Back on the Block
I had known DB since high school, “back on the block,” as the GIs say. We built hot rods, drag raced for money, drank beer, made the scene at the local drive-ins and flirted with the girls, mostly unsuccessfully. Richer boys had nicer cars and did better with the girls but our cars were quicker over the quarter-mile drag strip surreptitiously marked off on 140th avenue. Both of us won $50 bills more than once with the rich boys eating crow in front of their girlfriends.
DB was a few years older and was drafted in ’65, before the big build-up that snared me. He ended up in Viet Nam. In his letters he described his location as being in I Corp, which included the Central Highlands, a mountainous region along the Laotion border. This was the home of the indigenous people whom the French, Americans and DB called Montagnards.
The Montagnards, a catchall phrase the French had come up with to describe all the various tribes of indigenous people, had been driven from their home on the coastal plain centuries before as people who became the Vietnamese moved in from southern China. Aside from the discrimination of the Vietnamese and brutality at the hand of the French Colonists, they saw the VC as invading their last remnants of territory. They hated the French and Vietnamese, irrespective of political persuasion. In particular, they hated the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese regulars or NVA as they pushed the Ho Chi Minh trail southward along the western edge of the Central Highlands through Laos and Cambodia.
The US military exploited this animosity and began training the Montagnards as clandestine fighters and observers of the VC as they pushed their supply route southward. In exchange, the military supported or at least looked the other way at their farming efforts that included coffee, canibas and poppy.
Starting in summer of ’66 DB began sending home “care packages.” Frequently he would send a package that CA, the de-facto secretary for our crowd who sent and received his packages, opened and passed around. It was tightly wrapped in aluminum foil that smelled of janitorial soap. With apologies to John Prine, God rest his soul. It would “create an illegal smile, doesn’t cost very much and it lasts a long while.”
Over time more smokable substances than our crowd could use came in the mail. CA began sending DB money in exchange for the packages he sent home. He wanted green, cash money. And quite a bit of money went back to his APO, baked into cookies and biscuits. Hundred dollar bills went into baking powder biscuits, fifties into oatmeal cookies, twenties into chocolate chip cookies. DB needn’t open them to identify the denomination. Amazingly, when his one-year tour in-country was over he re-enlisted to stay in Nam. About that time his APO address changed and his packages home got more frequent.
On the periphery of our crowd were two brothers who had made a fortune dealing cocaine and other substances frowned up on by the establishment. They had befriended a guy who was a few years ahead of us in high school and set himself up as a waterski manufacturer. In time, the design became more sophisticated with voids in the ski to reduce overall weight and to allow custom balancing by adding weight to some of the voids. At least that was the public story. There were other models too which sold better and reportedly skied better.
At about the same time, the manufacturing was off-shored to Central America to a company that also manufactured surfboards for the California market. It was about this time that the brothers’ illicit business began to flourish. You could tell because Hox got a new set of tires and fancy wheels for his beat up pickup. No fancy new pickup, though. Neither Hox nor his brother Eddie wanted to attract attention. After a while, Hox got his pickup repainted and bought a camper for it. He began driving it to California every few weeks, just after a shipment of water skis hit town. After a year or so of trips to Oakland, he came to see me about a new engine. Even then, I was known for my hot rod abilities. So I built him a fresh new 327 Chevrolet V-8 and put it in for him. He was happy. I was well rewarded. He said the pickup was much faster over the mountains on I-5.
In the late sixties, when the mob began to notice cocaine and the feds got serious about taking control of the drug trade, the brothers got out of the business. Someone had fingered one of their customers and they couldn’t figure out who did it. That was the first sign of trouble. Then one of the couriers was found dead in the back of his pickup in Point Roberts just south of the BC border. Then Hox was stopped on his way back from California and his camper was searched. Since his cargo went south, he was clean but shaken. It was time to bail. But they still had lots of customers and a pot full of money they couldn’t put in the bank. So they bought a dairy and paid cash for it.
DB was sending home hashish and some of it was laced with opium. The two brothers’ customers quickly developed a taste for DB’s product but the brothers made is plain that they would have no part in the transactions. But their hay barn was out of sight of the house and took frequent deliveries of hay, grass and other commodities.
CA and her husband lived in a semi-rural area, kept some livestock, owned a big hay truck and bought and sold hay, keeping some for their stock. Cows eat grass; lots of it. Weed and other smokeables stored in a barn could be disposed of in minutes with a pitch fork and a few cows. A few lucky cows had been fed experimental doses of hash with no apparent ill effects. The local cops were unlikely to dig into a 500-ton stack of hay bales looking for drugs unless they absolutely knew it was there. Likewise, 25-ton truckloads of hay were unlikely to be searched at random when crossing the truck scales. Hay trucks had become couriers and the dairy barn became a laundromat of sorts. It wasn’t long before CA and her husband bought a 350-horsepower Peterbilt truck to replace the aging 220-horsepower Kenworth. Times were good. But then one January day it was 1968. Sixty-eight was not a good year. For me it was a lousy year as you now know.