Author: Martin, George

Cops and Robbers Book
A few days after Grass Valley, wife Barbara and I were going to be passing through Sonora. I called Rick Cornish about a visit, and when we showed up he and Lynn took us to a lovely restaurant near their home. As the glow of friendship and the aromas of delicious food suffused the room, Rick said, “I’ve been bugging you for years to write for the Web site. How about just one little welcome column each month?”

Sure, Rick, anything for a pal. So here’s numero uno.

One of my favorite bluegrass folks is Bill Wilhelm, whose writings are soon to reappear in the Bluegrass Breakdown.

Bill is 20 years older than I am, and in the late 1940s and during the ’50s when I was just becoming aware of country music, Bill was picking and singing a lot of the songs I was hearing my mother sing along with the radio.

Fast forward 40 years or so and Bill and I had some great times sitting outside his Airstream trailer, usually at Grass Valley, picking some of those same songs, with two guitars or sometimes with me on mandolin.

I might not have liked Bill so much if I had met him when I was in my 20s. At that time he was a Los Angeles Police motorcycle officer and I was one of those crazy young fellows on a fast Yamaha screaming up the Coast Highway in Marin County most Sunday mornings. At the time, motorcycle cops were not my favorite human beings, but we mellow as we get older and I can now drive along next to a CHP car or bike without muttering curses under my breath.

I had known from several conversations that Bill has had an adventurous life. He was born in on a farm in rural Illinois, not far from where my wife comes from. He worked construction on high steel bridges and served in the Marines in World War II. And then he spent 20 years in the LAPD, all but two of them on a bike.

Last month at Grass Valley Bill mentioned that he had
written a book about those two decades. “It’s a
collection of stories,” he said. “You can read it a
bit at a time.”

I eagerly proffered my $14 plus tax and took it home.

The book is called Code Two ’n’ a Half, and is subtitled, “Ride along with a motor officer as he patrols ‘The City of Angels.’ ”

I only partially unloaded my van after the festival and the book didn’t make it into the house for about a week. When I finally brought it in and began to read I found it almost impossible to put town. In the first chapter Bill and his partner find themselves in the classic B-movie plot (only for real) of the embittered ex-con who wants to kill the cop who put him away.

I was hooked and finished the book in two days.

Bill’s memory is amazing; he tells story after story, and describess how the San Fernando Valley evolved from orchards and rural countryside (and no freeways!) to the endless city it is today. He recounts several narrow escapes, as when a big rig loses a wheel as Bill is standing next to the freeway, and another when his finely honed sense of danger allows him to get the drop on a driver with a concealed gun on the floor of his car.

In between there are good deeds done, high-speed chases, the Northridge Earthquake, the Watts Riot, running down trespassing dirt bikers with a helicopter, a speeding Corvette driver trying to outrun the cops who crashes into a house being moved (possible Darwin Awards story there), a naked lady on the freeway shoulder, and sobering tales of some of Bill’s friends who died in accidents and shootings.

There is also a lot of the daily life of police officers of that era. The paperwork, working with partners, and some of the boneheaded things the LAPD brass did, like installing cheap synthetic rubber WWII tires on the department’s bikes well after the war. The tires frequently came apart where the tread meets the sidewall, making the motor officer’s job even more exciting.

The book is an entertaining read, even if you don’t know Bill. It’s published by Oak Tree Press, and if you can’t run Bill down to buy a copy from him, go to
Posted:  7/12/2007

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