"Good afternoon! Isn't it a wonderful day?" grinned Al, bending down to peer into our Nissan.
"Sure is," I heard my voice say far more calmly than my racing mind felt. It was busy ticking off the checklist of paperwork I'd soon be asked to present. Wyoming license plates? Got them. Car title transferred from Florida to Wyoming? Yep. Registration in the car? Check. Wyoming driver's licenses? Done. Proof of insurance? In my wallet.
"We were out taking advantage of this wonderful afternoon exploring the gorgeous scenery," I volunteered. Long ago, I learned the best verbal defense is a good verbal offense. "We just moved here from Florida a few weeks ago."
"Really?" smiled Al. "I have relatives down in Florida. Pretty area. I've been there."
Five minutes later, we were still chit-chatting.
Finally, the other shoe dropped.
"The reason I pulled you over is because you were going 65 through a 45 area. We have a school in this little community and even though it's not in session now, we want people to get used to slowing down here," explained Al.
"Darn," I admitted, "I missed it. I guess I was gawking too much at the scenery."
Al looked into my eyes, sizing me up. "What brought you to Cody, Mike?"
"All this beauty. We'd visited here in 1991 and have been plotting how to live here ever since. I'm a writer and finally worked it out so I could live anywhere."
"You're a writer?" exclaimed Al. "What a coincidence. I'm a painter."
We'd been in town long enough to realize there were many artists in the area.
"Really," I asked, stepping into Al's trap. "Acrylics, oils, water colors?"
"Houses," smiled Al.
Chuckling, I now realized Al had been fully in control of the conversation since it began. The only reason we'd been talking so long was because Al was being Al.
"Side job," he grinned. "I'm a substitute teacher at the high school, too."
And then we were chit-chatting another five minutes. It turned out that Al knew the woman we were renting our house from - she taught at the high school too.
When the chat ran its course, Al closed his ticket book.
"I'm just going to give you a warning. Welcome to Wyoming. I hope you enjoy the rest of the day."
We drove away chuckling, actually happy for the experience of being pulled over by the patrolman.
It turns out our experience wasn't unique. Al's buddies at the office knew it. Everyone he pulled over knew it. His house painting customers knew it. And everyone at the high school knew it. The general public was soon to know it.
Highway Patrolman Al Clavette, 48, died of a heart attack on June 10 during a family vacation in Hawaii. He left behind a wife and three children and a million friends and citizens who he'd touched in countless ways.
As the newspaper article that followed explained, Al was so popular because he gave a bit of himself to any job he undertook. So much so, that when friends and family cleaned out his Highway Patrol desk, they discovered a file labeled "Fan-mail." It turned out that Al had such a pleasant way of enforcing the law that some violators actually took photos of him as he issued them tickets. This file was filled with cards and photos he'd received from drivers who actually thanked him for making their ticketing experience so delightful.
Rick Moser, a sheriff's office employee who worked with Al, wrote a letter to the editor that each of us should be so fortunate to receive as a eulogy when we depart:
"I knew Highway Patrolman Al Clavette. We all knew Al. The entire Bighorn Basin knew Al. He made a point of meeting everyone and everyone loved him. He was kind and friendly to everyone he met, even violators.
"In our line of work, we become accustomed to unexpected death and I have intellectually accepted that Al has passed away. Yet, I still find it hard to accept that he's not going to walk through that door and say hello. We certainly can't bring Al back and we can't replace him, but we would all do well to be a little more like him."
"One thing is certain," continued Moser. "Our prayers are going to take a little longer to be answered for the next few months because God is going to be out on coffee break with Al."
Mike Johnson is an energetic writer & entrepreneur. Learn more about Mike's offerings at www.MikeJohnson.biz