How it used to work:
I'm roaming the streets of Lewiston in my infection-red Geo Tracker. There's a big hole in the dash where the radio used to be but that's OK. I have a cassette player sitting on the passenger seat (you can even dub tapes with this baby) and it's cranking Toad the Wet Sprocket. I'm not sure about their music, but Toad the Wet Sprocket has a bitchin' name. They're going to be around a long time, unlike that awful Green Day.
Every other turn takes me to lower Lisbon Street. It's Lewiston's hot spot and will always be the hot spot. With all those honky-tonks, members-only social clubs and no community colleges in sight, this will forever be the sizzling epicenter of crime in this city.
Suddenly, there's a throbbing at my belt. It's followed by a series of high-pitched chirps that grow increasingly louder. The sound of the beeper makes my hair stand on end even more effectively than the 2 pounds of hair gel holding my spikes upright.
I snatch the pager off my belt and review the message. The sucker has the capacity for messages up to 30 characters long; it's the height of technology and I'm proud to have it. I cannot envision a day when important people don't carry pagers.
According to the LCD, there's mayhem in another part of the city. I don't recognize the street name so I dig under my seat for the map I shrewdly keep on board. The map has been folded a thousand times so there are fuzzy white lines over most of the street names. It's stained with mustard and coffee and it smells like a dumpster at high noon, but what are you going to do? It's not like I can pluck directions out of the sky on some magical map machine.
I wheel into the Getty Mart parking lot for a phone booth and drop in two dimes. Twenty cents for a phone call! I mutter about the ridiculous cost and silently prognosticate (in 1994, prognosticate is not a dirty word) that in the future, phone booths will be free. That's the way to take communication into the next century. And it will happen, too, I'm sure of it.
I'm practically Jules Verne out there, in case you haven't noticed.
So, I race off toward the crime scene, taking note of the McCrory's building on Park Street as I pass. It's a nice building and what a location! I predict it will be occupied by an exotic business by the end of the year. A building like that just doesn't stay empty for very long.
When I reach my destination, I jump out of the car, necktie swinging from side to side. All reporters should wear neckties, I'm absolutely convinced. It's a look that says, "I'm professional and take pride in my work." As long as I'm on the beat, I will wear a necktie. And also nice shoes. Just see if I don't.
At the scene, men and women are brawling. One in 10 has a tattoo. That seems like a lot to me, but give it a year or so. Tattoos will go out of style, as sure as anything.
I grill a rookie cop named Mike Bussiere about the fracas. He doesn't give me much. Rookies, man. I don't think this one has what it takes to be a cop in Lewiston. Within a couple of years, he'll be burned out, never rising higher than patrol. He'll go off and take a job loading boxes onto a truck or something. My instincts are pretty keen about these things. You just wait and see.
Back in the newsroom, I pound out my story in a word processing program called XyWrite. It's really rad. You can delete words just by hitting the backspace key. You can't copy text and put it somewhere else; I mean, this isn't "The Jetsons." Technology like that is still 50 years off, at a minimum.
I file my story, reluctantly slapping my name on top of it. I don't like using a byline. I'm not so keen about people knowing who I am. Journalists should be omnipotent but anonymous. It's irresponsible for a reporter to share his private thoughts and invite the public into his private life. Columnists are egotistical sellouts. Novelists, too.
The editors are very nice. I wait patiently for them to look over my work because I enjoy their feedback and the lessons they impart. Editors are wonderful. I can't imagine a world without them. And when we're all on the same page, I can go home with the assurance that nobody will have the full story about the big brawl until the newspaper hits the streets in the morning. I mean, what could possibly happen? Another news organization is going to send a story of their own across the ether? People are going to share information at some secret place where they gather without ever leaving the comfort of their own homes? Ha ha ha! Go watch "Star Trek," time traveler. You're imagining things.
I leave the newsroom and head to a bar where I can sit and smoke. Someday, the cost of cigarettes will come down and we'll be allowed to do it everywhere, including restaurants and maternity wards.
Now fast forward 18 years into the future. Don't overshoot and end up in late December 2012 because by then, the Mayans will have wiped out everyone. Oh, it's going to happen. I have a sense for these things.
So, I'm out in the middle of the woods on a DR650 dual sport named El Mechon. There's a tingling at my belt. Feels kind of nice. It's not a pager but the Optimus V, a phone that is five times smarter than I'll ever be. When I snatch it out of my pocket, there's a photograph of cop cars screeching to a halt in downtown Lewiston. "Shots fired," is the message that goes with the photo. "Happening now."
I punch the address into Google Maps and let that dulcet voice guide me to the scene where I find a crowd of about 100. Nine out of 10 are sporting tattoos, including a 6-year-old kid sitting on a Big Wheel. Nobody is smoking because the cost of one pack of cigarettes has soared to $20 and you're only allowed to smoke them in a designated field off Alfred Plourde Parkway.
I snatch the Optimus V out of my pocket and use my thumb to Swype a message to my editor. "Shots fired on Horton Street." A second later, she writes back, "Photog on the way."
I open Facebook and jot a few lines about the action. Several people respond immediately with tidbits of information about the shooting. The second my phone is back in my pocket, it tingles again (note to developers: create an app that will make a phone tingle full-time). This time, someone has sent a Web link which leads me to an old story. "This is the shooter," says the message that goes with it.
I don't know if that's true, so I use my thumb to send a message to Police Chief Michael Bussiere, the finest cop I've ever known. I ask him for more information about the shooting. "Check with the watch commander," he writes. He doesn't add "dumbass," but it's sort of implied.
No problem. With my thumb, I press one on-screen button and it rings through to the watch commander, who gives me what I need. You know? Technology is great, but is there really anything better than the human thumb?
I'm close to home so I head there to write an early draft of the story. I can copy and paste behind my back, under my leg, with eyes closed, etc.
Within 15 minutes, the story is out there in the ether for everyone to read. I ride back to the newsroom in my ratty shirt and stinky boots. I pass the old McCrory's building and turn wistful. You know? I always suspected there was something about that place that would keep everyone but the rats away for decades to come.
I've got a sixth sense for these things.
I use Thumb 2.0 to switch on Green Day. I ride down Lisbon Street which is populated only by students from the community college. Nice street, Lisbon.
Walnut and Bartlett is where the action is. That's where the action is always going to be, just see if I'm wrong.
Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer. You can tingle his belt area at firstname.lastname@example.org.