The shooting on Knox Street nearly killed me.

One man was dead, three locals were arrested and the city crack trade was in chaos.

The feds were in town trying to pick off the big dealers while everyone was scrambling. There were so many home invasions, people started tying themselves to chairs just to save time.

Good times. But it wasn’t the guns and crack violence that nearly took me down. It was the hours. Crack dealers and other bad guys operate mainly at night, but the court system demands that you be showered and shaved by 7 a.m. and in your seat by 8.

While the three shooters were being tried in Portland, my typical day went like this:

Alarm starts screaming at 6 a.m., at which point I spring straight up in the air like a cartoon cat and cling to the ceiling for a horrified second, fur standing on end.

6:05.: Staring at the alarm clock with incredulity.

6:10.: Still staring at the alarm clock with incredulity. I mean, are you high? I’m supposed to get out of the bed three hours after I got into it?

7 a.m.: Trudging through the snow to wherever I left my car the night before. On the very first day of the trial, I discovered that my radio had been stolen. I replaced it with an old-fashioned boom box and that was stolen on day three. True story. It’s a jungle out there.

7:45 a.m.: At the Cumberland County Superior Courthouse in Portland. Free frisking at the door. I always got stuck behind the girls with metal wire in their bras and the idiots who didn’t realize you can’t bring folding knives to court.

8 a.m.: In court surrounded by men and women in suits who look like they are quite accustomed to being awake and alert at this time of day. Fortunately, the other half of the courtroom is filled with city-dwellers who look as droop-eyed and disheveled as I feel.

9 a.m.: After an hour of riveting testimony, I realize I haven’t taken a single note. In fact, I forgot my notebook in the car. Also, there’s a long string of drool connecting my lower lip to my shoes.

9:03 a.m.: Borrowing paper and pen from a defense attorney. When he handed it over, I heard JING! So it was probably Joe Bornstein.

Noon: Wandering the Old Port and drinking nine cups of coffee with the pigeons.

1-5 p.m.: More riveting testimony, featuring many variations of the phrase, “It wasn’t me. It was some other guy.”

And then, the slushy ride home in a car with no heater and no wipers.

The romantic thing, of course, would have been to go to one of the Old Port’s many fine bars and drink whiskey with beer chasers while pounding out my story. Like the old-time reporters, before their livers blew up.

But you must remember that these were the days before email. These were the days when the height of technology was the brick-sized beeper important people like myself wore strapped to their hips.

To file my story I had to be in the office. And to get there I’d have to suffer through commuter traffic on I-495, which I always got confused with its ugly sibling I-295 and, thus, ended up in Gardiner.

Later, back at my desk, I would write up dramatic news stories featuring shady dealers, back-alley transactions and guns that we reporters like to describe right down to the precise millimeter. You know, to give the impression that we’re street smart.

Suspiciously, all of my stories began with the lede: “Absolutely nothing of importance happened in court today between 8 and 9 a.m. …”

So I’d spend an hour or so writing up all the thrilling testimony from court. Friends turning on friends, surprise witnesses and lawyers beginning their cross-examinations with, “It’s true, is it not?” because that’s how they do it in the motion pictures.

I’d get my story filed by 8 p.m. Then it was time to go to work.

These were the days when Lewiston was a flickering lamp on a frayed cord. Stuff sizzled and popped all the time. There was gun play and brawling and if there wasn’t at least one suspicious fire per week, police promptly began an investigation to find out why.

On at least two occasions, I went downtown for late-night fights and found, among the bloody and screaming, a few of the folks who testified in court that very day.

“Fancy seeing you here.”

“And you as well.”

“Some hours we keep, am I right?”

“Quite so! And now, I must take my leave of you lest the gendarmes attempt to remove me to the hoosegow.”

That’s how we talked back in the ’90s.

Crazy times. For a period, I was the only crime reporter on staff. Court in the morning, breaking news all evening long. I’d stumble home around midnight only to start all over again in the morning. By the time that trial came to a close, I was pretty much hallucinating full time. It was nice.

I’ve been thinking about that era a lot lately as I drag my butt out of bed at noon and check in with my crime partner via text message. By the time I’m vertical, he’s typically covered a court hearing, picked up the indictments and written a story about the kind of breaking news that used to have the decency to wait until dark.

These days, when news gets big and bad, four reporters are apt to be working on it, not one valiant dork trying to go it alone.

One person couldn’t do it all by himself even if he wanted to. Which he doesn’t. Not in an age where news goes directly to the Web and the paper is printed almost as an afterthought. Not at a time when you’re only as good as your last tweet or Facebook update. These days, deadline is always five minutes ago.

My point? Don’t have one. I’m just grateful to be able to sleep until noon, as nature designed me. I have wipers and heat in my car now and who needs a radio when you have an iPod?

Hey! Where’s my iPod?

I tell you, it’s a jungle out there.

I’m going back to bed.

Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer. You can send morning email to [email protected], but don’t expect a reply.


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