Ask John Q. Cop about Larry Krebs. Yeah, sure, old Larry. Amazing guy. Incredible dude. Hey, Jim, you remember the time . . .
Ask Jack Z. Fireman about Larry Krebs. Me, know Larry? Are you kidding? There was that time in Southeast when he came right in with us, those radios blaring and all and . . .
Then ask Larry Krebs about Larry Krebs. First, there will be the impish smile. Then the glance, boyishly enthusiastic, yet street-hardened. Then the words: "I'm my own boss. I'm not pinned down. And how many people in the news media have the freedom I do?"
Absolutely none. Nor do any have the reputation. After 25 years of roaming Washington's streets as a cameraman for Channel 7 and crimecaster for WMAL radio, Krebs' epitaph, when the time comes, is assured. He is Washington's night police reporter par excellence.
Krebs is known by name to just about every local cop and fireman. He is the one media man who never has to show his press credentials. He is the one guy on the night beat whom the cops call, and not necessarily vice versa.
Although Krebs works only at night, usually beginning around 8 p.m. and chasing radio calls until dawn, he has a full gallery of scoops and scalps to his credit.
When Wilbur Mills and Friend were toweling off the night of the famous dip in the Tidal Basin, Krebs just happened to be right there. No other media type could immediately say the same. Besides, Krebsie got pix - the only pix.
When firemen waded into the smoky mess of the just-bombed Capitol in 1971, who was right with them? "One Larry Krebs," says one Larry Krebs.
When a man stole a helicopter in 1974 and decided it would be a good ideal to land it on the White House lawn, who was there to give all the other reporters a "fill?" It wasn't H.L. Mencken.
Larry Krebs may never get within a million miles of Meet The Press, and he would probably guess that a three piece suit is some sort of legal action. "But I'm doing what I love to do," says the bald, stumpy, effervescent 55-year-old known to his pals as The Penguin. "And I plan to keep right on doing it."
To do it, Krebs motors around Washington and evirons in a 1976 Pontiac that looks as if it was special-ordered from Disneyland.
Mounted on the hump between driver and shotgun-rider are three radios. Between them, they cover 30 channels, or all the police and fire action in the city and most of the suburbs.
On the seat beside him, Krebs carries the same "kit" every night - two small portable radios, one "Bellboy" paging device, one towel, one pack of Salems, one box of Kleenex, one flashlight and one well-thumbed guide to the streets of the nation's capital.
On his belt, Krebs carries one whistle ("in case something happens") and 25 keys. The keys include one that will open any police callbox in the city, one that will open most sets of handcuffs, and one that will open cans of something cold.
In his pocket, Krebs carries about $7 in nickels and dimes. Any good reporter would know the reason: "Gotta call in and let 'em know I'm alive," explains Krebs, who confesses he knows most of the phone booths - and of course every all-night restaurant - in the area.
Once on the scene of a story, The Krebs Method is to joke and josh with police or fire officials, yet always to home in on the details with reportorial intensity.
"You talk about their kid that's been sick, their girl that's in college," Krebs says, his eyes flitting around Wisconsin Avenue at 3 a.m., his ears always on his radios. "It doesn't come overnight, and it's building, sure. But as the years go on, a friendship develops."
Krebs has developed plenty of friends since he first landed in Washington after World War II as a just-discharged Coast Guardsman who thought he knew photography.
He started "playing-the-street," as he calls it, right away. "he was real hungry then," says a friend and colleague.
After several years of freelancing, Krebs was hired as a staff photographer by the now defunct Washington Daily News. "But I saw the handwriting on the wall," said Krebs."I could see TV was coming in." He taught himself to run a movie camera, and he joined Channel 7 in 1952.
In 1970, his boss abruptly ordered him to work days. Krebs wasn't happy, but he went along - cruising his night world after his regular work day was over. "Sleep?" Krebs smiled. "What's sleep?"
But after Krebs scooped the world with his coverage of the Capitol bombing, the fish was placed back in its noctural waters. There it has stayed, usually six, sometimes seven nights a week.
"There's something about night people that's really funny," said Krebs, turning down the broadcast of a trashcan fire so a companion could hear him. "They never seem to have a bad day. People say, 'Hey, he's got to be a grump; otherwise why would be work nights?' But it doesn't work out that way."
It certainly doesn't in the case of Krebs, who claims he never minds being awakened, whatever the hour, to go on a worthy call.
"I try never to be sour," said Krebs. "If you're sour every moment of your life, what the hell have you got? You might as well lie down and let them throw the dirt over you."
Larry Krebs has been shot at, but never hit; been cursed at, but never really wounded; been asked to return early from vacation, but never really interrupted.
Has he ever missed a story? "Oh, sure, you're bound to," says Krebs. "But I sure do catch up fast."
Can he imagine not being able to get his story once on the scene? "It's possible," says Krebs - but his grin says it isn't.
The one thing Krebs is skittish about is his personal self. He would not discuss his private life. Nor would he pose for a photograph. But he possesses the truest and bluest of credentials - he's still out there, without serious competition.
"I've had people say, 'Larry, we're gonna run you off the streets. We're gonna take over midnight.' I say, 'Be my guest.'"
Krebs wheels off Pennsylvania Avenue onto L Street. "And look who's still out here," he says, complete with the impish smile.