Meeting Robert Soule cost me $161.00. That would be Officer Robert Soul (pronounced SOUL), of the New Mexico State Police in Clovis, NM. In May, I was on my way from Santa Fe, NM to Austin, TX, minding my own business, and somehow missed the part where the speed limit dropped from 70 to 55. (Ok, so maybe I wasn’t really paying attention because I was thinking up blog ideas… ooops.)
I suggested that he give me a warning, and he politely declined. I then suggested that he give me a stern warning, and this time he smiled – and super-politely declined. I’ve never been one to come up with outrageous excuses on the fly (literally), so I accepted the “no” and let my curiosity take over.
Who was this guy, really? Was it unnerving to walk up to speeding strangers every day? What did he like to do with his time off?
In some ways, Robert Soule is responsible for the Best of Strangers blog. Our chance encounter was the tipping point that made me say, “I cross paths with interesting people every day! I want to know more!” Or, maybe I wanted to turn 161 lemons into lemonade.
So, last weekend, I passed through Clovis on my way back to Santa Fe from my family reunion in Texas, and made an appointment to interview Robert Soule. I discovered a man who is devoted to his wife of nearly 22 years; who spent 21 years in the Airforce and served seven tours in Iraq, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia; who loves animals; and who genuinely uses his position as a New Mexico State Police Officer to keep his community safe.
When I asked Robert what a traffic stop was like from his side of the equation, he said, “Every now and then people are uptight about getting pulled over, but not too many. I’m not out to get them, and I recognize that everybody makes mistakes. So I just treat them the way I want to be treated – with respect.” I know that not all officers are as classy as Robert, but I can say from experience, that’s exactly how he treated me.
I was also curious about misconceptions about officers, and asked what he wished people knew. That question struck a chord. “We don’t make a lot of money, and we don’t get paid per ticket,” he said with a chuckle. And then he became a little more serious. “And we don’t make the laws, but we’re doing the best job we can to enforce them and keep the public safe.”
Like anyone else, officers have good days and bad; happy moods and sad. I personally can’t imagine stopping speeding vehicles over and over and having to manage the drivers’ moods. It’s bound to wear on even the sunniest disposition. The bottom line is: officers are human, and sometimes people forget that little detail. “We have families,” Robert says, “and we work long hours, so we’re away from them a lot.” The look on his face clearly said that he missed them when he was away.
It was Robert’s Airforce service that took my breath away. During his tours in Iraq, he volunteered for First Convoy Duty. This assignment didn’t involve flying the cargo, but rather physically escorting supply convoys along some of the most dangerous roads in the world. Armed with a .50 Caliber Browning known as the “ma deuce,” Robert’s team ensured that everything from vehicles to weapons, ammo, and other supplies, made it to the troops who were counting on them.
Thank you, Master Sergeant Robert Soule, for your service.
When Robert retired a few years ago to care for his wife who’d suffered a stroke, he also began volunteering with the local Sheriff’s department, and for a time, led the volunteer mounted patrol for the State of New Mexico. As his wife recovered, she found that work was the best therapy, and re-opened her Thai restaurant called Saeng’s Orient, something that locals call one of New Mexico’s best-kept secrets. That was when Robert decided to join the State Police.
“It’s a great job,” he says. “I’m not out writing tickets all the time. I get to meet some interesting people. And, when we help somebody out or catch someone who’s a real bad guy – that’s the rewarding part.”
“Here’s one that made me laugh,” he says. “I pulled over a lady driving 15 miles per hour over speed the limit. When I asked her why, she said ‘I have to, because I just got my oil changed at Walmart and the mechanic told me I have to drive fast to break in the oil. She had her receipt, and her daughter, riding in the passenger seat next to her, backed her up. When I explained to her that you just drive like normal, she grabbed her phone and called to yell at the Walmart manager. I’m sure someone was just having a little fun, and I let her go with a warning.”
And here’s another one. “One guy, going 90 in a 70, said his girlfriend was having an asthma attack at the IHOP. Another time, a serviceman tried to tell me he’d been called to the Airforce Base. I knew the manager of the IHOP and I knew the First Shirt [military slang for the First Sergeant of a US military unit] at the base.” Two phone calls later, the first guy glumly decided to pay the ticket rather than face the judge, and the military guy was ordered to report to his commanding officer once the citation had been issued. The moral of those last two stories? BS just doesn’t work in a small town.
What’s on the bucket list for a guy who’s lived in Iceland, served in Iraq, watched camel races in Kuwait, and toured volcanoes? Seeing the Eiffel Tower and the Pyramids. I haven’t seen the Eiffel Tower (yet, although I have every intention of visiting my friend Mary when she moves to France next year), but I have been to the Pyramids, and I hope Robert gets there. It’s worth the trip!
All kinds of music, from “good” rap to classical music. (Think AC/DC, KISS, Toby Keith, Rascal Flatts, and Black Eyed Peas – now there’s diversity!) Classic rock, however, seems to top the list.
Last Book Read
I, Sniper by Stephen Hunter. This suspense novel about a Vietnam sniper falsely accused of murder gets four stars on Amazon.com, and received great reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist, and Kirkus Reviews.
The whole Star Wars series, with a special nod to Return of the Jedi. This is also one of my all-time personal favorites too. I’m still convinced I can use the Force!
Collecting guns, stamps, and comic books, not necessarily in that order. Robert has about 80,000 comic books, and his favorites include the X-Men series.
Kids and Critters
3 kids, 4 dogs (one, a rescued husky, is his faithful running partner) and 3 cats.
I think a guy’s relationship with animals says a lot about him. Robert likes my dog, Max, and that makes him a winner in my book.
To Robert and all our U.S. Servicemen and women and law-enforcement officers of every stripe: thank you!
Readers: Would you care to share your best “I got stopped when…” story? Do you know some really great men and women who serve in law-enforcement? Tell us about them!