|Adventures in the Real World|
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|Episode One Two Live Crude, or, I prefer Cherry to Strawberries
Episode Two Life in the Passing Lane
I sometimes equate the lifestyles of my youth to the episode in the original Star Trek series in which Captain Kirk and others from the Enterprise are slipped a micky by aliens and their perception and activities are increased in speed a thousandfold, isolating them from their peers and the life which they previously led.
As a hyperactive, even moreso in my youth than now, I lived at a pace few of my friends and none of my relatives could track, let alone follow. One incident that can illustrate the speed at which I lived and the frequency with which I had rare and fantastic experiences is one of my "exportations" from Negril, and the adventures that ensued.
The year was 1984, and I linked up, entreprenuerially (is that a word?) with a likkle dread round West End way calling himself Freddie. He claimed to own a percentage of some of the tightest collie in Westmoreland available at that time. So I made an appointment to go up inna de hills for a night to meet the farmers and sample the product. But to understand why I would get involved with someone I knew so little of I'll have to sidetrack a bit and explain the mood, environment, and pressures of that Spring of 84 in Negril, amongst those in "The Business."
From the mid-to-late 70's in Jamaica, there was a period of tyranny by Michael Manley and his leftist Cuban cohorts, and violence reigned supreme. Weapons were imported by the palette full; I personally watched PNP goons unload crates of semi-automatic rifles on the tarmac at the Kingston airport from a plane just in from Havana. For those of you liberals who would vehemently disagree with my politics, all I can say is you weren't in Kingston to witness Manley's "State of Emergency," when just before elections, he literally arrested, without due process, all the JLP candidates, and threw them into concentration camps.
I remember well the days of trucks full of Cubans riding around Kingston harassing citizens, in Spanish, especially young girls. I remember being in King's Plaza or Upper Manor Park, even Constant Spring, when they'd stroll in, bearing their Kalishnakovs/AK-47s, and help themselves to the then popular camo gear, and hygiene items, the shop owners bearing the loss wordlessly, with fear in their eyes and knowing the savage nature that could be ignited by any resistance they might tender the "soldiers."
The Socialist/Communist propaganda being spewed by Manley in the late 70's devastated tourism but "The Trade" flourished unhampered for a time. Prices were good and the ganja trade escalated with boats and planes weighing in heavy heading North. In the late 70's it was almost official that ganja was Jamaica's #1 export and it was indisputable that the herb was Jamaica's largest producer of foreign currency. The gross national product was anything but gross and with the fall of the Acapulco Golden empire, Yard Sense was the "freak's" dream on the streets of San Francisco or New York.
Then came Seaga. Enter the dragon. Being the conservative, pro-America, pro-Big Business kinda guy he was, he wanted the island to go legit. That meant out with the old, in with the new...the old being the likkle farmers in the hills and the freaks in their twin engine Cessnas, the new being the Butch-types, the A.I.'s, the foreign investors, and of course, the appeasement of the Reefer Madness devotees in America's Senate and House.
So we find ourselves, in early 84, with the word Eradication on everyone's lips in Westmoreland, several times a day. I remember, on so many occasions, lying on the beach in Negril, when the black choppers on loan from up North would fly low over Negril, buzzing the beach, then circling up and over to the hills back a beyond. Then we'd see the plumes of smoke rising inland, and wish would could have at least been around to watch the bonfire, and do some inhaling.
Those were hard times for the farmers, a lot that had largely grown dependant on the Trade for several years, and it was suddenly being swept away from them, with no other income immediately present to replace it. "Oooh, D. C., don't you touch my collie. Ooooh D.C. - me children dying fe hunger, and I man a suffa, oh please Mr. D.C., won't you have some pity. At 50 cent a stick, and a dollar a quarter, it's what keeps me alive, me and my two kids and wife..."
Oh yes, 50 cent a stick (four inch long sticky bud) or a dolla a quarter (ounce!!). That's one Jamaican dollar for a quarter ounce you couldn't smoke in a week with your friends! Did I mention that it took $1.10 U.S. just to buy 1 Jamaican dollar when Manley took power? Did I mention within 8 years he brought that exchange rate down to $12 Jamaican to $1 U.S.? The days of 50 cent sticks are gone forever, a faint memory. It was $50 U.S. for a footlong stick at the turning of the century (still a bargain compared to US prices, though).
So now you have the background to this story, and why I hooked up with Freddie, without sufficient references, which I sure regretted later. And, I promise, the story WILL take place in Miami on this Miami web page.
Freddie and I threw my bag into my little white Toyota and headed out of Negril, on the road to Sav. A few miles past Likkle London we turned off to the left, and headed inland on a narrow once-paved road, in the general direction of Frome. We turned off again, to the North, and by this time I was totally lost and realized I was in the precarious position of forced trust in Freddie, who I'd only known a couple weeks. I had my ratchet and knew how to use it, but I didn't spend much time thinking about danger or potential negative turns of events. It was a different world then.
