We’d situate our squad cars in the traditional “signal 18” configuration. I kept an old Zippo in my briefcase for just such occasions. Maybe I liked the smell or maybe I didn’t know any better or maybe the added petroleum note was an improvement to the cigar. We’d light up and debrief from the evening’s events. Then we’d cover local politics, who was getting laid by whom, who was getting divorced, promoted or assigned to detectives. Cops gossip more than housewives at bridge club.

As the smoke danced in the blue glow of the Caprice’s Disney-dash I’d ponder momentarily the reaction of the dayshift oxygen thief that would be assigned to my squad in a couple hours. He would undoubtedly complain to the sergeant about the bouquet of cigar in the squad. As a conciliatory gesture I’d leave him a full tank and clean out my coffee cups or other detritus. I would even make an earnest effort to get the ashes out the window. Those concerns quickly evaporated as the cigar came into focus and represented much more than a smoke break. It was a respite from the realities of suburban policing in a large metropolitan region. It was an opportunity to strengthen bonds with a colleague. It was a brief snapshot in time that sometimes I wish I could repeat. A time from which memory has doubtless polished the rough edges. At the very least I remember those cigars as being very satisfying. I’m certain that today I would find them unfit for consumption. Cheetos on the other hand are still every bit as enchanting as they were 25 years ago.

Soon the sun would make its appearance, signaling the beginning of the daily commute to work and school. As traffic began to build I’d make my last stop for gas and a final cup of coffee. If luck was with me I’d hit the stoplights just right and make it home to kiss my wife on her way out the door for work.

Decades have passed since those memories were created. Policies now in place prohibit tobacco use in municipal vehicles or in the public view. Cops nowadays would no doubt select a protein bar and some hair gel over a bag of Cheetos and a cigar. Things change and time marches on. Kids coming on the job nowadays have it a lot harder in some ways but in other ways much less so. As for me, I’m glad I got in when I did and I’m glad to be done. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything.


Matt (Churchill) grew up in Milwaukee, WI. He graduated from Northwestern University Center for Public Safety (School of Police Staff and Command)
Retired as Chief of Police in 2012 from suburban community/Chicago metro area.. Interests include-motorcycling, firearms, cigars, cooking/barbecue
Married, 2 step sons


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