Episode 15: The Jane Street Hustle
After the whole gym shakedown fell apart, it was pretty much back to the streets for me. But I’d become accustomed to a pretty good lifestyle. Which meant I needed to start making money. So, once again, I reverted back to my old standby—selling pot. Even if I had just a few low-level wholesale buyers, I could always make a few hundred a week. You know, flipping ounces, quarter and half-pounds. It didn’t make me rich by any means, but it at least it kept a few bucks in my pocket.
Then an opportunity presented itself. I had a regular girlfriend who I’d been with for years, but I was “seeing” another girl on the side. You know, a “goomar,” if you will. She was a beautiful mulatto girl named Keysha, who lived with her sister in one of the Detroit’s worst east side ghettos, on a street named “Jane.” Strange thing was, even though she lived in the “hood,” she was a real classy chic who was studying at a high-end beauty school to get licensed to do hair. Nice girl. Real sweet and soft spoken, although not all that bright. Her sister, on the other hand, was a big, fat, ugly dark-skinned girl who I think was a lesbian. She was really “butchy,” if you know what I mean. And she hung around some really thuggish dudes who were always at their house, hanging out on their porch, drinking 40’s and smoking blunts. I can’t remember the sister’s name, but it was obvious that she didn’t like me. Nor did the dudes who always hung at their house, though they had no reason not to. I was always respectful and cordial to them. You know, hit them with the “Hey, what’s up, fellas?” when I’d walk into the house. They’d just sort of stare at me with the maloik—the evil eye. Maybe a nod. But that’s it. I had a feeling that a couple of them had the hots for Keysha, and only hung around her sister to have a shot at her. I mean, Keysha was a ghetto superstar. She could have easily been a model. But for whatever reasons, she liked me. Her sister and her friends? They made me nervous. So nervous, in fact, that I started carrying a gun every time I went to her house.
Keysha would see the gun and ask, “Why do you have that?”
I’d nod towards the front porch.
“Have you seen how your sister’s friends look at me out there? I’m pretty sure they’re planning to rob me at some point.”
She’d giggle and laugh it off, but I was serious. I mean, it was Detroit, a city not known for the best race relations. In the 1960s there were huge race riots that resulted in half the city being burned down. But I had plenty of black friends. I still talk to some of them today. They always dug my Italian swagger. Some of them even knew I was connected. I never had a problem with any of them, but I’d never done business with any of them either. Not until I did.
One day, I was driving down Keysha’s street when some black dude jumped out and flagged me down. It was summer time and he had his shirt off, so I could see he was unarmed. It could have been a setup for a robbery play, since I was driving a nice brand-new pimped out Jeep, but I didn’t get that vibe. Nevertheless, as I pulled to a stop and rolled down my window, I slipped my pistol out from my waist and tucked it between my legs for easy access.
“What’s up?” I said, feeling the Colt .380’s cold steal against my leg.
“Hey man,” he said, glancing down the block. “You the one messin’ with Keysha, right?”
“Uh, maybe,” I nodded. “Why, what’s up?”
Again, he glanced down the block nervously. “Listen, I just wanted to give you a heads-up. Her ex is over there. I saw him drive by a few minutes ago. He lives around the block. Drives that red Grand Am in her driveway. The motherfucker ain’t to be trusted. She broke up with him like a year ago but that nigga stalk the shit out of her. Won’t leave her alone.”
I already knew this, because she had told me how her ex was still obsessed with her. But she assured me he was harmless, that I had nothing to worry about. Yeah, famous last words.
“She told me about him. Says he’s harmless.”
The guy gave me an odd look. “I went to school with him. The nigga is crazy. I’m not saying he’s dangerous. I’m just sayin’ watch your back with that nigga. I wouldn’t trust him as far as I could throw him. He’s liable to set yo ass up…” He gave me a look. “You know, no offense, dude, but you runnin’ ‘round here with the wrong paint job. Some of these niggas don’t like you messin’ with Keysha. I say fuck it, do you. I like me some white girls. It’s a free world. She can mess wit’ whoever she wants.”
