A few weeks after I moved back home, Uncle Mark came to visit us. Uncle Mark is Mom’s younger brother, the youngest of her five siblings. Uncle Mark wasn’t handy with a gun and pretty useless with a knife. He also wasn’t much of a pimp and was a horrible drug dealer. Stealing? Stealing, he could do. Uncle Mark was a good thief, though he was never able to steal himself away from his drug addictions. Hooked on heroin and crack for most of his life, at his worst, Grandma wouldn’t even let him into her house unless he was under constant supervision.
During his visits Uncle Mark would sometimes shower, eat a home-cooked meal or occasionally pay back money he’d borrowed or stolen from us. On this particular visit, while shooting the shit after dinner, Moms excused herself and stepped into the kitchen, leaving Uncle Mark and I alone in the living room. That’s when he pulled my coat. Looking me dead in the eye he said, “I heard what happened with you and yo momma. What you need to do is get you a real hustle. That weed shit ain’t gone make you no real money. You need to get you a real package. That way, if yo momma kick you out again you can get you a motel room, be a man, you know?”
My first thought was, “Why would I take advice from him?” For all intents and purposes, he’s the last person I should be listening to. But, after the way my own mother had just treated me, I was searching for answers, and he seemed as good a mentor as any. Plus, he was only echoing what I had been hearing on the streets; Crack had become big business, much to the dismay of then Mayor of San Francisco, Diane Feinstein. She, like other Mayors in California at the time, was overwhelmed by the devastating fall-out from the movements of drug kingpins Freeway Rick, Danilo Blandon and drug ring The Dark Alliance. Danilo Blandon was the cocaine supplier for Freeway Ricky Ross, who is credited for the crack epidemic that was ravaging California during the 1980's. I remember seeing her hold up a huge bag of crack rock on TV, talking about how it had taken over the streets, reporters and camera men taking it all in. Watching her holding up that bag, that sealed the deal for me. It was time for me to ante up. I immediately traded in my weed scissors and shoe box for a razor blade and a crisp, clean mirror.
I knew nothing about selling crack. Moms had given me my start on the block with weed but that was "Hustling 101" and I needed to matriculate. There were things that only the streets could teach me and I was an eager student. One day, on my quest to transition from weed to crack, I headed west toward Hayes Valley looking for a "plug", a connect to supplies of that white rock. The popular term for crack at the time was "Hubbas", so popular even that there was a local hit record called "Hubba Rock" by Rappin' 4-tay, if I remember correctly. I passed Po’ Boys Car Wash on the corner of Laguna and Birch Streets, where I’d occasionally see Willie Brown’s car being detailed. Willie Brown was a highly respected State Assemblyman who was always able to come back to the turf. Rumor was that Po’ Boys was a front for a cocaine distribution ring that dealt only in weight. Staring at Assemblyman Brown’s red Ferrari being gently buffed to shine, I knew I was in no position to challenge the rumor, nor was I in a position to handle the kind of weight Po' Boys was "rumored" to move. I wouldn’t know what to do with a quarter-ounce, let alone a quarter-pound. I continued on to the Valley where I hoped to find a hook up more my speed.
“Are you the police?” he said. “If dude is the police and you ask him, he gotta tell you, or else it’s entrapment.” He continued, “You know what entrapment mean?” Before I could respond, he answered his own question. “That’s when the police trick you into catchin’ a case.” Tela V was schooling me, helping me get my hustling legs. Tela V was 3 years older than me. We were like frat brothers when it came to Hayes Valley. We were never in a gang together, but I knew him from the block, and growing up, we both claimed Hayes Valley as home. Though, he would never become DVP (Death Valley Projects), he was a close homey and the first cat I knew of that was hustling crack in Hayes Valley. He hadn’t been selling for long but was already making some money from the clientele he built. His interest in me was to basically make more money with someone he could trust. He was focused on his grind and it showed. Hayes Valley Projects took up a full city block, with multiple entrances and exits. They were a maze of 3-story buildings, clad in pink stucco and grouped around a parking lot with one way in and one way out. The North side of the parking lot would later be renamed Death Valley and South side, Iketown. The whole complex looked like a pink prison complete with external landings for each floor made from concrete and steel. When the police raided Hayes they would often ask for a suspect's address saying, “What’s your cell number? Which cell do you live in?” That's how much of a prison Hayes Valleys resembled, how much of a prison Hayes Valley was.
Tela V and I stood at the bottom of the stairwell, to the left of the Webster Street entrance, shielded from both Webster and Hayes Streets, facing the internal courtyard. He extended his left hand out toward me, palm up. In his hand, he held five milky-white rocks. Each rock looked like separated pieces of a puzzle. “These are double-ups. I sell ‘em for $20 but you can prolly get about $40 off a each one of ‘em.” “You know how to cut ‘em in half?” he asked. As I shook my head to indicate that I didn't, he put one of the rocks in his mouth. And with a clink of his jaw, he spat out two perfectly halved pieces of the boulder he’d just showed me.
“Never keep yo dope on you,” he continued as he curiously surveyed the ground around where we were standing. Kneeling down to pick up an empty potato chip bag, he explained, “Always hide yo dope in somethin’ like this, and put it in a stash, someplace you can get to quick for a fiend but if the police raid, you ain’t gone have nothin’ on you. “Oh, yeah,” he remembered. “Don’t let no fiend put yo dope in his mouth. Sometimes they want to nibble it to see if it’s real. If you slippin’ he’ll put the whole thing in his mouth, switch it and hand you back some fake shit.” I nodded in the affirmative. He paused to look at me reassuringly, “You’ll be alright,” he said handing me the two damp stones he had just spat from his mouth, “That’ll be $20. You keep coming back and I’ll keep doubling you up”.