The Finish Line at Santa Clara
After stabilizing in Milwaukee, I returned to Santa Clara groggy, but in one piece. I did not make it in time to start the Fall semester. The roommates that I was going to move in with were accommodating enough to let me keep my spot at the house. My roommate was a mass communications major, Emmett. His three cousins were some of the best surfers in the world. He shot film and edited fast selling surf videos. He produced several videos with the famous band called the Foo Fighters along with several others. He and his brother co-produced a major motion picture. His cousins were great friends with the famous singer Jack Johnson. Jack and Emmett became best friends at co-founded a very successful record label, Brushfire Records. I thought I could somehow use this contact later in my life.
At one point after moving back to Santa Clara, I paid a visit to my ex-girlfriend to apologize for being so inconsiderate and even mentally abusive over the previous year. I explained to her about my mental illness and let her know that my emotions were part of being manic. We shed a few tears, gave each other a hug and parted ways for the last time. I left the house deeply depressed. It took me a long time to get over her.
During that semester, I hung around the house with a good friend that was an ex-army ranger and was in the first group to parachute into Panama during the invasion in December of 1989. In Santa Clara, he was a private investigator known as PI Pittman. We had so many great laughs together.
We both read and talked about a book by Robert Pelton called, “The World’s Most Dangerous Places.” It was one the best books I’ve ever read. It was a directory of countries and the perils that one might encounter. Osama bin Laden was mentioned in it before the first attack on the World Trade Center.
Oddly enough, the United States had the biggest chapter. I read the book cover to cover. I wanted to do what he did. If Pelton could get through these places unscathed, so could Mr. Neutron. I ended up going to several of those countries shortly after college.
theology which interprets the teachings of Jesus Christ in terms of liberation from unjust economic, political, or social conditions. For example, during the massacres in Guatemala during the 80’s under acting dictator, the indigenous population was just getting slaughtered and displaced by the army. Family members were turned against family members by the government. Liberation theology says that even though you’re Christian, you had the right to fight against the injustice.
The professor was one cool dude. His name was Mr. Batsone and he was a good friend of Carlos Santana and Bono from U2, two humanitarian rock stars. He was referenced his U2 album cover as the “Badstone.” He brokered dangerous negotiations with the death squads in El Salvador. The squads would kill who they considered subversive and put a death note on the body of the deceased indicating who was next to die. Batstone had teams of five people comprised of Americans and Europeans. Two would stay with the threatened individual and the others made sure the leaders of the death squads knew that there would be an international incident if anything were to happen to any of them. Their plan worked 100%. Unbelievable. Batstone went on to form an organization to counter childhood slavery and the sex trade.
I wanted a piece of the action. I asked him for advice as to what to do. He suggested after graduating that I attend a language school in Guatemala up in the mountains taught by the rebels that were kicked out of the universities for being too liberal.
Although I missed a semester, I was still able to finish on time because I always overloaded my schedule and took the maximum amount of classes allowed. I ended up graduating with a Finance major with and international management emphasis.
Cocaine Treasure in Costa Rica
In 1994 after graduating from Santa Clara University, I studied in the highland jungles of Guatemala for six weeks, then took four-and-a-half-month journey through Latin America backpacking, hitching, busing, and flying down to Argentina. After the Switzerland incident, it was beyond me how my parents trusted that I would be O.K. After all, I was still heavily medicated with lithium.
With my best friend, Dirtball, I crossed the Nicaraguan border into Costa Rica into the capital of San Jose. We met a couple from Washington state looking to rent a car and go to the beaches with us. The next morning, we hopped into our rental car and off we went to the North Pacific coast. We crossed the mouth of a river on a ferry and drove to a town called Montezuma. We had talked about scoring some marijuana as we heard it was rampant in that town. We picked up an Italian hitchhiker just outside of town who said he could hook us up with somebody. As we arrived at the town, I dropped Dirtball and the couple off by the beach and told them to wait for me to get back before they got a hotel because I had a greater command of the Spanish language. The Italian took me to a German guy’s house named, Stefan, who sold me a huge bag of green buds for next to nothing. I was stoked.
