Living large in Marin County in the 80’s and 90’s was the order of the day. It was all about chemically imported self-indulgence coupled with the usual twist of have and have-nots in a tiny county largely invaded by a new culture.
Marin was all about family, and hard work. Now, arguably, it is still is part of the fabric of our county, but I’m not so sure anymore if it is the primary focus of Marin life. Maybe I’m confusing lifestyle with family life. Of course I could be wrong but when I look back on some of the ridiculous chronicles and portrayals of Marin in movies like “The Serial” or our alleged renown love-affair with hot tubs and massage using peacock feathers it seems like maybe someone (and you know who you are) maybe went a little too far. Now, saying that, I did contribute to the 4-20 culture (allegedly) as a student of San Rafael High School.
Today most of our citizens are well-educated, upper middle class to wealthy folks. Of course, like most places, there is a segment of our world that is underprivileged and probably underserved to some extent.
Marin County is breathtaking. You can be on top of Mt. Tamalpais in 30 minutes from virtually any hamlet in this county. Or you can be at the beach or touring one of the gallery’s in San Rafael’s downtown or maybe having a nice snack at some of our nice little dining facilities dotted all over our downtown. Soon you can barge into the new Marin History - Rock Museum on Fourth Street. Pretty cool.
I am so grateful that I did not get trapped into the new drug culture that many of my pals fell into. I think it was fear and serious injury (from mom and pop) that kept me flying in the right direction. Oh and Catholic guilt works too. Four short years into the job and I was shoulder hair long into it. I was buying drugs but not for my personal anesthesia. I had already developed a serious disdain for drug dealers and a pathetic acerbic pity for the users.
My pals and I were in the right job at the right time. Steeped in DEA, Customs and the FBI we were a fine working machine. I remember in the late 80’s when one of my partners John Donnellan developed a case that got Marin it’s first taste of the drug ICE. Back then that is what it was called. Methamphetamine smuggled in televisions and shipped to the US from the Philippines via Hawaii. It was a cool case, but we had no freaking idea what it was. I think a couple of months later 60 minutes had a story about the new drug explosion to hit the US.
There was also a group of “businessmen” we vigorously applied the Health and Safety Code to who moved over 1000 pounds of meth – but not the stuff you see now. We also found 1 million dollars in cash. The drugs and money were vacuumed packed. These guys were serious professionals and a totally different type of clientele that we were used too. In fact there are not many like that today in our area. We chased these crooks down from Marin to Oakland. We slept in our cars a lot during those days as we switched off the “eye” on surveillance to get our bad guys.
While I lost out on a great relationship with a pretty decent woman during all of this middle of the night stuff, I would not trade it. She found the right guy; of course I wish she had done that sooner than 3 days before our wedding. The 200 folks set up for the wedding coupled with my family flying in from Italy was a little hard to handle, but its amazing what a wifeless honeymoon with a pal, my big brother and the “left at the altar” story can do for a guy in the Caribbean. I am over it. I’ve met her wonderful husband and kids.
What was funny for me was that some of our targets were pretty well off people who sold their souls for money and lifestyle. These people had the cash to live a healthy life, more than a couple was in the music scene. Some I knew. Some you know. I was happy to provide them with the local if not federal vessel to deliver them to a special and secure recording facility of their choice. You didn’t see, read or hear that little tune…but some got there and you never noticed. The downfall of people I run into is really sex, drugs, money and alcohol. I have been disappointed more than a few times from whom I found in massage parlors and in the cocaine aisle of your local illicit grocery outlet. Mom’s, dads of pals I grew up with not to mention a childhood hero or two. Yes, the camera does add 30 pounds and most of the known popular culture types seen on the big screen or on a record cover are way – way smaller than you think. (Relax guys – I don’t kiss and tell.)
Along with the “famous” folks there were local idiots who thought they were Pablo Escobar. I did not mind sending them to prison mainly because they really did prey on those hapless morons who would rather spend their last $20 on a paper bindle of powder than get a sandwich. It was that screwed-up thinking that made narcotics a life consuming struggle for all of us. So in the end, everyone lost really. The dealers went to prison, I lost out on a 3 year relationship, some died of overdose, and some were walking test tubes for vicious STD’s and some ended up on the street. It’s an American tragedy in my eyes. When I look at those who gave up everything for the American dream and see those who have the roadmap in their hand and they wipe their behinds with it.
I remember one group of princes who thought they were the mafia or something. They were maybe 20 or 21 years old. These were the “haves” the kids that drove to high school in their BMW’s. This one crook had an Italian last name, so I guess that was his street cred. I volunteered to sit in the surveillance van while they parked it near these guys at a local bar with a bad reputation. These guys were not stupid, so they decided to start to mess with the van. I wanted to blast holes in the back of the van I was so p#@!d off.
They rocked the van, tried the doors and of course talked loud enough about what they thought was in the van. I remember pulling back the window covers inside so I could get a peek at these guys. As soon as I did I saw this face looking right back at me. Scared the crap out of me. Of course we had the cops drive by and shoo them away. The delivery driver returned and pulled me out of there. Unhappy Ralph made this group a priority. Awhile back I was taught it was ok to lose the battle but win the war. I have lived my life that way and – it works! Eventually, one by one I got my ability to deliver these vultures to a nice secured bed and breakfast.
