It was the supper hour on a rainy night in Lewiston and action was getting underway on Nichols Street.

The first report to crackle across the police scanner described a man with a gun chasing another fellow across some yards where they presumably vaulted fences and leaped over barking dogs to maximize the drama.

“This is it,” I said to myself. “The big one. Let’s ride.”

Mark LaFlamme

Mark LaFlamme

And so onto the back of the motorcycle I jumped, throttling off toward Nichols Street and all the Pulitzer-scented news that awaited. I was prepared for action, bro. Boy Scout prepared.

At the start of spring, I bought a nice new bag for my motorcycle — whose name is El Mechon, thank you for asking. The bag drapes over the gas tank and features a roomy outside pocket in which I can store the police scanner during mad dashes into the fray.

Great idea, no? With the scanner so close at hand, I can carefully monitor all of the developments and coordinate my strategy as I wheel over to the scene of mayhem.

In theory. The reality is that while El Mechon’s motor is actively running, I can’t hear much of anything at all that squawks over the scanner. All I get are garbled fragments and I have to make ed-u-macated guesses as to what is being said. And this was the precise trouble I faced as I zipped toward Nichols Street for the gun-toting, fence-vaulting, dog-yapping drama.

Voices crackled over the scanner. But did the cop say, “We’ve got shots fired!” or “Gosh, I’m really tired!”?

A dispatcher responded seconds later, but did she relate that the gun-toting dog-vaulter was headed toward Holland Street? Or did she say, “Boy, I want to warn ya it’ll turn into a ballroom blitz?”

I thought I heard another police officer utter something about sending additional units to College Street, but I couldn’t be completely sure he didn’t say, “Dang it, Vera, this porridge is too darn sweet.”

I couldn’t hear bupkis, is what I’m trying to say. And because of that, by the time I got to Nichols Street, I found nothing more than an old woman hanging out her wash, a couple of kids playing hopscotch and a fat squirrel munching on nuts in the back of some poor fool’s pickup truck.

Where was the gunman and his prey? Where was the drama, the mayhem, the thrills? The scanner would know, but by that point the cops had gone into tactical stealth mode and all I could do was to circle the block like a buzzard hoping to stumble into a shootout.

Every spring it’s the same thing. I want to use the super quick El Mechon to chase news around the city, but to do so I have to sacrifice my relationship with the police scanner. Every spring I complain about it, annoyingly (if you can imagine), and I keep hearing the same suggestions over and over.

“Bluetooth, bruh. That’s the ticket. Get yourself a Bluetooth helmet and a Bluetooth-capable radio and you’re in business.”

The first Bluetooth-equipped motorcycle helmet I looked at topped $400 and the salesman had no idea whether it would work with a police radio.

“Forget about the police radio,” the slick-talking fellow said. “This helmet has a universal intercom protocol that works across all brands up to 430 yards. You can definitely listen to Spotify with this baby. That’s the ticket right there. Spotify.”

I turned to some of my geek friends for help with my problem, but those guys are worse than the helmet salesman, if not as well-groomed.

“What you want is to set up your own transceiver,” they babble. “Put up a Gregorian dome with klystrons and you’ll be able to transmit the isotropic equivalent of 10-to-the-13th watts of power and receive back 10-to-the-seventh! That’s the ticket, bub. Klystrons.”

And so, faced with an almost insurmountable problem that could very well end my career, I did what most people do when they become truly desperate: I went to Amazon, where I found a pair of motorcycle headphones for 11 bucks and with free, two-day shipping.

Motorcycle headphones, who knew? The ear pieces are round and flat and can be easily stuffed into the ear holes inside your helmet. The cord is plenty long and at the end of it is a standard 3.5-mm connector that can be plugged into just about any doohickey that produces sound of some sort.

Eureka, right? The solution to my scanner problem wasn’t a $400 helmet or an Arecibo-sized dome in my backyard, it was an $11 gizmo featuring technology that’s roughly 150 years old.

The lesson in all this?

Nah, there’s no lesson. Since when do we have lessons around here? I just wanted to let you know that, while I may not be very bright, give me 10 years, a guy with a gun, some barking dogs and Amazon, and I’ll find a way around just about any problem.

With El Mechon and a police radio I can actually hear, I’m going to be so fast getting to the mayhem, I’ll probably start showing up at crime scenes BEFORE the crime has been committed.

It’s going to be a glorious summer.

Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer who knows his way around a Klystron. Email him at [email protected]


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