There was crime afoot and I had a solid plan in place before I was even out of the dooryard. 

Someone had fired a shot into a College Street apartment, striking a woman in the back and bringing cops from all corners of the city.  

Covering this kind of action does not require a Ph.D, exactly. I knew how this would go. 

I’d get to the scene and search for the most excited looking mob of people I could find. When you spot this kind of group, you know it at once. They are clustered on sidewalks, gesturing wildly and talking in high, shrill voices. They point a lot and sometimes argue among themselves. 

“The shooter was standing right here!” 

“No sir! On the other side of the street, he was, firing from a scoped hunting rifle.” 

“You’re wrong on that one, friend. T’was just a little .22 and there weren’t no scope.” 

“Got to disagree with you there. If that wasn’t a thirty-aught-six, I’ll eat my boot.” 

Jackpot. These would be people who were close to the action and who were clearly invested in recounting their observations. Fish in a barrel. All there was to do was to mumble an introduction and start taking notes. 

“MarkherefromtheSunJournal,” I would babble. “A hunting rifle, you say?” 

And let the flow of words commence: The glorious flow of rich and colorful observations as adrenaline-drunk men and women shout their descriptions of the mayhem as they saw it. 

Might be that so many people wanted to weigh in on the matter, they’d shout over one another and it would become one dense stew of electrified witness accounts. No matter. I’d sort it out later when it was time to put the story down on the page. 

And what a riveting story it would be. 

All of this occurred to me as I made the short dash from home to College Street. My whole body thrummed with anticipation of all the sordid details I would learn about the cowardly shooting. 

Then I was on College Street, scanning the darkness for the mobs that surely had gathered. But the sidewalks were empty — just lonely stretches of pavement glowing blue under the lights of the police cruisers. 

I drove down Holland Street as far as I could go, before running into the police roadblock. But there were no clusters of people standing there, either. The cold glow of a corner store light shone down on one older fellow, but he was flanked by two cops and it would not be wise to try horning in on THAT conversation. 

I tried further up College Street and further down. I tried the corners at Union and Elm, and was further stymied. Finding no looky-loos whatsoever at a downtown Lewiston crime scene wasn’t just deflating. It was eerie. 

In 25 years of doing this, had I EVER covered anything in this part of town that did not draw out the hordes? Had there ever been so much as a kitchen fire, car wreck or street fight that did not bring bubbling throngs of the curious running from all directions? 

This “new normal” is strange in all sorts of ways, but if it truly has the power to keep the inquisitive away from downtown crime scenes, I’ve got to wonder if there isn’t something a little bit mystical about the whole thing. 

Crime scene tape has never done a convincing job of keeping people away. Neither have angry, shouting police officers, barking for everyone to get back, there’s nothing to see here!  

You could put up all the barricades you had, but if the action was tasty enough, the bored and curious were going to be drawn like flies to roadkill. They’d crowd in as close as they could get, they’d ask the cops a hundred unanswerable questions and they’d stick around until there was absolutely nothing left to see. 

When it comes to breaking news, mob scenes have always been a part of the process. Those avid, gawking strangers have been my bread and butter since day one on this job. Without them, and without their observations, news stories become just bland statements of fact, no more enthralling than a press release sent forth from some unimaginative bureaucrat.  

If the looky-loos have truly gone indoors for the duration of this COVID crisis, I’ll have to get used to a completely new way of news gathering and my, how I’ll miss those high-energy interactions on sidewalks and street corners. 

I have a suspicion the police will not be quite as heartbroken with this development. 

Out there on College Street the night of the shooting, while I searched for any soul at all to talk to, police worked like a finely tuned machine in the dark. They did their sleuthing in relative peace, unhampered by the creeping looky-loos who ordinarily plant themselves underfoot. 

And in less than two hours, they had the whole sordid mess solved. I don’t know how they did it, exactly, but before midnight was upon us, they had their two suspects in custody and they did not have to fire any shots or kick down any doors to get them there. 

And as they were scooping up their last suspect in this ugly affair, I buzzed on down to the scene with renewed hope that I might find some ordinary gawker to interview. 

Nope. There may have been crickets down there, but even they weren’t singing. 

Complain all you want that people aren’t complying with the lingering stay-at-home orders, but that hasn’t been my experience at all. If good old-fashioned police drama in the streets isn’t enough to bring them out, I don’t imagine anything will. 

I figure sooner or later, the crooks and criminals themselves will decide to stay home and I’ll be out of a job. Now that I look back on it, maybe I should have pursued that Ph.D., after all.


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