I chuckled and readied to drive off, but he set a hand on the window and leaned in closer, “Hold up, bro. I know you the man with the good weed. All you white boys keep that good weed. I could sell some for you. Everyone down here is always lookin’ for dat good flame. Hook me up and I’ll pump that shit all day. All them factory niggas at the plant come up here to score after work. I’m telling you, I could pump that shit all day.”
I ended up having him give me his number, with no real plans of calling him. But when I began to really think about it, I thought I might be missing out on an opportunity. Thing was, I had a very low profit margin on the weed I was selling. Moving more volume was the only way I could make any real money. I had a solid plug on some weed that was way ahead of its time. This stuff wasn’t Mexican brick weed. It was fluffy, bright green weed that came out of Canada. My supplier called it “Northern Lights.” Once I started selling it to my customers, that’s all they wanted. They wouldn’t even look at regular commercial weed anymore. Problem was, the guy I was getting it from was a real tight ass. I mean, he was raping me on the price. Standard commercial weed was selling for about a $1,000 a pound at the time. My guy was charging me $1,500! The only reason I even bought any from him in the first place was because my regular supplier went dry. But once I sold his Canadian stuff to my buyers, that’s all they wanted. The loved it. Unfortunately, I had to jack my prices way up to make a profit, which my buyers all bitched and moaned about. The only way I could get a lower price was if I bought in bulk, 20 pounds or more. Problem was, I didn’t have that kind of money laying around. I did, however, have friends in the weed game, so we eventually started pooling our money together to buy the stuff in bulk. But the jerkoff was still raping us, charging $1,350 pound. I contemplated robbing him many times.
Anyway, I decided, what the hell, I’ll give this black dude a shot. His name was Derek but everyone called him “D.” I figured I’d front him a quarter-pound on consignment. If he burned me, I’d only be out $350 bucks. No big deal. Live and learn. But I wasn’t prepared for what was about to happen. I dropped him off the quarter pound, half thinking I’d never hear from him again. At the very least, I figured it would take him a few days to establish a clientele and get rid of it. Nope. The guy called me like four hours later. I still remember where I was, at the beach playing Frisbee.
“Yo Al,” he yells into the phone. “I just wanted to tell you I’m all set with that.”
“All set with what?” I asked, wondering what the hell he was talking about.
“That thing. You know, what you gave me earlier. It’s all gone. I’m ready for some more.”
I remember hanging up the phone, thinking, Holy shit, I may have just struck gold!
Derek was a born hustler and born businessman. I have no idea where he is today, but if he ended up plying his natural hustle to a legitimate arena, he could very well be the CEO of some big company. I mean, this kid was a visionary. A few miles away from his neighborhood was a huge automotive factory, where thousands of UAW workers split three eight-hour shifts. Derek went up to the factory during lunch hours and started handing out sample “nickel bags,” telling people to come see him on Jane Street when they wanted more. His operation exploded like wild fire. Within weeks he had 15-20 workers working under him. They would sit on porches, over a several-block stretch of the street, and just wait for people to pull up. He was smart, too. He made sure all of his workers were kids under 17, so in the case they were picked up by the cops, the cops had no choice but to let them go. In Detroit, there is no room in the juvenile detentions, so unless a kid is charged with a major crime, the cops have to let them go.
What happened over the next year was truly amazing. I began bringing Derek about 10-12 pounds a week to move on Jane Street. He sold it all in dime bags. Thousands of them. He ended up buying a house on the block, and of course he had 3-4 new cars in the driveway. When the factories broke for lunch, the street would become congested with cars, the people inside them looking to score a few dime bags of that premium Canadian pot. When the local high schools broke class for the day, the street would be lined with cars packed with kids scoring bags of our pot. Morning, noon, and night, Jane street bustled with people coming from miles around to score. Even the suburban kids came down to Jane when they couldn’t score on the other side of 8 Mile. Some days, the street would look like a traffic jam. Literally dozens of cars lined down the block, all of them being served by Derek’s little army of worker bees. It really was a sight to behold.
