It took only minutes for the intersection of California Boulevard and E. Foothill Boulevard to completely fill with revelers. As a reporter for the Mustang Daily, this was the place to be, right in the middle of the mayhem. Armed with a camera, I was ready to get the story. I wasn’t specifically assigned to cover the riots, but I was there and knew my editor would want my account of the evening’s activities. Looking south down California, toward Hathway Avenue, I saw something burning. A car, a couch, I wasn’t sure. I turned around to find two men dismantling the street sign that they would later use as ammo to throw at police. Naturally, I snapped their picture for the paper.
I quickly learned, however, that taking pictures of people during a riot doesn’t go over very well with those actually doing the rioting. You see, the pictures could be used as evidence for the police. So as I tried to capture a few more images, my friend Mike grabbed my arm and said “we’re going.” I’m sure I looked puzzled because Mike too was a journalism student and I knew he shared my enthusiasm for getting the story. What I didn’t know was that Mike saw several angry men coming up behind me, prepared to make sure I wouldn’t take any more pictures.
We made our way to Hathway Avenue and then down to the corner to Cork and Bottle and back up California again. By the time we returned to Foothill the police had organized a line to disperse the students. Now it was time to retreat. I ended up in someone’s second floor apartment watching from the balcony as police fought to gain control. Several times a police officer would see us watching and threaten us with arrest if we didn’t get inside. For another hour we watched as the police used water cannons on the crowd and arrested rioters. I knew then that this was a big story, but I had no idea it would cause the end of Poly Royal.
Being on staff at the Mustang Daily was an invaluable experience. It gave me a taste of real world journalism and the hectic pace of a reporter’s life. Not many journalism students have the opportunity to report from within a riot. But as a Cal Poly student, the riots didn’t make much sense. I guess some took “learn by doing” a little too seriously.