My friend Penny got a deal on a 3-bedroom home in central Phoenix.However, as with all ‘deals’ there is catch: the house is a true fixer-upper; a residential dwelling that needs gut renovation to regain its former 1940’s glory. It’s not only the inside of the house being rebuilt but the entirety of the property as well. To that end, she tore down the wood fence on the property line and replaced it with a lovely cinder block fence/wall. However, in the few days before she was able to finish the wall, Penny had some unwanted attention.
“This BOB was looking over my house. I think he thought because there was no fence he could get in and out fast. When I pulled in the driveway, he rode off to find some place easier to rob,” she said.
“What’s a BOB,” I asked.
“A burglar on a bike.”
At first, I thought BOB’s were the suburban equivalent of New York’s muggers; thieves who struck quickly, got what they could and blended into the landscape. In the City, these petty criminals would hail a cab, run down the street or jump on the subway. In Phoenix, they used bikes as a getaway device in the hope to lose their pursuit in the hundreds of alleys left in place by the city’s development and expansion.
When I mentioned the story to my brother Scot, he had other ideas about the BOB. “They’re meth heads, tweaking out, looking for an easy score so they can cop. You New Yorkers have your heroin, coke and pills. You don’t know from the drug of choice in middle America – Peanut Butter Crank.”
Actually, ‘recreational’ use of methamphetamine (speed) began in the New York underground. Jack Kerouac used to take asthma inhalers, dip the medicated strip loaded with Benzedrine found within in freshly brewed tea.This allowed him to write frantic books like On the Road. Andy Warhol, the Factory crew and the Velvet Underground used speed like most people used toilet paper – several times daily for a number of things.
The drug, however, has nasty side effects, including brutal aggression, paranoia and dark, dank suicidal depression. Street lingo had it that “Speed kills.” Several of the great artists/creative minds of a generation found their careers derailed because of speed – see Lou Reed Sally Can’t Dance. It got to the point where junkies couldn’t give crank away fast enough. Besides, they had cocaine and in the 1970’s, coke wasn’t addictive and didn’t rot all your teeth away.
By the early 1980’s, punks had found Crank/Crystal Meth was easily made from the pseudoephedrine and ephedrine found in over the counter allergy cures such as Contact and more recently Mucinex. The drug became the rage in suburban and rural America where heroin and crack weren’t readily available.
So while I was learning to cop smack, acid and whatever nasty pills were readily available on 7th Street between B and C and on 10th Ave., junkies in the Midwest were making their peanut butter crank in “meth labs” found in basements, barns and bedrooms. I did try crank once at NYU in the late winter of my senior year when I found a meth dealer on my floor. He had been making his crank in his bathroom, right across from the RA’s suite.
I snorted up the beige powder and found myself on speed time a few minutes later. I cleaned the dorm room several times. Wrote my mother three letters, dozens of songs, two novels and a complete book of poems.Finally, after I ran out of notebooks, I grabbed a garbage pail, poured in hot water and added all of my toothpaste. I ran down eleven flights of stairs and under my window at the northwest corner of 10th Street and Broadway I cleaned the sidewalk with my toothbrush.
The next morning, I woke up with a horrible taste in my mouth and no recollection of how my toothbrush had gotten caked in brown and black guck. After an hour of torturing one of the freshmen in my suite – he owed me two months worth of phone bill cash – I began to piece the night before together and went to buy a new toothbrush. I never developed enough of a taste for the drug to develop a jones or what the kids today call “tweaking.”I stayed with heroin and pills, which were extremely cheap and of very high grade on the early 1990’s New York streets.
Crack heads get all the press for their addictions and crimes as they are spectacular and involve lots of murder. However, the Federal Government saw Crank as such an issue, an entire subsection of the Patriot Act –Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005 – was devoted to the Crank problem. Drug makers were only allowed to put so much pseudoephedrine and ephedrine in their over the counter medications and consumers were only allowed to buy so much of these products each time they went to a pharmacy/drug store. Certain brands such as Actifed stopped production because they couldn’t conform to the new rules.
Once again, prohibition backfired. It seems the lessons of the Volstead Actand the Eighteenth Amendment have been lost on the US Government. You can’t legislate human desire. Two days ago, a BOB came up to me in broad daylight outside my local CVS. “Give me some money,” he demanded. One hand out, the other on his bike, shaking, barely able to keep himself upright as he was “tweaking.”
I looked at his rotten teeth and shook my head. This was his shake down?No gun, knife, broken bottle or threat of a kung fu chop just a demand by a far too skinny junkie who was making me further wilt in the (dry) heat of a 112 degree desert summer day? I was embarrassed for his New York brethren who at least carried big guns to dissuade any sort of non-compliance or worse, an argument.
“No. Go bother someone else,” I said. He moved on to a young couple and made the same demand the same way. They looked at him with the fear he demanded and gave him a dollar or several. He rode on.
The threats of an unarmed BOB meant to strike fear into the heart of middle America are becoming commonplace. The Mayor of DC was robbed by a BOB, a major step down for city that regularly challenged Detroit and New Orleans for the murder capitol of the United States.