I’m not sure what the statute of limitations is on any of this behavior, so I am changing the names of the parties involved to protect the guilty. Our crime? We drank on duty.
Yes we consumed alcoholic beverages while in uniform — rum and Cokes to be exact. It was far from the first time a cop would drink on duty. Heck, when I first got on the job, it was common practice for officers to keep a couple of cold ones in the station house fridge to have with their meals, but those days were long gone. Times had changed, and drinking on duty was frowned upon and could’ve gotten us a reprimand, if not worse.
In all fairness, we were on the cusp of Y2K, and if you paid any attention to all the media hype at the time, there was a legitimate fear that the world was about to come to an end once that ball dropped in Times Square at midnight.
A week earlier, my unit got the news that most of us would be working the New Year’s Eve detail in Times Square. Determined to make the best of it, a group of us vowed to each bring in a bottle of booze so we could have our own little celebration. But on the eve of the end of the world, we all showed up empty handed. So there we were, in Times Square on New Years Eve, Y2K, dry as a whistle. How were we going to get some booze?
Even back then, before camera phones were a thing, walking into a liquor store in full police uniform and buying alcohol would attract a lot of unwanted attention. So when it came time to take our meal, four of us decided to take a walk. Our plan was to get far enough away from the throng in Times Square and find a little restaurant off the beaten path — somewhere where we could have a couple of drinks with our dinner. The further away we got, the more desolate the City became. Except for a few late revelers scurrying to catch a glimpse of the ball drop, the streets were empty and the businesses were closed. Then just as we were about to give up and end our search, I noticed the lights on in a little Mexican restaurant. I also noticed a waiter walk toward the back of the place carrying a tray of full plates and disappear. Ah ha! The restaurant had a back room, I deduced. We’re eating here!
Feeling a little conspicuous, we entered the restaurant, spoke with the manager and learned there was a private party for the staff and their families. But they welcomed us anyway, so we followed the manager…away from the window facing the street and the peering eyes of passing pedestrians.
We started off with a round of rum and Cokes. The waitress was kind enough to serve them to us in coffee cups, and the bartender was kind enough to go light on the Coke. Soon a band started playing traditional Mexican folk songs, and we may have started singing along with them…and we may have even danced a little. The food was great, and they even brought us out another round or two of drinks. Oh, and did I mention the mechanical bull? We may have taken a ride or two. Much to the surprise of the staff and families of El Torrito Traditional Mexican Cuisine, each one of us took a turn falling off that bull. We may have even fired a couple of rounds into the rafters (I’m kidding! No shots were ever fired).
All good things must come to an end, though. We were still on duty, so we paid our tab, hugged, kissed, and wished our new friends a Happy New Year, and off we walked back to our post… albeit in much better moods.
Back in the day, I hated working the New Year’s Eve detail. In my twenty years on the job, I probably had to work it ten times. It always sucked. It was always freezing cold. I was always miserable, because I just wanted to be celebrating with my family and friends. Instead I was surrounded by thousands of strangers who were having a great time. The only consolation was that my brothers and sisters in blue were all in the same boat together.
This New Year’s, I will be watching the ball drop on my television in the comforts of my home, surrounded by my family and friends. I’ll probably have a few too many rum and Cokes, and then start reminiscing about my days as a police officer with the NYPD to anyone who will listen.