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The Beat Warms Up


If you have a pulse, live in Orinda and get our Flash Alerts you got a taste of how things can get on newsy days around these parts Friday.

Flashers responded to our string of outbound alerts with texts, jpgs, and multiple inbound WTF!!!!!! exclamations of their own as an armored car rolled through town and the TV Air Corps hovered over a normally quiet neighborhood.

“Holy Jupiter’s Moons!!” one respondee texted (and, no, they didn’t actually refer to Jupiter’s orbiting bodies, but this is a family rag), “Is it always like this around here?”

Nope. But, well, we have had a series of high-profile incidents in Lamorinda and the 24/680 lately and those Flash Alerts do tend to sing when the stuff hits the fan.

We thought things might slack off a bit Saturday but we knew better than to think those thoughts because in this biz you learn that as soon as you do – something comes along to dispel the notion. So we ended up with a gun scare at Kaiser Hospital in Walnut Creek (resolved, thankfully), more burglaries and stuff (almost routine now) and even a mid-freeway fistfight with a couple of dudes throwing down on Highway 24 as bewildered drivers whizzed past.

Some of what we cover is crazy. Some is sad. All of it – combined – makes us all who we are, we guess. We’ve learned not to internalize anything or take things personally. We’re an unusual species, us humans, we’re just its chroniclers.

In the midst of a full-blown news flurry we found ourselves thinking of a dear friend and former colleague, Carole Vernier, whose smoky voice, husky laugh and rapier-wit enthralled us whenever we were lucky enough to run into her at the M&M, a divey newspaper bar down the block from the Chronicle-Examiner buildings in The City.

She was columnist Herb Caen’s assistant and a really swell dame, an honorific she embraced. It was Carole’s job to get to the clubs, opera galas, and speakeasy nightclub shows Herb couldn’t make and she threw herself into her work, creating a small army of devoted tipsters wherever she went – all feeding Caen’s famous three-dot column, of course.

She liked us ’cause we worked at the Hall of Justice – and that place was a News Furnace, we have to say. She’d be set up in the corner booth at the M, clippings and cocktail napkins all around, three martinis in and eager for company, when we walked in.

“Hey, Hot Stuff,” she’d call out over the bar noise (work with us here, we used to cut a rakish figure back in The Day). “What’s doing on police?”

Technically, it was a verboten fraternization, her being with the Chron’s Main Scribbler and all, but Carole was a skillful interrogator. After a couple of rounds and her jaunty storytelling we’d be blabbing our head off and leave the joint wondering if we’d handed her – and by extension, Herb – an item that would come back to haunt us. But she was fun to talk with, and she knew how to develop a source.

We thought of her Friday when tips started coming in by text, email and jpg – all in real-time and a long chalk away from the days when a reporter would hand a doorman, bookie or saloon owner a roll of nickels and a whispered direction to “call if you see something funny.”

Methods have changed, for sure, but the end-game remains the same. Carole would have loved playing as much as we do.


  1. Once upon a time in Berkeley while assiduously not studying, I sent Caen a comment via the US postal service about some absurd comment made by the losing side in a prominent court case of the day…and darn if he didn’t use it. Only did it once. He must have consumed a LOT of material to do what he did every day. And, imagine a comment arriving by US mail and still being fresh enough to use. Things have sped up a bit.

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