Upon returning to the town, I dropped the Italian off and ran into Dirtball and the Washingtonians checking into a hotel. Before I could get pissed off, Dirtball said to me, “Hey, listen. We HAD to get the room. Let’s go inside and I’ll tell you why.” We got into the room and he took off his smaller backpack and threw it on the bed and said, “Check it out. Tell us what you think.” I opened it and there wrapped in two moldy plastic bags were two kilos of pure Colombian cocaine. I said, “Holy shit. Where did you get this?” He replied, “We were just swimming in the ocean and it washed up in a wave and snagged it.” I said, “Where there’s only one way to find out what it is.” I had never done cocaine before in my life. It was always taboo growing up and I somehow avoided it in college altogether. So I took his Leatherman pocket knife, opened it up and scraped off enough for a few lines. I snorted them both up and immediately got higher than a kite. I could barely feel my face it was so strong. The couple didn’t want to try it, but Dirtball did. He loaded up two fat lines and got after it. The two of us were talking faster than parakeets grinding our jaws and talking about stupid shit.
The next topic of conversation was how much was it worth. We had no idea. We thought it was about
$100,000 in the US, but we had no idea what you could get for it in Costa Rica. We called our friend, Garrett, in the United States and told him the story. He said that it was about $20,000 for both kilos. He also said that he’d look up a friend that might be able to get rid of it for us.
Then the four of us started getting paranoid and wondering if anyone had seen them get out of the ocean with the coke. We became frantic, left it in the room and went out to dinner to discuss our action plan. As it turned out, the couple wanted to go up to Nicaragua the following day, so we decided that if we had a windfall from the sale, we’d honor the fact that they had also found it and wire them some cash.
The four of us left Montezuma the next day and dropped the couple near the border. When we turned back towards another beach town, we were stopped by three heavily armed men on the Pan-American Highway by the equivalent of the Drug Enforcement Agency. We thought we were totally screwed, locked up in prison for a long time in a third world country. I told Dirtball to let me do the talking and to keep calm. His eyes were like a deer in headlights. I breathed in deep several times and rolled down the window for the officer. He said, “Where are you going?” I said, “San Jose. We were just dropping off some friends by the border to go to Nicaragua.” He said, “Passports, por favor.” I thought we were doubly screwed because Dirtball’s passport had just been stolen. I handed him my passport and explained, ”We were robbed a few days ago and they took his passport. We are going to San Jose to the
U.S. Embassy to get it replaced.” He handed my passport back and took a look into the back of the car through the windows. The kilos were well hidden in one of our big backpacks. He then tapped his machine gun on the window and said, “You can go.” Dirtball and I almost crapped ourselves.
We drove to San Jose, returned the car and found a youth hostel for international backpackers called, “Tica Linda”. There was a rack of lockers in the attic where we could use our personal lock. We stashed the coke there. We thought it was perfect because nobody could ever trace it back to us. For the next several weeks Dirtball and I traveled around the country with a film canister loaded with blow so we could partake and turn others on wherever we went. It was insane. We were having the time of our lives visiting the coolest beach towns in the Northern hemisphere all “chimped” up on blow. After about a week, I started get manic, but didn’t have any delusions of grandeur, thank God.
We finally got a hold of Garrett who gave us a name and number of a friend, Julio, that dealt pot. I, unfortunately, had already bought a flight to South America and didn’t have to do the deal. Dirtball made an appointment with him and was only supposed to show up with a sample to negotiate a time for the drop off. The police had been conducting raids at the Tica Linda to look for illegals recently, Dirtball became paranoid and brought the mother lode with him to Julio’s. Julio offered $7,000 for both kilos, but was short of cash. Dirtball didn’t care and took whatever money Julio had on hand and got the heck out of there.
Upon returning to the Tica Linda, Dirtball was told by the receptionist that he had a phone call. He answered and a woman shouted frantically, “Get out of the country NOW. Julio has been detained by the police and they’re looking for you as we speak.” Robert panicked and rushed to get his belongings. He scurried out of the hotel within minutes and took a cab to the bus station. He caught the next bus to Panama City, Panama and caught a flight back to the States.
Jerry Garcia Dies
After returning to the United States, I drove cross country from Milwaukee to San Francisco to look for work. I moved in with my friends near Pacific Heights and found me a job working with an import/export company. I worked in South San Francisco booking cargo on the big container ships. My boss, Mr. Wu, was an excellent leader and mentor even though I could only understand a fraction of what he was saying. He was from Hong Kong and spoke terrible English. It was a very detail-oriented job that required my full attention. Hence, I was taking it easy on the party scene. The job did not have much upward potential, so I switched to a different freight forwarding company. My primary account was with a big shipping company. Their routes were out of the east coast bound for the Black Sea and the Mediterranean including the Ukraine, Bulgaria, and Israel to name a few. My bosses were fun to work with and had a great sense of humor.
