Back in my New Mexico reporting days, I was coming back from a city council meeting late, around 11 p.m.
We lived way out of the town that I worked in, just off what they call the “High Road” to Taos. The road home was twisty and narrow, frequently washed out by rain, snow, wind, or, well, any weather generally. And because we lived out in the “What’s a streetlight?” boonies, it was extremely dark. I was exhausted and feeling tense from the meeting, more than a little on edge.
I came around a bend and spotted a hulking, four-legged monster in the other lane.
Surprised, I slowed down for a better look and saw—a horse.
Scary, right? The poor fellow had wandered out of his enclosure and into a road where people regularly drove half-again over the speed limit.
I pulled over, puzzled about what to do. It wasn’t exactly an emergency, so I was reluctant to call 911. I didn’t want to get out of the car to help the horse myself and risk getting hit by a car or (it’s possible) shot by someone who thinks I’m stealing it. On the other hand, a car hitting a horse could reach catastrophic levels, for both car passengers and horse. And I love horses.
So I called 911.
“911, what’s your emergency?”
“This IS NOT an emergency. I’m calling because I’m on State Road XX near Chimayo, and there’s a horse in the road.”
“Is it alive?”
“Where are you?”
*gnashing of teeth, because I’m familiar with the territorial crap the cops regularly give people out there* “I’m near Chimayo, but I’m not sure if I’m in Santa Fe County or in Rio Arriba.”
“Well, we’ll need to turn it over to Santa Fe County if you’re in their jurisdiction.”
“Okay…” I pinpoint my location for the 911 guy. The newspaper had covered stories in the past about sometimes cops and emergency vehicles got so caught up in the territorial-jurisdiction disputes that it took a very long time for vehicles to get their. (When I was telling my publisher about the head-on collision we survived in northern Santa Fe county two days after the fact, the third question he asked, after “Are you okay?” and “What about your car?” was “How long did the ambulance take to get there?” followed by “Who was it?”)
But then the real kicker of this surreal phone call:
“What color is it?” the 911 guy asked.
“The horse?” I asked. “Um… I don’t know! It’s dark outside! It could have been anywhere from palomino to grey to brown.”
Of all the asinine things to ask! It’s a horse… in the road! If you find two horses in the road, and one of them wasn’t the one I called about, get it out, too! For the love of all that is holy, let’s apply some common sense to the situation!
“Hmm. Okay. We’ll send someone out.”
They asked me if I wanted to give my name, and I definitively said no—no public records trail of this for me, no thank you.
I got home and told Drew about it, and recounted the story to my fellow reporters the next day. One guy told me that a former editor always said that those emergency operator folks are just like fast-food drive-thru operators, but with more authority. I’m sure that’s not always the case, and that some 911 operators are skilled, thoughtful folks who work really hard and save lives with that work.
Still. If anything ever taught me to think before I ask a question, it was that 911 guy. I only hope the horse got home okay.