I’m just kidding—of course they’re still selling drugs next door. And if that news shocks you, you’ve already shown more concern than the Riverside Police Department and City Hall combined.
Really, the only thing that’s changed about the “situation”—my latest euphemism for the open-air drug mart going on just over the fence from my home—is my own attitude about it. It used to drive me crazy, the thought of hardcore narcotics trafficking happening not 50 feet from where my wife and I lay our heads at night. But now, given the state of the economy, I find myself admiring the neighbors’ can-do spirit.
While countless other businesses in Riverside have thrown in the towel, Franco (not his real name) just keeps going and going. While the rest of the neighborhood dries up and flakes away like paint on a repossessed property, the drug house next door has never looked better kept.
And while I’m still driving the same old clunker I’ll still be driving next year, the dealers’ driveway is a showroom of late-model luxury vehicles. Every other month or so, Franco will pull up in yet another expensive new SUV or sports coupe—an impressive display for a young, home-based entrepreneur who rarely ventures beyond the property line.
As I mentioned, I’ve written about the neighbors twice already—in 2007 and 2008. I described the endless stream of tweakers going to and from my neighbors’ house at all hours, the fruitless calls and meetings with police and city officials, the other neighbors moving away in fear and disgust. I wrote about finding myself smack in the middle of scary drug deals just by stepping out to take my dog for a pee.
The articles struck a chord with readers, many of who wrote to express amazement that such a thing would be allowed to continue as long as it has. Several online news sites and blogs ran the articles in their entirety. One blog by a get-tough-on-crime organization cited the stories as yet another reason why society needed stronger anti-drug laws. Another blog, run by a pro-marijuana group, cited them as yet another reason why society needs to legalize cannabis.
The most interesting response came shortly after the second article came out. A guy identifying himself as Robert Stacy, a prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Riverside, contacted me saying he couldn’t believe what he’d read and that he intended to do something about it.
“I can’t promise you I can do anything beyond what the city and police have done, but I’m going to try,” he said. I replied that he’d already done more than City Hall and the cops just by expressing interest.
The next day, I happened to glance out my front window just in time to see six flak-vested narcotics agents racing across the street with guns drawn toward the neighbors’ house. “Oh my God, they’re busting Franco!” I shouted, and ran outside to see if I could lend a hand.
Five of the agents positioned themselves around the drug house while the sixth furtively approached the front security door. He rapped on it with his free hand and immediately stepped sideways for cover—just in case the dealers burst out with guns blazing. I wanted to yell out that Franco wasn’t the guns-blazing type—he was more the “Beautiful day, isn’t it?/Say, would you like to be buy some drugs?” type—but I decided it best to keep a low profile.
A minute passed and nothing happened. The agent rapped on the door again. Again, no answer. I watched as the officers exchanged puzzled glances. Finally, after about five minutes, the six agents rose from their crouched positions, holstered their weapons and huddled together for a con-fab on the front lawn.
“What do you think?” I heard one of them say.
“Well, I don’t know. They’re not answering the door.”
“Should we try again?”
“We could, but I don’t think anyone’s home.”
“Hey, guys,” I whispered loudly.
Six heads turned to me. “The garage,” I mouthed, pointing toward to the neighbors’ attached garage. “Try the garage.”
The garage is where Franco spends most of his time when business is particularly heavy. A car pulls up, Franco nods and goes into the garage, comes out and makes the hand-off. Then he goes back into the garage, sometimes pausing on his way to count his money for all to see. As the agents stood around scratching their heads, the garage door not six feet from them was propped open a foot or so. Someone had to be in there.
The narcotics agents stared at me. “The garage,” I repeated. They looked at the garage and then back at me and then at each other, and then they left.
That was more than a year ago. I never saw them or heard from U.S. prosecutor Stacy again.
And that was it for me. Having seen firsthand an entire drug-enforcement operation defeated by a cheap security door, I decided I was done playing neighborhood watchdog. It was never a good fit anyway. I honestly don’t care what my neighbors do to make ends meet—my only dog in this fight was a concern that one of Franco’s wide-eyed customers might one dark night confuse my home for Franco’s. That’s still a big concern, but what this experience has taught me is that, in Riverside at least, the notion of police protection is more illusion than reality.
Let me make a prediction here, since journalists love nothing more than to come across all sage-like: Sooner or later, something bad is going to happen next door. There’s just too much money and lawlessness flying about for it not to happen. One of Franco’s customers will freak out, a rival dealer will pull a drive-by—something will happen.
When it does, my plan is to lay low, defend my home and afterward sue the shit out of everyone.