Part 1 of a 5-part series…
I stopped to talk to a friend I haven’t seen in a while at the grocery store the other day. As the conversation meandered, he mentioned he was considering buying rental property. I had some limited experience with this and shared a few stories with him, one of which I recount below.
On a whim, I purchased a 4-plex apartment building in Austin, TX. This was a dumb idea for a whole host of reasons. The least of which was that we were living in London, England at the time. We subsequently moved to Austin, but that’s another story. This is a drug story.
One evening, I got a call from a tenant. He said the police came the night before, busted the door down to the unit downstairs and took the tenants to jail.
I drove over that evening to confirm the story and to start cleaning up. The place was a mess with random clothes and miscellaneous junk everywhere. No beds. No sofa. No furniture.
However, when I opened the refrigerator, it was perfectly clean with no food inside. Instead, every shelf held perfectly aligned rows of small plastic containers, each with a small amount of substance in the bottom. I had no idea what it was, but I had the distinct feeling it might not be good.
It occurred to me I should probably report this to the police, but then there might be a lot of questions… and how exactly did you acquire all this whatever-it-was. I quickly weighed my options. Yes, the smart thing to do is to call the police.
So, I raked all the plastic containers from each shelf into a black trash bag with an aim for the green dumpster down the street.
With the garbage bag in hand behind my back, I stuck my head out the front door and checked if the coast was clear. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have looked guiltier. There was this acute awareness that in the next moment, I would transition from “the guy who found drugs while cleaning an apartment” to “the guy walking down the street in broad daylight holding a bag of drugs”.1 That’s not an easy transition to make. At least not so suddenly.2
Pause Story: In a movie, this is the point at which the audience is thinking, “What an idiot. An average guy suddenly finds himself walking down the street with a trash bag half-full of illegal drugs. What a dumb Hollywood script. Normal people would just call the police and completely avoid the fabricated plot twist that is being setup here. This wouldn’t happen in real life.”.
I’m here to tell you, it does. And the “idiot” part is also correct.3
The dumpster was less than a block down the road. Looked like a mile.
Another tenant had left an old vacuum cleaner out in the hall, obviously headed for the trash. I grabbed it as well, hoping I would somehow look less conspicuous. Clearly, this is ALL trash. Look how old this vacuum cleaner is.
As I walked toward the dumpster, I became super conscious of my perceived appearance and my stride. Maybe I’m walking too normally. Extraordinarily normal walking. Maybe this is suspicious.4
“Just act like you are taking out the trash,” I said to myself.
“… which is true. That’s what you’re doing.”
But the more innocent I tried to become, the more awkward it became. Apparently, looking normal does not include cutting my eyes left and right and frequently looking over my shoulder. I looked dodgy.
Longest. Walk. Ever.
Strangely, I was equally concerned that the dumpster ahead of me belonged to the other apartment building. It’s not right to throw my trash in their dumpster. They pay a monthly fee for that. What if the manager comes out and says, “Hey man, you can’t throw your trash in there.”? That’s what was going through my head. I mean, I didn’t want to get caught doing something wrong like that. Geez, that might tarnish my reputation. The moral dilemma.
Relative to what I had in the bag, this should have been round off error in the calculus here. But that’s thinking in retrospect. This was thinking in-the-moment. And in the moment, I was clearly in too deep.
I lifted the lid to the dumpster and tossed in the “trash”. I darted my eyes around again to see who might be watching. Looked good. “Clean”, you might say.
Crystal meth. Street value: ~$400,000.
Not many people can say they trashed $400 large.7 Someone might have paid for that… in fingers and toes. Glad it wasn’t mine.
A few days later, my tenant said,
“Hey Andy, did you throw away my vacuum cleaner?”
“I wanted to keep that. Where did you put it?”
“In the dumpster down the street.”
“You can’t do that man. It’s illegal to throw stuff in other people’s dumpsters.”
You’ve got to be kidding me!
More to come…
This is a good place to pause, but there’s more. A lot more.
Foreshadow: What do crystal meth, bees, grow lights, spy cameras, electricity theft, a flood and termites have in common? Me… and my 4-plex.
Will my friend from the grocery store conversation still go buy rental property? Probably not.
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- These are very different scenarios, one being considerably more deniable than the other.
- Keep in mind, I grew up on a farm. In Oklahoma. It’s not Kansas, but “There’s no place like home…”
- Authorities – This never actually happened. Completely fictional. And, it was a long time ago, fictionally speaking.
- I’ve heard criminals often drive too slowly so as not to appear guilty.
- Tom wanted me to put his name in here.
- Update (Jan 21, 2019) – I just learned this evening from my neighbor Tom that he knew the exact street my 4-plex was on and held many stake outs there around that time. He said there’s a possibility he did surveillance on me at some point. Interesting, that a small twist of events would still have us crossing paths, just differently. Tom would have been my arresting officer instead of my neighbor.
- Hear the gangster?