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Sometimes everything is not OK, and the sign you get means something else

Columnist Dan Conradt says passing Officer Duane each morning, I should have been aiming for the "thumbs up" sign, not the hand signal I normally received.

Dan Conradt column sig
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I came over the crest of the hill and saw his car in the distance.

Even without looking at the dashboard clock I knew it was 8:45; our cars had been passing in the same place at the same time nearly every morning for a month.

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His car was easy to spot, even a quarter-mile away.

Police cars always are.

As we passed, he held up his right hand in the universal sign for OK. He’d given me the same salute each morning, and I always waved back.

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In the rearview mirror I saw the squad car turn down a residential street, and I continued on to the Law Enforcement Center and the daily press briefing.

If I make the lights, I should get there just in time.

Duane would eventually retire from the Austin Police Department with 46 years of service, and spent his entire career as a patrol officer. He said it was what he was meant to do with his life, and he’d quietly had an immeasurable impact on the community.

I don’t think I ever saw him without a smile.

Our cars passed again the next morning … same time, same place.

Same OK sign, same wave in return.

It was, ironically, the place where I’d gotten my only speeding ticket 10 years earlier, a spot where the speed limit on the highway leading out of the corn fields and into town dropped from 50 miles an hour to 40 and then to 30 in a matter of blocks. And while the speed limit dropped, my own speed did not; a state trooper met me coming down the hill, made a U-turn, lit up the afternoon with flashing lights and taught me an expensive lesson about speeding.

A decade later, I was sharing a passing moment of fellowship with Duane a couple of times each week, and his OK sign had become part of my morning routine.

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Unless …

Sometimes it takes me a while to catch on.

It was a Thursday morning. I was disappointed that I didn’t see Duane’s patrol car on my morning drive, but found him standing outside the vehicle when I arrived at the Law Enforcement Center.

“Morning, Duane.”

“Morning, Dan,” he said with a smile.

“I’m curious,” I said. “When I pass you on 105 every morning …”

“Uh-huh.” The smile got bigger, like a teacher whose student has finally grasped a hard-to-understand concept.

“You’re not giving me an OK sign, are you?”

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He formed The Sign with his right hand … three fingers standing up, thumb and index finger forming a circle.

A three and a zero.

Thirty.

“Do you know what the speed limit is there?” he asked.

“Thirty,” I said sheepishly.

“Do you know how fast you’re going?”

“Ummm … 35?”

“40, 42,” he said. He gave me another OK sign: “See you tomorrow, Dan.”

And we did … same time, same place. And this time he gave me a thumbs-up.

My speedometer said I was going 28 miles an hour.

I regret that I never said “Thank You” to Duane before he died … not only for what he taught me, but the way he taught it.

It was the most powerful kind of lesson, a lesson borne of wisdom and experience.

I still travel that road often, and in my mind I still see Duane smiling as his car passes mine.

And sometimes I raise my hand to let him know that everything is OK.

Dan Conradt, a lifelong Mower County resident, lives in Austin with his wife, Carla Johnson.

Related Topics: PEOPLEDAN CONRADTAUSTIN
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