This was real newspapering

When the Vacaville Museum contacted me a few months ago and asked for my memories of Solano County journalism for their current exhibit “Read All About It,” I noticed a few of my newspaper cronies wincing.

It wasn’t hard to guess what was going through their fevered minds:

“Uh-oh, he’s not going to write about the, er, firetruck, is he? Or the palm tree in Judge Weir’s hot tub?”

I, of course, took the high road while reminiscing for the museum exhibit and wrote of neither of these incidents.

(Besides, I’m not all that sure about whether the statute of limitations has run out…)

The aforementioned occurrences, however, were but two small events in the celebrated history of weirdness that has traditionally permeated S’lano County journalism.

Twenty-five years ago we were all enthusiastic, idealistic and periodically rational young news dogs, ready for anything and always looking for ways to beat the competition.

The Reporter published three days a week from a 19th century Main Street office where the ceiling always leaked, the phones occasionally worked and we were frequently entertained by the antics of passing bats fluttering through the newsroom late at night.

We were a rather fluid group, living in a motley assortment of apartments, rented rooms and the occasional converted garage, most of which cannot be adequately described in the kind of language one finds in a family newspaper.

One of our temporary dwellings, however, stood out from all the rest. Located in south Vacaville, it was an outwardly unremarkable single-family dwelling that soon was dubbed “Animal House” by civilized members of our staff.

The home was occupied by a police reporter, chief photographer, news editor and sports editor, none of whom will be herein named. Suffice it to say that there are many good reasons not to name them, so we won’t.

Ah, but those were grand days. We had beer, chili and a state-of-the art fire and police scanner on the kitchen counter so that at any time of the day or night we could thunder off to cover breaking news.

Of course, there were a few preliminaries to get out of the way before we did so. First, we had to determine who was sober enough to drive. Then we had to figure out whose car would start. And find an unbroken camera. And a road map..

It was a place where anything could happen. I have vague memories of a state correctional officer, in full uniform, riding a motorcycle through the living room on Super Bowl Sunday 1982. I’m still not too clear on the particulars because somebody had had the audacity to roll me up in the living room carpet…

Then there was the dark and stormy night when the sports editor’s treacherous waterbed turned on him, pinning him to the wall until the terrified fellow could be rescued by his roommates.

On another evening, an elaborate salt water aquarium, complete with fish, mysteriously appeared by the sofa. A few days later, it just as mysteriously disappeared.

Nobody knows why.

Chaotic?

You bet.

But as we proclaimed one foggy night while pursuing a runaway beer keg through Elmira, “This, my friends, is journalism.”

Originally published April 4 2004

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