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Friday, April 22, 2005

beep beep!

My great love affair with technology is starting to fizzle. It's not my lap top that has me angry, though I do resent having to pay so much for Internet access. And it's certainly not my cell phone, my loyal companion since 1999. When I forget my cell phone -- which has happened approximately once -- I feel naked and vulnerable and petrified. It's like a child or a third arm to me.

What's unnerving me is a little device called the "buff beeper." This has become an integral tool for crime reporters in New York City, nearly as essential as pen and pad. The beeper is your first alert to most major shootings or car accidents or "unusual incidents." It gives you a major head's up on the story du jour, but it's also known for horrific false alarms.

In short, it's my nemesis and my best friend.
Click for extended entry:

The device is called a buff beeper because it's primarily for crime buffs and accident gawkers who sit and listen to the scanner, hoping for calamity. A company monitors scanners and sends over everything from police-involved shootings in Bed-Stuy to a wild turkey on the loose in Chelsea. And lots of boring minutae in between. Today, the beeper even wished us all a happy Passover!

I keep my beeper on vibrate at the office and knit a small tuffet for it so that it doesn't go off, rattle on my desktop and scary me out of my wits. Most of the items that scroll across the screen are rudimentary, like this one from 3:23 p.m.:

NY>Queens>ALL HANDS> 787 Cornaga Street> Bat 47 reports all visible fire k/d at this time. all searches complete and neg a/t/t. fire is now placed pwh.

Basically, this we do not care about. The fire is out, no one is inside.

But at least once a day, there is a positively horrifying item that crosses the beeper. On Wednesday, a child fell out a window in the Bronx. Last week, a kid was shot in Brooklyn. When these items came over, we immediately sent reporters to the scene, and I started calling police and fire for details. The beeper was a lifesaver.

Last night, though, a report came over a woman assaulted by six to 10 men in Central Park. It was absolutely alarming. We sent a reporter, I got on the phones. This is the kind of tidbit that sends editors into a frenzy. Too bad it wasn't true.

Turns out, a young man jogging in the park had his iPod stolen. Now, this is terribly unfortunate, but hardly earth shattering. As my editors messaged to me, "The beeper strikes (out) again!"

A few weeks back, I was sent to an apartment building in the Bronx where the beeper reported a baby dead in an elevator shaft. My entire drive up, I entertained nauseating scenarios. Was he squashed by the elevator? Did he fall from it? This would not be good.

I get there and find an equally heartbreaking -- yet different -- story. A woman was strangled by her boyfriend in front of their daughter. But he fled out the window. And they lived on the first floor. No elevator anywhere in this story.

The funny part was that every newspaper and TV reporter up there was operating on the bogus elevator tip. So after they interviewed terrified witnesses, each reporter wrapped up by asking ever-so-sincerely, "Now, can you tell me about the baby in the elevator?"

In knitting news, I'm stalled on Xback. I am unsure what needles to use to create the proper sized tank. I am monitoring other's progress on the xback knitalong board, hoping someone will shed some light on my dilemma.


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