When we first moved to Port Charlotte, we lined up various helpers—Dominic, the pool guy; Rodney, the handyman; Bucky, the roofer; and Mike, the lawn guy. Some of you may remember the story of Rodney, who probably resides in jail today because of his larcenous activities. But you haven’t heard about Mike, and you really should.
Our realtor put us onto many support people, from roofers to septic tank cleaners to exterminators, but the lawn care guy he recommended just never returned my phone calls. So I found myself on craigslist hunting for someone. The first number I called was Mike Wilson, who picked up the phone immediately and laid out the plan for me very clearly and earnestly. He would drive by to see when our lawn needed mowing, and then do it—more often during rainy season and less during the winter—for a flat monthly fee that worked for us.
Mike first pulled up with an immense white van bearing his logo—a badge and the business name “Lawn Enforcement.” Only after we’d hired him did we learn how appropriate the business name was. Mike worked nights as a beat cop for the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office, on a team affectionately nicknamed The Nightcrawlers, and days as a lawn care professional, assisted by his son Brandon on mower and the loyal Julio, who did weed whacking and leaf blowing. The lawn care business grew from about a dozen clients to 75, because Mike was so committed to providing for his wife and three kids, and never seemed to turn anyone down. And Mike told us that not only would he take care of our grass, he’d keep an eye out for our safety when he was doing nighttime drive-bys to check the grass height. I never felt safer!
When Mike mows the grass, it's like watching Mario Andretti. Speed, I guess, helped him keep up with his growing clientele, but he also just LIKES to drive fast. I later heard that a friend of his turned into a landlubber after one trip on Mike’s fishing boat. His son Brandon looks so much like Mike that one does a double take when he rides by on the mower. But Brandon does a calmer, equally thorough mowing job, and saved enough to buy himself a truck. Once he gets his license he’ll be able to drive that along with the mower.
Mike was good enough to push back the weeds along one side of our property, making it look like our yard is bigger than it is. The first time he started the pushback process, I was working in my office when I heard a “cop knock” on the door. If you’ve ever heard one, you know what I mean. There’s no question that it’s the authorities at your door. Your hair stands on end, you feel immediately guilty for uncommitted crimes, and you hustle to that door. So there stands Mike, grinning as only he can grin, to warn us that his pushing back the weeds has stirred up snakes and that we should watch out for them until they settle down.
Another time, the little elderly couple across the street took affront at Mike’s parking his van across the street from their house. They came roaring out, ripping him up, down, and sideways. I don’t know what got into them! The little old lady even whaled on his van with a folded-up newspaper. So the lady says, “I’m gonna call the cops if you ever park there again!” Mike flashes his grin and his badge, and says, “I AM the cops.” But he never did park there again.
When Gilda and Bobby were having their problems last year, and Gilda left for Michigan, I gave her Mike’s number just in case she needed it. When Gilda became worried about Bobby’s drinking, Mike called on him twice, to make sure he was okay. I know Mike was grinning, nonthreatening, eager to help, but firm.
Our next-door neighbor Peter, from Berlin, shows up in the states only every few years. When he arrived this summer, he wasn’t at all pleased with the job his lawn guy had been doing on his double lot. So, I recommended Mike and told Peter about all the side benefits of having a law enforcement professional doing LAWN enforcement as well. Peter’s English isn’t too great, but Mike’s open, infectious grin and downright honesty did all the communication that was needed. Soon, Mike, Brandon, and Julio were roaring around three lots on our street every week.
This past week, I was in the airport, en route home from a business trip, when Bill called me. “We just got the paper, and I have awful news,” he said. “Mike was shot and killed on duty.” I was shocked speechless. It was just incomprehensible that our protector, friend, lawn guy could be gone. He had without hesitation gone from a traffic stop to the kind of call all police dread--a domestic disturbance—because he happened to be nearby and, as ever, wanted to help. It was just what Mike did. The husband, a marksman, was waiting for him at the top of the stairs and shot him in the chest above his bulletproof vest. Mike just had time to call in “shots fired,” to protect officers following him in, before he was taken to the hospital and declared dead. The shooter later killed himself.
I’m writing this at the end of a day of mourning for all of us in Charlotte County. Over 2,000 attended Mike’s funeral at the civic center, after which he was driven in a motorcade through town, where thousands more lined the route to say goodbye. The whole town is decked with blue ribbons to honor him. The funeral was televised, so I heard dozens more stories about Mike that reinforced the fact that this was one of the really, really good guys whom we had lost. He was a practical joker, committed family man, fisherman, intensely hard worker, and twenty-year veteran of the force whom everyone knew and loved. Not only that, he was a hero.
I stood out on our lonely, unmowed lawn and listened to the motorcade and police helicopters going by this afternoon. Mike, we’re going to miss you. I only wish we’d known you better. And I’m afraid everyone feels a little less safe today, knowing that you're not there watching out for them.