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Michelle's night in the back seat

When I posted on my facebook page last week, "Michelle Leonard is off to ride in a police car. Maybe they'll let me sit in front this time," I really was kidding. I fully expected I'd be riding alongside one of our officers as we made the rounds of National Night Out gatherings.

Oh, but I turned into the running joke of the evening.

National Night Out, or Night to Unite, or whatever it's called these days, is one of those cool bring-your-neighbors-together kind of events. For the last few years, I've tagged along with the police officers, hopping out at every stop, taking pictures and so on.

I really have ridden up front for most of them. All of them, really. Up until last week, that is.

I arrived at the police department around 5:30 p.m. A few of the fire department guys showed up just behind me. Mayor Todd Larson was already there. Officer Travis Sundvall, who organized this year's community event, was also there.

The only problem was, at the time we were leaving, the other officers on duty were all out on calls. That meant the mayor and I were both riding with Travis. Though he never declared "shotgun" for the front seat -- I suppose yelling shotgun is a bad idea around cops -- the mayor got the front seat.

And me? I wound up in the back. Behind the cage. In the seat with the doors that don't open from the inside. And boy, did the mayor milk that for all it was worth.

First he posted something on his facebook or twitter account about "the press" being confined to the back seat. Then there were the pictures. Not just the mayor, either -- fire chief Tim Pietsch decided he needed that pic, too. A couple of times they conveniently forgot to open that back door.

We made eight or nine stops that night, hitting almost half of the parties around the community. Every time we'd stop, the mayor was out introducing himself and visiting with residents. Travis showed off his squad, let people sit in the front seat and hit the sirens. A fire truck usually pulled up right after we did. Kids crawled around on the trucks, tried on the fire suits.

I took pictures. Lots of them. It was fun heading from neighborhood to neighborhood and meeting people, seeing the smiles of kids as they came clomping up in boots that were much too large.

I learned some things about both Travis and Todd, too. Todd talked about his daughter's hockey tournaments and how he likes to wave at people. Travis admitted he was better at getting around town in darkness than he is in daylight -- a product of several years of patrolling on night shift.

We had fun out touring the community. I had to chuckle at the ribbing that went on between the fire department guys and Travis, a kind of good-natured competition for attention and who had the coolest vehicle. Tim Pietsch had a good time sitting in the squad and having his picture taken, Travis turned on the squad lights coming up to neighborhoods "so at least I'm cool," he said.

They might have all lost out on the cool card, though, to the guy who had the souped-up Camaro over in Park Place of Farmington. Talk about boys and their toys -- this guy's cherry red Camaro had their undivided attention for a good 10 minutes.

Fortunately, I have a good working relationship with Todd, Travis and the guys on the fire department. The jokes came and went as we traveled around town. A little ribbing here, a sly verbal slam there. I got locked in the back seat a time or two. But at the same time, we were just three people from different parts of the community, out and about, meeting our neighbors. And that was probably the coolest part of all. That's the point of National Night Out -- getting out and getting to know your neighbors.

Only, I think maybe next year, I'll tag along with the fire department. The ribbing might not be any less, but at least I won't get locked in the back seat.