Here is another irony. Detroit’s infamous 9th Precinct Headquarters was literally a block away. No joke. You could almost throw a rock to it. At one point, the cops did do a sweep and started busting all the white suburban kids coming off the street after scoring bags. It shook Derek pretty good. He was real nervous about getting busted, so I brought the situation to my Uncle Pete Tocco. The club headquarters of his biker gang was only a couple miles down Gratiot Avenue, so I met him in there one day and explained what I had going on, though I made sure to NOT disclose the volume of weed I was moving. If I had, he would have demanded a much bigger cut. But I knew he had a bunch of local cops in his pocket, so I was hoping he could help me work something out. And sure enough, he did. There were two dirty cops who were veterans of the neighborhood. One of them had bought steroids from me before, so he was already familiar with who I was. My uncle arranged for us to meet at a local Coney Island restaurant. Even at the time, I remember thinking it felt like a scene from a movie. I mean, here we were, two professional criminals, having lunch with two crooked cops, negotiating a bribe with them. By the end of our lunch, they agreed to leave Jane Street alone for $1,500 a week, or $750 each. I was fine with this. My uncle told me I had to kick $500 up to him also. Yeah it cut deep into my profits, since I was only making a couple hundred a pound, but it kept the operation going smoothly. The cops had only one caveat, “If we find out your guy is selling more than weed, we’ll shut him down.” I assured them that it was only weed, that there were no hard drugs being sold by my guy.
Things ran smooth for a couple more months. I remember showing my operation to Dan Schetter, whom I actually mentioned in a previous Chronicle, when he came down to visit me for the first time. He was from a tiny little town in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and he had never been to a big city before. I thought he would get a kick out of seeing what I had going on, so after taking him on a quick sight-seeing tour of downtown Detroit, I headed up Gratiot to Jane Street. When we turned the corner, I pulled to the curb and said, “Watch.” For a good five minutes, we sat there and watched as a couple dozen cars pulled up in front of various houses, where they were “served” by teenage kids carrying brown paper bags stuffed with fat dime bags of pot. I could tell Dan was blown away. But I was about to really blow his mind.
“Watch this…” I said, and then used my cell phone to dial up Derek.
“Clear the block. I’m coming through. Send someone out with a few samples for my boy.”
As soon as I hung up my phone, Derek used his walkie-talkie system to order his workers to clear the block. With what seemed like military precision, they all disappeared into houses or backyards. They all knew who I was. And whenever I came through to drop off a load of weed, or pick up a load of cash, Derek made sure the street was “cool,” opposed to “hot,” which was when undercover narcos did their bidding. When I pulled up in front of Derek’s house on this day, one of his workers ran up to my window and held a small brown paper bag open so I could pick a few sample bags out for Dan. After grabbing a handful, I rolled my window up and sped off.
Dan immediately glanced back and said, “Dude, you forgot to pay him!”
I laughed and replied, “Pay him? For what? It’s my weed.”
Unfortunately, my run on Jane Street soon came to an end. My supplier got busted by the feds with a measly 7 pounds. And rather than take the hit like a man, he decided to rat on his supplier, who turned out to be his own godfather. A few days later, a HUGE load of pot, over 4,000 pounds, was busted coming over the Canadian border in a garbage truck. A couple days after that, another load got busted coming in via a railroad car. The entire operation collapsed instantly, and I was essentially put out of business. I tried to keep things going for a few more weeks with regular commercial weed, but nobody wanted it. Everyone wanted that “sticky-icky,” as Snoop Dogg liked to say.
Jane Street just sort of faded away into obscurity, where it began. But for a short time, it was THE place in the city to score the best pot in town. And I was the one who started it all. The street is now that of lore. Legendary. I remember when I was in prison, I would meet people from the city, and when I’d bring up Jane Street, they would rave about the pot they had scored there. I rarely bothered mentioning that the pot they scored was likely mine. They wouldn’t have believed me even if I had told them. All I would do is grin, picturing what a great run I had. Even today, some twenty years later, people still talk about how Jane Street once monopolized the city’s premium pot market. And it all started with little old me.