This has gotta stop

What in Sam Hill has happened to American law enforcement?

I had to ask myself this question just a few days ago as I cruised by a designer coffee shop and observed a half-dozen police vehicles in the immediate vicinity.

Had a prison inmate escaped and taken all the baristas hostage?

Sadly, no. The situation was much, much worse. Apparently several officers had stopped for coffee.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with sworn peace officers pausing for a cup of coffee. In fact, enthusiastic consumption of coffee is commendable. The best police departments are caffeinated police departments.

No, the problem was in the kind of coffee the officers were consuming – designer coffee.

Real cops don’t drink lattes.

Real cops snack on carpet tacks washed down with three-day-old coffee from a dirty cup.

Real cop coffee is best brewed in an unwashed squad room percolator and reheated a dozen times. The good stuff is brewed with three times the amount of ground coffee recommended by the coffee-maker manufacturer and should be measured by the fistful rather than the tablespoon.

Steamed milk, whipped cream and (shudder!) sprinkles have no place in this coffee.

Sugar may be used sparingly if it were purchased from an Army surplus store sometime in the mid-1990s or has been allowed to sit in a forgotten bowl until it resembles quartz crystal and has to be freed with a chisel.

I recall a particularly memorable cup of coffee I consumed nearly three decades ago when I joined some county sheriff’s detectives for a cup of their famous brew one rainy November morning. The sheriff’s investigations division at that time was located in the old 1907 county jail in downtown Fairfield and the coffee was prepared by inmates in the jail kitchen.

We had barely begun to enjoy the sturdy beverage when a panicked-looking correctional officer ran up the stairs to warn us that one of the inmates had somehow mistaken the coffee urn for a urinal.

Perhaps the most unsettling thing about this whole unsavory experience was that none of us could taste the difference between that morning’s coffee and the coffee to be found at any Solano County law enforcement agency on any given morning.


Today’s lawmen also should remember that a grimy cardboard cup of genuine squad room coffee can be a very effective defensive weapon when the chips are down.

Your sidearm’s jammed and your baton is tangled with the seat belt, but you’ve still got a cup of three-day-old coffee festering on the console of your patrol car. Wave that puppy around a few times and even hardcore felons will quickly surrender.

Hook ’em and book ’em, amigos…

Originally published July 30, 2006

The double cappuccino: threat or menace?

What with artificial energy shortages, growing corporate sleaze and an unexpected proliferation of killer dogs, these United States have been rolling down a decidedly bumpy road in recent weeks.

I firmly believe we can survive all these difficulties. What I’m worried about, though, is our ability to survive our morning coffee.

I used to bemoan the fact that the average American appeared to be losing such basic skills as the ability to safely pick up a firearm or start a chainsaw.

As the 1980s began to melt into the 1990s, it seemed like more and more suburbanites were lopping off limbs and shooting themselves in the feet for no apparent reason. Even seasoned gang members were having trouble hitting their rivals during drive-by shootings.

Then one day a motorist ordered a cup of hot coffee from a fast food restaurant and the hot coffee actually turned out to be, er, hot, and the unsuspecting motorist was scalded during a series of events which are still somewhat unclear to me.

Fortunately there was an attorney nearby to render assistance and the case of the hot coffee that actually was hot and therefore dangerous to people ordering hot coffee was entered in the annals of civil law.

And suddenly everybody was being victimized by coffee. For awhile there it seemed like bands of malevolent restaurant employees were prowling the streets just looking for hapless citizens to sadistically scald with vats of seething java.

(“Hey, buddy – warm that up for ya? Bwah-ha-ha-ha-ha!”)

What it all comes down to is the fact that Americans have somehow lost their ability to recognize hot coffee and to safely handle it once they’ve got their mitts around a cup.

It would seem a simple enough intellectual process to receive one’s steaming cup of coffee and think “Aha! Here’s the hot cup of coffee I ordered. I didn’t order iced coffee, therefore this must be hot. It’s radiating warmth and there’s vapor rising from it. Whoa! Must be really hot. I should exercise reasonable caution because hot liquids are quite capable of causing first- and second-degree burns if one is not careful.”

Instead, your average consumer today grabs that cup of hot coffee, swerves back into traffic, reaches for his or her cell phone and begins directing an imaginary orchestra with both hands.

This delirious dance invariably ends with a prolonged shriek of agony, the hissing of scalded flesh and “Hel-loooo, law offices?”

The latest wrinkle in this national debacle is consumer concern about recycled coffee cup caddies.

These little cardboard holders are designed to keep the unwary from searing their fingers on – you guessed it! – hot coffee containers that, presumably, contain hot coffee.

Unfortunately, some folks in Berkeley have discovered to their dismay that many of these disposable coffee caddies are being reused.

Apparently fearing the transmission of ebola and breakbone fever, health conscious coffee consumers are crying foul and calling for one-use cup caddies. Their environmentally-conscious brethren, though, point out the importance of recycling the little carriers. And everybody else continues rolling around on the sidewalk with first-degree burns.

Sorry, amigos, but it may just be time to kiss civilization good-bye…

Originally published April 7, 2002