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Roy's Story




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I've been traveling for two weeks now with non-stop meetings. I miss my family, co-workers and my Saturday morning basketball game. In Chicago, I saw advertisements in the newspaper from the Microcenter Stores for Linspire computers. It's nice to see Linspire in the midwest. Another day, I found myself in a car with Roy, a 69 year-old gentleman driving me to my next meeting in Houston. I never caught Roy's last name, but I did learn quite a bit about his life.

Roy's middle name is Lee and he's got a twin brother, whom his parents named Lee Roy. Roy's been a paratrooper and saw duty in the Korean War. "Geneva convention my ass. They shot at us when we landed in 1956, when the war was supposed to be over." He said it more matter of factly, than angrily. His duty time included a stint as an MP (military policeman).

He came back from the army to a job-starved Houston, where his background led to a job as a cop, which he was thankful to have. For 32 years he worked the streets of Houston as a beat cop. When I say "the street," Roy made sure to tell me that for most of those years, he literally walked the streets - not patrolled in a car. Eventually they gave him a 3 wheeled motorcycle to use, except on Wednesdays. Apparently hump day's are busy police days and they would take his motorcycle and give it to white officers, because Roy is black.


Until 1964, he was not allowed to arrest white people. "Get out!" I replied, astonished when he said this. "Yes sir, that's right," he said, as he often did on our trip. I asked what would happen if he had tried. He said they would have told him to...well let me paraphrase and say they would suggest he get off a fire truck. After 1964, he was able to arrest white people. In his whole career he arrested 4. I thought I heard wrong, but he told me, "yes sir, that's right. Four." When I asked him why he hadn't arrested more, he stated flatly, "they weren't breaking the law." That made everyone in the car bust up laughing. He went on to later explain black officers only patrolled black neighborhoods.

I asked him if he was a 'good cop.' He stated proudly that he had been written up only once in his entire career and it was for NOT giving out a traffic ticket. His superior officer thought a ticket was due, but he refused to write one. In spite of this stellar record, he was overlooked innumerable times for promotion. It seems the promotions were always cut-off right before the black names on the list. After 22 years, he made Sergeant. Ten years later he retired. I asked if he had "reverse racism" for being overlooked for promotions so long for what seemed to me meritorious service. "No sir," he replied. I believed him. I wonder if I could be that strong? I doubt it. As we drove through the city, he pointed out where the prostitutes worked, demonstrating he still has a police mind.

He spent a decade with the VA Hospital, before retiring from there as well. On his exit physical exam he insisted on an upper GI exam. "They usually only give you a lower one - you have to ask for the upper," he said. Eerily prescient, they spotted colon cancer. That was a few years ago and Roy declared himself in good health now thanks to the early detection.


Roy fathered 8 girls and 2 boys, he has dozens of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Most of his children are upstanding citizens (two are police officers and made Sergeant in 9 years). But like his police record, there is one undeserved mark. Roy has a son who worked in waste management, then took an early retirement payout and "invested it in drugs and was his own best customer." We both agreed that throwing people in prison only for hurting themselves is a shame. Sixteen years ago, Roy took over that son's house, which he got through the Houston Housing Authority, before it went into foreclosure. He's been quietly renting it out and it's now completely paid for. If his son stays clean when he gets released, Roy will tell him about it.

A squad car zoomed past us and I pointed out to Roy that it had two black officers. He admitted that things have changed. He added though, that the "black and whites" are really "black OR whites." No mixed race partners in Houston in 2004.

For a long time now, I've been teaching a lot of people about what we're doing at Linspire to make affordable computing happen. Roy doesn't know anything about technology, but I was the student in the back of Roy's car. He taught me a lot about life.

-- Michael
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