Small towns have personalities. People in small towns also have personalities. In 1962 I arrived in Atlanta. I was told that there were big rainbow trout in Lake Lanier. With I-285 still unfinished, a friend suggested putting my boat in at a marina near Buford dam and that I could go to Norcross, take a left and go to Highway 141 and on up to the lake.
There are railroad tracks that pass through Norcross. Turning left over the tracks onto Holcomb Bridge Road required crossing the tracks over a big hump. As I got my car and boat astraddle the tracks, I discovered a big truck had broken down and was blocking the intersection. I could neither go forward nor could I back up. I was stuck. There were two police cars, and a policeman walked up and smiled. “The train is coming,” he said.
I wanted to scream “Duh!” But his badge indicated he was chief of police. Being from up North I remembered reading about Bubba’s jails in the South so I said nothing. Some folks gathered around, studying the idiot who was stuck on the train track with the train coming. Someone was able to contact the train and shortly it came into view, moving very slowly, and then stopped.
An engineer walked up to my car, “No parking here, buddy.” “Duh” came to mind again but the police chief was still standing close by, so I just stared ahead.
I went back out to Norcross this month. The mayor was out so I walked to the police station to see if they had the same chief of police. I met some friendly people, and I was ushered into the chief’s office. He wasn’t the same man who had worried me in 1962.
I was introduced to the chief of police and endured a knuckle-crunching handshake and a huge smile. His name is Dallas Stidd. I have met a few interesting people in my 83 years: Ernie Pyle in Sicily, and Ernest Hemingway while in college, after World War II, were the only men I found as mesmerizing as Stidd. Although from two different generations we became instant kindred spirits. Having graduated from the 12th Gwinnett County Civilian Police Academy I understood his enormous responsibilities.
Both ex-military, we discussed Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, illegal immigrants, American Indians, social conditions, crimes and the troubling trends in our society. I felt like I had been with Stidd for maybe a half-hour but when I looked at the time I discovered we had talked for 2 1/2 hours. My coffee had gotten cold without a sip being taken.
I spent some time looking in a display case at evidence taken from people arrested by the Norcross police department; brass knuckles, counterfeit bills, knives, guns, strange pipes used to smoke drugs and other crime paraphernalia. I wondered why people make those decisions.
I drove to the main part of Norcross and walked down the street looking into stores with innovative window displays. I wished I had more time to spend but there will be another day. Amtrak thundered through town. I wondered where I would be if the freight train in 1962 hadn’t been notified. I could make a disturbing guess.
Bill York of Stone Mountain is a novelist, freelance writer and retired furrier.