By Craig Hastings
I haven’t worked a Friday night patrol shift since sometime in May of this year. The reason being is I have accumulated vacation time and I don’t go on vacation. I did take four days last November to follow my son and his crew out to Las Vegas where they were competing in an engine build contest at the annual SEMA show. I haven’t been anywhere since and it had been a few years before the Las Vegas trip that I had taken any time off. Yeah, Shannon thinks I’mas boring as I really am. Fortunately her family gets together at least once a year for two weeks at a time so she gets out of Illinois to unwind and relax. I’m sure two weeks away from me and my occupation is stress relieving for sure.
So for the summer this year I decided I would take as many Friday nights off as I could, which would give me three day weekends all summer. What could be any better than that? My two teenage sons had decided to spend most of their time at my house this summer so having three days to adjust proved to be helpful. I needed to get on a full time laundry and food routine I hadn’t had to do for the past nine years. For me this is a vacation every week and if I’m really needed for something related to the Police Department I’m still right here in town. Perfect. Eleven out of the past twelve weeks I’ve managed to make this plan work. It was only the July “Sparks In The Park” event that I was working an evening shift and that wasn’t a routine in the car patrol either. Actually, I spent most of my time in a golf cart that night.
My Friday nights off streak came to a close on October 4th. One of the evening shift officers called in sick and the other one isn’t ready to be out by himself just yet so it was me or force overtime on someone else on a very short notice. It certainly wasn’t going to be a big deal for me to come out and cover the shift. I’ve told you before working the sunlight hours and the after dark hours of police work in Tuscola present their own unique challenges. For sure, like most communities, the population of the residents are the same but the hours of the day and night those residents get out and move about are very different. Some of the equipment I wear on my duty belt changes when I work evenings as does how my patrol car is set up. I’ve been working most Friday nights since I became Chief in 1986.
I’ve seen a lot of changes in Tuscola in my forty year career. Early in my career I worked nothing but evening shifts and even had an eleven month run of just midnight shifts. That was back when the only way a guy got off the midnight schedule was when someone new got hired and you were no longer the low man on the totem pole. Anyway, there are some changes about Tuscola after hours I guess I hadn’t really thought about much because I’ve not missed at least one evening shift a week for most of my career. I did miss about five months of work after an injury but everything seemed new to me when I returned to work. It was tough enough just getting used to the day shift again! These changes have happened over time and as they did I guess I just blended them in my mind as gradually as they happened. So what am I talking about?
I’ll start with Ervin Park. When I started working here as a part time patrolman in 1979 and well into many years following my full time employment starting in 1980, Ervin Park was it’s own patrol assignment. Not because it was an unruly place to be or populated by a band of criminals either. In the summertime and I mean all summer long, not just the simple eight weeks of June and July, Ervin Park was a busy and bustling place full of activity from South to North. Little League starts practicing in April and playing games in May. I remember attending my own boys practices and games when I had to wear a coat or stay in the car with the heat on!
Never in my Little League days did anyone get cold at night! By the second week in July the baseball and softball diamonds are silent. The High School baseball team will still be playing a few home games but, except for an occasional soccer game the North end of the park is empty. A couple of things happened to Little League, the first being the number of kids wanting to play the game. When I played there were enough boys interested to field eight teams of Little League and five teams of Senior Division. I don’t believe there is a Senior League anymore. High School absorbed this league and it’s a good thing because there wouldn’t be enough kids interested to field enough teams to make playing relevant. There wasn’t a High School team when I was playing so thankfully there was a place for us to go when we became too old for Little League play. The second thing I remember someone telling me years ago was that by getting the season over with by July gave families plenty of summer to plan vacations.
Huh? Tell Harry Conner or Bill Burke there needed to be vacation time worked around, I dare you. These coaches put their hearts and souls into training their players the game of baseball.
This was a serious business that captured the attention of most of the town. There were adults that had no kids of their own participating but they showed up most every game night regardless. Why? Because the competition and talent drew them to the entertainment of it all.
On the South end of the park the rest of the teenage population gathered. Mostly in the gravel parking area on the west side near the pool is where kids from all over Douglas County came to visit and…. It was the and where the police came in. This sixty yards of gravel parking is where alcohol was illegally consumed and occasionally marijuana was traded or sold. Music was played to loud at times and every night litter was scattered about the sixty yard area. We were needed in the Park for about five hours every night but Sundays for the entire summer, June through August. Traffic i.e. cruising, was sometimes bumper to bumper and I was one of the drivers. For those of you that never experienced Ervin Park in the summers of the 60s, 70s, and 80s you missed a truly remarkable time in Tuscola.
Another place in town that was also a patrol of its own in the evening was our Outlet Mall. I can remember making a pass through the mall every twenty minutes on Friday nights. There was a time when over sixty stores were in full retail mode and many shoppers chose the cooler air of the late evening to come to Tuscola to shop. People came from everywhere to experience our mall. And they should have because ten years ago it was still a shopper’s paradise. Theview of the Outlet Mall, especially at night, from the I 57 overpass was site to behold all lit up, parking lots full of cars, and people moving about through the entire property. And this was happening in Tuscola Illinois. This past Friday night I was saddened to see so few stores open and so few people visiting these stores.
Finally, it’s late and I’m patrolling the main streets in town including Rt. 36. What I used to see were cars still cruising these main streets and in these cars were kids having fun pushing their curfews to the last minute. Tonight it’s just me and a few cars on Rt. 36 and zero, none, nobody on Main Street. Where is everybody? Sure I know the answer to my own question. The youth that I miss gathering in the park and cruising in their cars all night every night are now at home on Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook, Internet, or any other avenue of communication their phones allow them. The same thing is happening at home in a shopper’s world. These people are on their phone or computer (same thing) lying in bed or sitting comfortably in their favorite chair ordering the clothing, bathroom décor, needs, shoes, and anything else a retail store can offer all in the comfort of their homes. Did I forget to say, “free shipping” on most everything. How does an open for business retail store compete?!
These transformations most people wouldn’t notice in the way I do as a patrol officer here in Tuscola for nearly forty years. In the daylight hours Tuscola’s hustle and bustle appears business as usual. But it’s not. Not by a long shot. If you could see it through the same lens I have been looking through for not only my time here as a patrol officer but also I’ve lived my entire life here so I know how grand it used to be in Tuscola; day and or night most every night. It’s sad for me to witness these changes in the community. However, I haven’t lost hope. I still believe there is a place for how it used to be. A new interest maybe by the next generation that sees the internet world for what it is…the demise of society and personal human interaction.