The mashed potatoes and gravy were just about gone by the time nearly 100 officers emptied their plates before heading to Stateline on New Year's Eve for a long night of work.
The combination wasn't nearly as popular as the dessert table with cake and apple pie.
The gathering at the South Lake Tahoe Recreation Center at 5 p.m. Tuesday was a criminal's worst nightmare. Officers from South Lake Tahoe Police Department, El Dorado County Sheriff's Department, California Highway Patrol, Alpine County Sheriff's Department and Alcohol Beverage Control used the time to expand on their strategic planning. Firefighters were also filling their stomachs before setting up aid stations.
"I consider this a community service," said Linda Stevenson, a volunteer handling the meatloaf. "It wouldn't matter or not if my son was a police officer, I'd still be here."
"It's the calm before the storm," said Detective David Stevenson. "I just want to perform like Brodie Seagrave."
Officer Seagrave, sitting beside Stevenson, smiled and shook his head.
Across the table, Sgt. Alex Schumacher sat with his blue cap high on his head. Schumacher has handled about 25 holiday celebrations which he said haven't gotten easier over the years.
"Nobody wants to stand out in the cold for hours. You just have to make the best of it," Schumacher said.
Each officer was assigned to a squadron of roughly five to patrol the intersection at Stateline west to Park Avenue, a distance of less than a mile in California. Deputies from Douglas County Sheriff's Department got ready at the department across the street from Lakeside Inn & Casino.
Agencies were expecting a crowd of close to 65,000.
Police Sgt. Les Scott has been handling New Year's since the late 1970s. As the ground event commander for the police, he would be taking orders from Cmdr. Tom Connor, who would be sitting on Harrah's Lake Tahoe roof scoping the scene with his eyes and radio.
Scott knows the evolution of the party. Before the college and younger crowd appeared, families patronized the corridor with their children, he said. Echoing the sentiments of all officers, Scott said the key is to keep the crowd happy and safe while removing the small portion of wrongdoers. Part of maintaining the happiness is to take pictures with revelers, he said.
"They like to take pictures with cops. It's funny," he said.
Scott guessed officers started gathering about 10 years ago to make plans to deal with the craziness.
"It's good for the guys to talk to each other but also to see who you're working with," he said over mashed potatoes with gravy and green beans. "The key phrase is to stay together. Sometimes it gets so loud you can't even hear."
At the same elongated table sat Pierre Herring, an officer working his first New Year's Eve and graveyard shift. The youthful 33-year-old has lived at Tahoe since 1998 and knows the scene at Stateline.
"It always looked fun," he said about seeing officers work New Year's. Veterans gave him tips to stay warm and layer up. He would be working the north side of the Stateline intersection. Work was to end at 5 this morning.
Sgt. Calvin Glass and Officer Carol Lyddon came from the North Sacramento CHP office to help with crowd control for their first Stateline New Year's Eve. Besides training, the two worked similar events like Halloween at Chico State.
"Hopefully, we can go home having to do nothing," Glass said.
El Dorado County sheriff's Sgt. Randy Peshon was walking around in plain clothes before suiting up to avoid "overheating." This year was to be his third enforcing Stateline after years of patrolling the county during the holiday. His best memory is people giving thanks for the officers' presence and shaking hands during the waking hours of a new year. Even with the gratitude, Peshon wished he could spend New Year's Eve with his family, but acknowledged it was all part of the job.
"There's so much of your family time you miss and it's really important to me to try and make up that time throughout the year," Peshon said. "The time with my family I try to make special. But I'm blessed with a supportive family and that means a lot to me."
Close to 6 p.m., Richard McGuffin, interim police chief, offered a few words for the troops, talking about the temperament of the crowd.
"Most of them don't want to go to jail," McGuffin said. "We'll have folks coming up and shaking your hand." He emphasized the importance of officers staying warm and safe.
After the applause died down, a woman's voice came from the tables with the mashed potatoes, chicken with mushrooms, tortellini and minestrone soup.
"Anybody for seconds?" she asked.