I was in a cab yesterday, and my driver pointed out a drug arrest happening across the street in the Jersey City Heights. He was more interested in the bust than I was. “There, see?” he asked. “Three guys in handcuffs. Seven cops and three unmarked cars pinning in the white car. That was an undercover horse bust. Big one. You won’t see those guys on the street again.”
“Horse?” I asked.
“Heroin. Not that I know anything about it. I’m just guessing.”
Then we stopped at a red light and a New Jersey Department of Corrections white van pulled up beside us and the woman behind the wheel honked at us.
My driver rolled down his window and gave her a thumbs up. She shouted over the traffic if he “was being good?” and he yelled back, laughing, “what else!” The light changed and she was gone.
My driver told me he knows all the cops and corrections workers because, he admitted, he used to deal heroin in The Heights and he got to know them all through his prison work programs. He spent a lot of time in state and county jail. He used to live a few blocks away from me.
He told me he gave up that life to save his son. He moved out of Jersey City and into a smaller town. He’s lucky he has a hack license. It cost him $3,000.00USD to buy the right to drive for anyone in the city. He saved up the license fee working prison and halfway house jobs. Since he never had a drug charge — he did time for fighting and petty theft — the state didn’t take his driver license. He drives 12 hours a day, from 5am to 5pm and then, when he gets home, he’s so tired he goes straight to bed.
We turned a corner.
I asked him why he was attracted to the drug life. He told me the money was good. The women were better. He got tired of doing time. He burned out on always looking over his shoulder.
“One bag, one shot, of heroin today, and you’re doing a three year drop!” he yelled at me over his shoulder. “The city don’t take it anymore. They don’t want dealers on the streets. They cracked down and put all the big time dealers in jail for a long time. See that corner right there? That was a big buy corner. Did you know that?”
I shook my head. “I didn’t notice. Probably because I wasn’t looking for it.” I answered.
“Yeah, prolly.” He said.
We turned another corner and I pointed up the street to a brand new, luxury, apartment building that has been entirely stripped and rebuilt over the last two years. A fire nearly burned it to the ground six years ago.
“You see that building?” I asked. “Rumor on the street is it was set afire by neighborhood vigilantes trying to get rid of the drug dealing.”
“Yeah,” he said. “Jimmy used to live there. He was only a one man Op, though. He was a big dealer, but I didn’t think he made much noise.”
“So is the Heights better or worse now than when you lived here?”
“Oh, it’s better,” he said. “All the big dealers are locked up and they ain’t gettin’ out. Now you have the punks. Small time heroin punks. Here. There. Every city has ’em. But the machine, the drug machine, the city shut it down. It’s gone. Three years a bag is bad for business if you’re any kind of baller. You always have at least 10 bags on you, so that’s a 30 year grind straight up. A life ender.”
I paid my fare and left the cab. “Thanks for the education,” I shouted, from the curb. “You taught me how to read the street.”
He laughed and yelled back, “What else?” He shot me a thumbs up and drove away.