The Frisco Beat

Upbeat news, views and tall tales around San Francisco Bay

Golden Gate Bridge glows

San Francisco Beat – Chasing the News

Dusk to Dawn Deadlines


My journalism journey began on a tattered bar stool in a Tenderloin District dive.

“What will you have?” asked Les, an affable Filipino bartender who was browsing the Daily Racing Form.

Golden Gate Bridge glows
Golden Gate Bridge Soars

“Uh, Bloody Mary, please,” I muttered, bellying up to a crowded bar of mostly dawn-to-dusk boozers after being shanghaied by a curmudgeon on my first day as a cub reporter for United Press International.

Les sized me up and returned seconds later with a shot and a beer. Without a blink, I chugged the shot and washed it down with the brew. A couple patrons guffawed and one clapped meekly. “Good,” I ventured in a raspy, but lighthearted tone. “Hit me again!

“Let’s play for it,” chirped Donald Thackrey, a grizzled federal court reporter who had earlier burst into the newsroom, introduced himself and said abruptly: “Come on, I’m showing you around.” He meant, a round of drinks.

Haight-Ashbury sign
Ashbury and Haight sign

Richard ‘Dick’ Harnett, the day Desk Editor who taught an advanced news writing class I attended at San Francisco State as Vietnam anti-war protests flared on campus, had astutely hired me as a summer temp.

Now, he warily nodded OK for my rookie initiation by Thackrey, a cantankerous but highly-respected UPI  veteran who quickly scurried me out the door.

Filbert Street in North Beach
Looking down Filbert Street

Don, who eerily resembled his two prize bulldogs, took me straight to the Polk Street Tavern and downed a waiting bourbon on the rocks before I’d even ordered. Les, the bartender, slickly poured a double shot to take its place.

“Come on, we’ll shake for it,” snarled Don, gesturing for the leather dice cups. Five tipsy patrons reached for their dice cups on cue and the drinking games began.

After passing the tenderloin initiation and a ‘sink or swim’ training period of editing/rewriting rapid-fire news stories, I was assigned the night shift rewrite slot, where desk editor Bob Lurati rang a little bell at 5 p.m. sharp and announced, “Cocktail Hour.” He then mixed a stiff martini with a twist — on the rocks — before expertly tackling the major stories to be updated for the next news cycle.

It was a 24-hour “deadline a minute” newsroom with reporters and editors banging out breaking stories about City Hall scandals, Black Panther politics, airline hijackings, anti-war marches, the spreading AIDs epidemic, and Pacific League Triple A baseball games.

Human Be-in at Golden Gate Park
Human Be-In Poster

I relaxed and settled in for a wild, weird, and wondrous journalism journey in the surrealistic realm that gave front row access to jumping frog contests in Calavaras County, Silicone Queen Carol Doda’s topless night club show in North Beach, Grateful Dead. Jefferson Airplane and Santana light-show concerts at Winterland, elite wine tastings in Napa Valley, save the redwoods “tree hugger” clashes in Mendocino and the annual squid festival feast at Monterey Bay.

Next stop: North Beach – pool, pizza, and paparazzi in colorful Babylon by the Bay as the daily lists of American boys killed in Vietnam clicked away ominously on the office teletypes while storm clouds shrouded besieged college campuses where students boycotted classes and burned draft cards to protest the war.

—John “Boomer” Leighty

Also see: boomerbeat_HUMOR – It’s good for what nails you!

Author: John "Boomer" Leighty

As a deadline journalist focused on the San Francisco beat, my gaze has seen a once laconic landscape turn into a profit-driven Westernized juggernaut that virtually no one can afford to step into. In the recent economic maelstrom, the healthcare sector has thrived with Boomers paying most of the bill. While many prospered in an inflationary bubble during the 1990s, a numbing number of Boomers are now hobbling toward the pearly portal with multiple chronic conditions and depleted resources from a reversal of fortune due to the fleecing of the economy by corrupt corporations, industry-backed oil wars, Wall Street greed, and overt government deceptions. I covered the Barbary Coast scene as a maverick reporter and national feature writer for United Press International during the stoned seventies and zippy eighties and currently write about a range of issues that impact the boomer experience. Check out my Boomertrip Lists of topics and activities that enhance or influence senior activities and healthy aging goals. Tune in, turn on and sound off to help compile and share resources needed by an eclectic generation that created ‘counterculture’ values and is flashing the peace sign as the sun slowly rises on a burgeoning brave new world paradigm of artificial intelligence, smart drones, robotic workers, twisted news, and social media influences.

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