I don’t know, – was I carefree when I woke up at 3:00 am and decided to pack my bags and leave town instead of getting up and going to the best job  I could ever hope to have…

Liberty City  was the heart of the heart of ghetto in Dade County, Florida. My buddy Pete and I had driven down to Florida the day after High School graduation, and had set ourselves up in a two bedroom apartment in Hollywood. We got jobs Hot Tar Roofing the next day, and within a week Pete was making good money working for a contractor doing shingled roofs; while I landed a job driving a Coca Cola delivery route in Liberty City.

I had spent two weeks training on the route with the previous driver, learning the area and every facet of the job; including a vendor scam that I tried to bow out of,  but found it better just to “go along to get along” …

“Look, – I’ve got a big nut to crack and I need this money, and if you turn me in, I have friends that owe me favors, and they will chop you up into alligator bait; so you just keep your fucking mouth shut and learn”.

Big Mike  was built like me, – only twice as big. He left the top three buttons of his Coca Cola uniform unbuttoned to reveal a muscular, bronzed chest, covered with curly, sun bleached  hair, festooned with half a dozen gold chains: A crucifix, The Star of David, and that Italian Squiggly Thing among them … He spoke Spanish, was form New York, and I guessed him to be Jewish.

“listen, – I’ll cut you in, and at the end of two weeks this route will be yours, and you can do what you want, alright”?

“Fair enough”.

“Never try to this pull this shit on  The Cubans, – they watch us like a hawk”.

The vendor scam worked like this:

The Two Liter Bottles came in non-perforated cardboard boxes. We loaded our dollies with two full cases on the bottom, two empty bottles in the middle, with two full cases on top. Then we wheeled them into the store. The clerks were always too busy to pay any attention to us, and there was never enough room on the shelves for our product; so when the clerk came to count the delivery and sign the bill of lading, they counted the empty boxes on the floor. Half the clerks would  do lines of cocaine with Big Mike in the walk-in cooler, and I suspected that some of them were in on the deal, but I thought it impolitic to ask.

Working hard in the relentless, humid heat; doing lines of coke in the cooler and chugging a beer before going back out into the blinding bright sun was a rush. Things could be worse. And to be honest there were things that bothered me more than stealing from Coca Cola, and The 7-11 Corporation …

When I left  Waterloo, I had hoped that I would be leaving dumb ass racism in my rear view mirror; but I soon learned that I wasn’t being realistic. Whenever there was lull in the job training, Big Mike would hold forth with with his world view; and I don’t think he was capable of stringing together a sentence without the words “fucking” or “nigger”.

Maybe I should have headed West …

South Florida wasn’t he paradise that Pete had  promised me. The palm trees had some disease that caused them to lose their fronds, making it look like there were surreal, melting telephone poles randomly scattered about , and everywhere you looked there  was broken glass; clear, blue, green, brown, and  even red shards of broken glass  reflecting the harsh light so intensely that there was no way to escape squinting all day.

The first big ticket item on my list of things to buy with my fat paychecks was a pair of Ray Ban Wayfarers …

“Look at that! Nothing but eyes and teeth.”


“Look around, – we’re the only two white men as far as the eye can see”.

“All I can see is broken glass and ruble, – how do people even live here”?

“How  do you know when you are in the ghetto”?

“Is this a joke”?

“No, this isn’t a fucking joke .”

“Okay Big Mike, – how do you know when you are in the ghetto”?

He shaded his eyes and pointed, “When you can stand on the corner of an abandoned gas station and the only businesses you can see are: Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pop Eye’s Fried Chicken, Churches Fried Chicken – Liquor Store, Liquor Store,  … Pawn Shop! That’s how you know when you are in the ghetto”.

“That would explain all the broken glass”.

“It explains a lot of fucking things.”

I was so glad when my training was over. I would lose touch with Big Mike in a hurry, and  I  vowed to myself that the vendor scam would be a thing of the past on my route. I would be making good money, – there was no reason to steal. And  I sure as hell wouldn’t be blowing my paycheck on cocaine, – what a waste. I’d save my money. After a good pair of sunglasses, I’d get a motorcycle. Then I’d have everything I needed.

Life was going to be good from here on out!

The night before I was to take over the route for myself, I ironed my uniform and went to bed super early. I wanted to save up for a motorcycle, but the thought occurred to me that I would sleep better if I got a bed.

“Okay, sunglasses and a bed, but then everything goes toward the bike.”

After a deep and dreamless sleep,  at around 3:00 am – my eyes popped open, and I said  out loud to myself, “I’ve got to get out of here”

And that is what I did.

I packed my duffle bag, threw my type writer and guitar in the car and took off for home without a second thought. I didn’t even leave a note for Pete. I just left for no good reason, and even though it was the wrong thing to do, – it felt right. Driving straight through, stopping only gas; I was back in Iowa in a little more than a day and a half. I didn’t think about  what I was going to do or what I would say to people when they asked why I had come  back.

I just drove.

My family was gone when I got home, and for the first time it occurred to me that it was Christmas Eve. They were all down in Trear for their  traditional Danish Christmas Eve Party, and even though the food would be worth the twenty five mile drive; I didn’t feel like being around people, – especially my family.

So I flicked the television on, kicked back, and lit a cigarette. The tube warmed up, and just as I was about to shake the match out;  there was Liberty City, on The Eleven O Clock News, … UP IN FLAMES!

Apparently, a Cuban Cop had shot a Black Kid in the back, and Liberty City erupted in race riots. It was total bedlam. Nothing but pure frustration, anger,  hate and violence. News helicopter footage showed cop cars flipped over, buildings burning,- a guy was dragging an old white lady across the street by her hair. I recognized  those buildings! That  was Ali Baba Street,  – or as Big Mike called it, “Alley Staba Street.”

The match burned down to my fingers, and as I exhaled a great cloud of smoke I noticed that my hands where shaking. I felt like I was going to puke.


All of the other delivery trucks where operated by a two man team, with one driver and one armed guard. The Lay’s Potato  Chip truck had a guy with a shot gun. He literally “rode shotgun.” But it was against Coca Cola Company policy for us to have weapons; so I would have been out there in the middle of that chaos all alone, and unarmed.

“Merry Christmas.”

I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life. Maybe stick with my original plan,and go to Colorado and be a ski bum? Or go to school. And study what? English? Chinese? Theater?

I didn’t really know, and I really didn’t care.

I was not exactly carefree, – but I was without care.








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