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Shaking Off The Beat – And Listening To People We Meet

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Back in the bad old days, the boys and girls with ink in their bloodstreams would depart the newsroom for a night walk around town, currying favor with doormen, nightclub owners, cab drivers, cops and semi-respectable ladies of the evening who knew where the “bodies were buried.”

Some referred to them as “buzzer nights” – referring to the little badges newspaper people displayed to gain entry to the swankiest joints in town in those days. There was some drinking involved and the whole thing took on a convivial atmosphere despite its practical purpose – the more people you knew meant a sharper edge to your stories, the latest “dope” floating around town, a packet of purloined records in a manila envelope slipped into an overcoat pocket.

They could be fun, even if they resulted in more than one hangover, a divorce or two, and – on occasion – a blackened eye. They could also result in a scoop and thus were seen as valuable reconnaissance. Returning home from one meant shaking off the beat, turning out coat pockets looking for telltale matchbooks, scraps of paper with notes scribbled on them, that precious manila envelope. Fodder for your day in front of the typewriter.

We’ve been trying to do more night walking lately – without the drinking part – in an attempt to connect with the people we write about. We’re as likely to bump up against a copper as we are an admitted heroin addict; lawyers and the lawless; business people and the unsheltered – everyone with a point of view and something interesting to say.

A bustling Two-Bell fire in Lafayette diverted our attention this morning, people muttering about what many said was the Golden Gate Way home’s predictable fate and the potential hazard it posed – all while expressing genuine concern about its owner. While in town were were apprised of a broadening civil action against the city, the school district, and various local businesses in connection with a fatal 2020 collision involving a local boy and a delivery van – concerns over traffic mounting in light of other, more recent tragedies.

In that vein, we were told of heightened concern and complaints about driving practices at and around local schools – this after the loss of a beloved volunteer crossing guard in Lafayette and a fatal auto vs. pedestrian incident in the parking lot of a Dublin middle school earlier this year. With that in mind we weren’t surprised to see an admonition posted by Moraga PD reminding drivers of some pretty basic safety provisions for driving at or near local schools. We weren’t sure when “respect the big yellow school bus” or “give way to the big red firetruck” became a necessary maxim to repeat but apparently we’re there.

Lastly, to cap our night out, we kept a promised meeting with a local heroin addict – twice rehabbed, employed, protective of his family’s awareness of his addiction as well as his employer’s – making regular trips to San Francisco’s Tenderloin district to make heroin buys at $100 a gram. We wanted to know what was happening with the local drug scene in light of a recent surge in ODs and deaths.

“My guy doesn’t deal on the corner,” he told us, “so it’s a clean and quality high – but it’s expensive. I don’t know what I’d do if I wasn’t working.”

Even more troubling for our contact, however, was the availability of “hardcore” drugs at the high school level – and lower.

“Twelve, 13… you guys are writing about some of them. Kids are looking to relax or to make this higher state, lucid dreaming – and what they’re not finding in mom’s medicine cabinet they get from the guy at school selling pills that will supposedly get them  there. And they’re taking these things on blind faith…”

And now we’re back before the typewr… computer, our first latte aboard and watching the needles move on our radar screens, much of what we heard about last night coming to fruition in the cold, harsh light of day. Now, if we could only lay our hands on that manila envelope…

4 COMMENTS

  1. Growing up I devoured both the Trib and Chronicle for their writers Bill Fiset and Herb Caen. Three dot journalism. You guys remind me of them. Thank you

    • Knew Herb and his able assistant Carole and spoke to Bill a time or two but that’s as close as we came to their greatness. Most grateful for mentioning them – and us – in the same post. Many thanks!

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