We quickly reached a point where I was forced to pull up the car on the side of the "road" and walk up the hill with Freddie to my accommodations for the evening. The trek was a climb and the dirt track was rutted from the washing away of the soil in heavy rains. With the ground hardened from baking in the sun and rocks jutting out at intervals, the sweat trickling down my brow brought to mind a vision of little rivers flowing along our path, with tiny waterfalls in the crevaces of the trail. With the steepness of the hill and the comparitively soft life my Yankee self had always led, it took a couple hours to hike up the 5 or 6 miles to our destination.
But eventually we reached, and the Sheraton New Kingston it was not, though the view was awesome, as was the flora and aroma. A mawga zinc-roof hut with some bamboo benches and bunks with ratty sleeping bags was to be my home for the evening, along with the three Rastamen and Freddie. But as I took in the lovely three acres of red/green scenery about me, I knew the bamboo would cause me no pain that evening...none that I'd feel anyway. Let's just say that after that night by the fire and under the stars, the odds I'll ever get glaucoma are pretty high. And needless to say, an hour after I arrived and drank my first carrot peanut juice and lit my first of many cups for the evening, they knew they had a sale. The product was so good in fact, that I doubled the amount I usually transported, a risky proposition that miraculously, paid off through all the madness of the following few days.
Back in Negril, I arranged for the pressing of the herb after Freddie and bredren brought it down from the hills. The same dude that usually worked on my car (I was an official Jamaican PHD-pot hole driver) lent me a hydraulic jack and I spent a couple days overseeing my man with the steel plates, who tirelessly turned volume into weight, sans 80% mass.
Meanwhile, at least supposedly, Freddie was making arrangements with his "connection" in Miami, who could supposedly pay a topper dollar than my friends in Allapattah. Man! How DID I survive my trusting nature of those days??
Because I was assured repeatedly, until the day I left Negril, that all was arranged on the other end, I took only $100 U.S. on the long ride to South Florida with me, thinking I was to, literally, arrive in Miami, make my exchanges, hit the bank, the mall, the travel agent, and return the next morning. Let me say that the following days cured me of my love of surprises.
Upon arrival in Miami I discovered the connection was a phantom-he didn't exist. The number was bad, the address was a Cuban restaraunt, and the name had no listing in the book. I rented a hotel and found myself with $30,000 of herb but about $30 paper money. As I lay awake thinking about how the hell I was going to get myself out of the spot I was in, I realized no connection meant no cut for Freddie. I owned the herb and 25% of nothing is nothing. No connection no 25%. That thought did not console me much as I made some calls and realized that living in Negril for so long I'd let my South Florida friends drift away, and credit cards and U.S. bank accounts were long gone. I was pretty much screwed.
As if these thoughts weren't negative enough to overwhelm my inner child's happy thoughts, I turned on the television to lull myself to calmness and watched as the worst riots in the U.S. in a decade (since Watts) broke out in Liberty City, a whole mile from where I was staying a few blocks from Biscayne Boulevard. That, OF COURSE, was the neighborhood in which I was most likely going to be able to sell the herb to strangers. You just don't walk up to the nice white folks in Miami Beach or Coral Gables and offer to sell them a pound or two. But Northwest of downtown, well, people with little to lose take risks they don't take in North Miami Beach.
I didn't have time to wait out the riots. Check out time was noon the next day and I needed cash. I whipped out my ratchet and sliced the back of the upholstered headboard open along the seam, and stuffed the bedhead with almost all the product, holding back a half pound to take with me on my afternoon stroll through the riot zone. Tucking the fabric in the best I could and pushing back the bed to the wall, I sniffed deeply and was relieved that the pressed and sealed stalks left no detectable scent in the room. I was not worried about cops, just thieves. I tossed a bottle of perfume on the floor and let it flow out onto the carpet, a seeming accident that stunk up the room, just in case. Too bad I wasn't as cautious with my Seiko. My instincts about thieves were right. When I returned that night, the door wasn't locked and the Seiko was gone, but the bed was untouched. Whew!
So off I went, walking, with a zippered tote bag on my shoulder containing 1/2 pound of herb; enough value to get me killed in some quarters of Miami, especially in a city hot, BURNING near 7th Avenue, with racial injustice. The first in the series of Miami riots, FYI, was caused by the killing of a black minister. The riots to follow were due to a cop gunning down a West Indian motorcyclist in cold blood, the night it happened, and months later when the cop was, unbelievably, acquitted. And no, the motorcyclist had no criminal history and was not breaking any laws that night. Oh do I remember it well!
Imagine me, little white gyal, not dressed in my usual Negril garb, but slacks and a silk shirt, hoping to look like a professional (no not that kind) walking West on NW 20th, hoping and praying for some luck, trying to avoid the madness around me, and vaguely heading for the big green Rastafarian grocery and restaraunt on 7th Avenue that I used to drive down with the kids from Fort Lauderdale for a good weekend meal.