Think I’m kidding? Ask the kid that kicked my behind and spit in my face while trying to rob me when I was 13. You see us “dark Italians” those with real ancestry to the “Old Country” (less than one generation away) never….ever…forget a good or bad deed. So almost 10 years later when this malscalsono (Italian for something a little dirtier than crook) was riding his motorcycle…without a license, illegally in front of me-I was allowed to re-acquaint myself with him.
I was able to tap into that humiliation and the still sore behind to fairly enforce the law. I never broke a smile, but overdosed him on my syrupy saccharine-laced sympathy for him as I lawfully towed his motorcycle. It was like a spring day for me. The exhaust of the tow truck smelled like an Acacia tree as the fumes swirled and enveloped the motorcycle like the loving arms of God himself on the back of the truck as it drove away. I took a deep breath and left my former assassin on the sidewalk as I drove to a secluded area for the fist-pumping “YES!” I needed and deserved.
I look at my team from the past – a solid group of confederates with solid leadership and I see so many great cops now who fit that mold. I would love to lead a group with the same eccentrics and OCD compulsions with the economy size sense of humor to get into the worst parts of our little community and rock their world.
I’d want the same kind of guys and gals who would terrorize the fire investigators (as we did) early in the 90’s who temporarily occupied an office in our Task Force. I think it was Ken or Doug who tied a string of pull-a-part firecrackers to the shoulder rig (gun thing) of one of the fire guys. So when he picked it up, the rig pulled against the seat it was tied to and made “pop – pop –pop” sounds. I think this guy made a boom in his pants! God I loved it!
There was the very popular bar back in the 80’s and 90’s. This bar was in a central Marin town. Everybody knew it. Night Ranger, Journey, Huey Lewis, the Tubes all of the big bands back then knew it, played there and partied there. I used to go there all the time. I can even recall getting my foot stepped on by the guitar player of the band Night Ranger one night. Of course every rock star wore boots back then – so I needed a nice alcoholic anesthesia to soothe my pain.
The owner of said bar was this pathetic overweight bald guy who wore a hairpiece. This bar was all he had and probably the only connection or at least avenue to a steady staple of young doe-eyed ladies to be in his company, without the benefit of clergy…if you know what I mean. (May he rest in peace)
This guy was dealing out of the bar. Not a shocker, but a serious “no-no.” That was my ticket to shut the place down if I could. Now, I was a little conflicted, because it used to be a cool place to hang out, part of the fabric of our county and many acts got their start there. Actually it was in the Huey Lewis video “The Power of Love” if you want a little walk down memory lane. Was I going to shut down a Marin Institution? Yep. I was. With the help of my pals and an informant.
What’s an institution without captive customers -right? This really nice informant…and I mean it…he was a good guy ended up in our lap after getting busted by an agency for some drug thing. This guy would go on to be a very valuable and plugged in part of the community. I know he slipped – they all do, but I think his embarrassment never left him and made him work with underprivileged kids and families. I admire his turn around. I shake his hand and drop in on him when I can. Talk about a man who rebuilt himself and worked on getting on with the rest of his life. I was proud. I think he was maybe one of two that made it. This guy was not so shy about telling us what we needed to hear and then take it another step to close the deal and testify. He knew like we did, that in order to get rid of your connections, you have to be persona no grata with the criminal world and burn up the bridges behind you.
The pathetic guy that owned the place was more than willing to dive head first into the greed center of his brain when it came to buying and selling dope. The problem with this guy was that he was too stupid to do this for long without some bad things happening to him…like having our unit crash in his front door and when he did not do what the nice armed undercover guys asked – like get on the ground, we invoked the gravity law and tossed him to the ground. Before this guy’s behind hit the floor he was shouting out the name of his connection. Thank you very much. What he did not know was that as we were escorting this guy to the lumber floor, we were also at the connection’s home doing the same to him. Actually he had carpet. I think we gave him a rug burn. (And now a public service announcement: Attention drug dealers. If the nice heavily armed undercover team tells you to get on the floor, it is not a request. It is a profound invitation. Do it.)
While we were able to score lots of cocaine, the connections place was a little more interesting. The Uzi submachine gun and sawed off shotgun were a pretty strong indicator of the type of guy he was. I’ll say it. He was an “Adam- Henry.” (Take the first two letters of each word and subtract the balance.) Seriously. He was an angry, rotten kind of guy who was probably more than willing to “go for it” had he had access to the guns. I still keep a picture of the guns as a reminder of how bad this could have turned out. In the end everyone went to prison and the bar…well I’m sorry America, er at least Marin. It was fun while it lasted, until this someone bought it and turned it into a pharmacy.
The owner of the bar would go on to lose his liquor license, his toupee, his freedom and his steady stream of non-paying female consumer- event coordinators or “personal entertainment consultants.” He would later drop dead of a big heart attack a couple of years later. I wonder if there is a witness protection program in the infernal region? If there is an especially hot part of this place, who would get it, my dealer or his connection? Makes a guy wonder.
That’s it for now! Congratulations to a couple of folks who have done some great things in our area. Congrats to Captain Dave Jeffries for his promotion, to Chief Jennifer Tejada for her first Chief gig in Sausalito, for Chief Erik Masterson (my former partner) for his first Chief Job at Ross PD.
I would also like to send my greetings to our pals (readers) in Russia, the United Kingdom, Canada, and South Vietnam, our Dutch readers, our pals in Pakistan, Australia, Germany and the Great USA. I’m sure there is a couple I forgot – I will get ya next week.
Stay Safe. Ralphy,
Weekly Tip - What is Suspicious Activity?
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