Back in the day, as a rule I’d go to every downtown fight I heard about over the police scanner.

It’s not that I’m a fan of random violence, mind you. No need to write that angry letter to the editor. I tend to prefer fisticuffs in the boxing ring, on the hockey rink or in the many fine movies of S.E. Hinton.

But fights in downtown Lewiston (and occasionally Auburn) often shed light on what was going on in the larger community zeitgeist. Much could be learned just by hitting the streets and having a look at who was out there throwing hands and trying to discern why they were doing it.

Maybe it was a brawl among rival drug dealers scrapping over control of a particular corner, but usually it was something far more mundane — maybe the monthly checks had come in that day and what else is there to do after last call at the social clubs than pummel each other on a Lisbon Street sidewalk?

On occasion, the night’s donnybrook would be something that spilled out of the high school, an organized rumble that would make Old Lady Hinton proud. Or maybe it was some love triangle crap that started in a pool hall and spilled out onto Bartlett Street to be put on display for the cheering masses.

They were nonsense fights, mostly. There were no weapons more serious than a roll of quarters squeezed in the fist and there were no lingering effects or political ramifications.

I once had the distinct joy of watching a group of about eight people squaring off on Bates Street in a fuzzy dispute over some stolen property. Fists were hurled. Knees were steered toward groins. There was a head butt or two, a couple messy attempts at roundhouse kicks and at least one fairly elegant body slam.

When I got there, the fight was mostly over. There were three or four combatants snorting blood out of mangled noses, a couple guys searching for missing teeth under a street lamp and at least one dude throwing up next to a fire hydrant.

By the time police arrived, the brawlers had reassembled in the middle of the street where they shook hands and congratulated one another on the well-fought battle. Hooting and/or hollering, winners went staggering off into the night with losers to drink away their pains.

I seldom wrote news stories about these fights because what would be the point? It all happened over the course of about three minutes, nobody was stabbed, shot or bludgeoned and the cause of the scrap was murky at best. These fighters were what police would call “knuckleheads,” and not without at least a trace of affection.

Just another fight, no big whoop, nothing to get your panties in a twist over.

That changed around the time Brandon Thongsavanh came along. In 2002, that was, a time when some of the local boys would occasionally mix it up with the kids from Bates in almost clichéd battles between the haves and the have-nots.

Those could be brutal, sure enough. More head butts, more fists to jaws, more battered bodies taking sidewalk naps. But in spite of the social significance of the scraps, it wasn’t much to write about — not until Thongsavanh, with those appropriate horn tattoos, decided to escalate things into the stratosphere by bringing a knife to the party and using it with gusto.

Thongsavanh stabbed a 22-year-old Bates lacrosse player in the back, in the gut and in the heart, killing him more or less on the spot. When Thongsavanh was sentenced for his crime, a Superior Court judge accurately assessed that “Brandon Thongsavanh decided to turn a stupid street brawl into a murder.”

That killing more or less brought an end to the era of the stupid street brawl, at least from a reporter’s perspective. And after the life of 38-year-old Donald Giusti of Lewiston was taken last June in the ongoing feud between locals and the immigrant community, every downtown rhubarb you hear about is a potential political powder keg.

Last week, when I rolled out for a dust-up on Bates Street, I found the usual lineup of bloodied and bruised stumbling on the sidewalk in the aftermath of the fast and bloody skirmish. I waited for a cop to wander over and tell me “just a bunch of knuckleheads out here,” but you don’t hear that so much anymore. These days, fights downtown tend to be politically volatile affairs that spur news releases, press conferences and calls to the mayor’s office. If you’re a news reporter, you have to choose your words carefully.

Times are tense, the stakes are higher and for sure nobody out there is shaking hands anymore. It makes me pine for the days when there was at least a 50 percent chance that the main event of the night started with a disagreement over some yahoo’s selection on the jukebox in a downtown dive bar.

Those knuckleheads. I miss them so.