But things were tense, you could cut the air with a knife. And being white in that neighborhood that day was NOT a good thing, not even in the grocery. Things were so tense, and I was getting the evil eye so often and fervently, that I veered South, in some dazed attempt to get out of a Black American neighborhood in favor a Black West Indian neighborhood. I was under pressure, broke, frightened, and not thinking clearly, but I stand here today to tell you about it. I must have walked miles in that hot sun that day, until I found myself in Little Haiti and sure enough, another pedestrian took pity on me.
After walking around for hours feeling out the vibes, looking in faces for a glimmer of hope and finding none, I stumbled up upon just the right Haitian. If any of you have seen the film Saving Grace, you can relate in some way to the ludicrous situation I found myself in that day. When I saw that film I laughed myself to tears, remembering the similar sitch I'd once been in, but with the added spark of danger, since I was in Miami, and in a riot zone.
I'm walking along and up comes this man from behind. When he speaks I jump, and I'm sure I'm dead. But he walks along with me and we chat awhile, and I avoid the truth with some lame excuse about searching for a friend I was to meet who hadn't showed and I was stranded. But I must have been pretty desperate as the sun lowered into the West, because within 8 blocks I blurted out the truth, except for the herb in the room, only mentioning that in my bag. I had $12 left and I took that, and my life in my hands, and Balan and I went to some projects where he knew a guy that knew a guy and we sold the half pound instantly, and split the dif 50/50, per our agreement.
We then went to my hotel, paid the bill, and he waited outside in a taxi while I collected my things. I went and checked into a much better and safer place downtown, and stashed my stuff under the mattress, this time without fear. When I hit the lobby I'd showered and changed, and we went out to a wonderful Italian restaraunt on Miami Beach and stuffed ourselves with calamari and scampi. "Made enough money to buy Miami but pissed it away so fast....never meant to last....never meant to last...."
While we were at the restaraunt he kept using the phone and I knew he knew there was more where the half pound had come from. No one in their right mind would make the effort for a half pound. The risk of smuggling 30 pounds or a half pound are virtually the same.
Well, miraculously, I had come to trust Balan without sleeping with him, so I took a chance and offered him the same 25% Freddie would have made if his connection had existed. He was thrilled when he heard how much I had but also began to feel concern for his own safety. Now HE was asking me if I'd told anyone else. When he was assured it was our little, not so little secret, we went back to my room and he spent two hours on the phone. He got his friend to bring over his car, which we were to "rent" for 24 hours while we made the rounds doling out a pound here, a pound there. Things went smoothly that night and into the next day, down to the last two pounds.
There was a tense moment when I had stupidly gone into the same downtown bank the third time in one day to buy Traveler's Checks with wads of cash. The teller went back and spoke to her manager, me being recognizable and suspicious like that, but the moment passed and I vowed to be at least a little less stupid for the rest of this trip.
My last night in Miami almost turned into my last night in Miami, or anywhere. Balan and I were taking the last two pounds of ganj to a place in Liberty City when the transaction went sour. I was outside waiting in the car when a small crowd formed at the corner, casting far too many hateful looks my way and speaking uncomfortably loudly with a tone resembling the Two Live Crew brand of anger and hate popular in that time.
Then damned if I don't hear a gunshot inside the house where Balan had taken in the last two pounds. It attracts the attention of the group at the corner who start pointing my way. I of course am nearly wetting my pants and surely wetting the collar of my blouse. I lock the car doors and curse myself for letting him take the car keys inside with him.
Some bastard comes running out the front of the house and flies into the bushes bordering the path next to the house. Out comes Balan, bleeding from his arm, but flashing a pistol, and dives into the bushes after the fleeing thief. I realize he'd been holding the gray Oleg Cassini tote we'd been using as a transport the last two days. Genius that I am, I realize Balan is risking his life chasing down my herb for a lousy 25%! The crowd is walking towards me, even angrier than before, and I am feeling rather terrified, helpless, and yet strangely, insanely I know, alive and aroused. Then another gunshot.
When the crowd of a dozen or so are but twenty yards from the back of the car, Balan comes running up, blood gushing from his arm, BUT CLUTCHING THE GRAY BAG!. I snap to and unlock the door. He jumps in but he's fumbling for the keys in the ignition and the crown starts pounding on the back of the car, shouting about the white bitch in their neighborhood, yada, yada, and one of them takes a rock and starts smashing the trunk of the car. But Balan gets the starter to turn over and just as it gets really ugly we leave a couple guys on the gorund and a couple chasing us down the street.
I always made fun of movies where people have sex in dangerous situations or after someone dies, thinking it unrealistic. I learned that night what movie directors already know, danger is the ultimate aphrodisiac. Late that night I slept an hour or two then hopped the first flight to MoBay, leaving the last two pounds with Balan to see a doctor for a few stitches on the gash (turned out to be somewhat minor) in his arm and to fix his friend's car. I didn't ask what happened to the thief, and he didn't tell.
Episode Three The Godfather of Reggae
Episode Four The Swingers at Stingers
Episode Five Smiling at Michigan
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