On August 9th, 1995 while at work, I got the call from my Deadhead friend, Brad. “Jerry Garcia just died early this morning,” he said. I absolutely crumbled. I was a puddle. He had such a big place in my heart. To me, he was my modern-day prophet. I went to the vigils on Haight St. and in Golden Gate Park in Sharon Meadows. It took me a long time to bounce back after that. I fell into a deep depression for months. He was my hero.
Haight Street Mayhem
In July of 1996 I had the closest call to dying in my whole life. It’s another prime example where a spell of mania winds me up in the hospital, this time fighting for my life.
I was living in an apartment at the base of Golden Gate Park in the Haight Ashbury district of San Francisco. In those days I still had the steady job working at the shipping company. I was working long hours during the day and going out every night. I certainly hadn’t been getting enough sleep; three to four hours instead of a seven or eight. My social life combined with my work life was so hectic that I would forget to take my lithium on an often basis. I didn’t detect it at the time, but I was functionally operating in a manic state. It was probably brought on by working overtime and partying every night.
Every Monday night was Grateful Dead night at the local bar, Nikki’s on Haight Street. They would play excellent recording of live Dead shows at concert volume. It was one of the few places you could go where marijuana use was tolerated inside the bar.
I had recently bought a dilapidated 1981 Subaru sedan for five hundred dollars that required a screwdriver to turn on the ignition. It was held together by bungee cords and duct tape. On that particular night, I was running out the door going a million miles a minute. I was extremely full of energy and was very anxious to get to the bar. I jumped in my car, grabbed the screwdriver and tried to turn the ignition. After ten minutes of cranking the key and flooding the engine, I decided to hop on my mountain bike and race down the hill on Haight Street.
I remember it was an extremely dark night with a typical San Francisco fog in the air. The temperature was on the chilly side. I had about a mile to ride, all downhill. I didn’t wear a helmet those days unless I was off road biking in the mountain trails. I was wearing ripped jeans, a tie-dye and the standard hippy Birkenstocks. I started cooking down the hill and working my way through the streets at my maximum velocity, barely slowing down for the traffic lights. At one of the steepest blocks, I found myself alongside a car with two women. I sped past the car once, then the woman behind the wheel passed me up while chatting away to her friend in the car. We alternated places a couple of times racing back and
forth trading first place with each other. She was about fifty feet in front of me at we were entering into an intersection. As I looked up approaching the traffic light, it turned from green to yellow. I must have been going close to forty miles per hour. Had I not been manic, I would have obviously slowed down, but I had the need for speed and my anxiety to get to the bar before the music started was fierce.
The woman had a split second to decide whether to screech her brakes, speed up to make the light or whip the wheel to the right and make a sudden turn. Unfortunately, she chose the latter and swerved directly in front of me. I had no choice but to slam into the side of her car at full speed. The front wheel slammed into the side of her car catapulting me fifteen feet in the air over the car. I did a full flip while flying over thirty feet in the air and landed on the curb directly on my chest. It was a miracle I didn’t land on my head and crush my skull. I didn’t have a helmet on. My brain could have been spattered all across the sidewalk instantaneously. After the intense impact, I couldn’t move. I couldn’t breathe and I couldn’t get up. It was like the feeling of being held underwater.
Luckily there was a bystander on the corner that witnessed the whole thing and came to me and held down my shoulders to the ground as I struggled to gasp for air and pop back up on my feet. I laid there on my back staring up at the dark sky. Everything started to turn white. I realized I really injured myself badly and probably damaged some internal organs. I thought this was my time to check out. All I could do was writhe in pain as I wait for the ambulance. I have faint memory of being transported to San Francisco General Hospital, but I do remember the unbearable pain as they lifted me from the ambulance gurney onto the operating table in the emergency room.
The team of doctors couldn’t see anything wrong from with me exterior with the exception of a few scrapes on my arms. Instead of performing exploratory surgery, they decided to do an MRI to see what was going on with my circulatory and digestive systems. I swallowed the nasty contrast that showed where the blood and food was leaking internally. Sure enough, the test results showed I had a major blood hemorrhage from my liver. There was a laceration the size of a baseball.
I had never been, nor hoped to be in such excruciating pain in my life. Now I could relate with what it was like to be shot with a bullet. With each breath I took my diaphragm pushed down on my liver and caused jolts of pain throughout my chest cavity. I screamed and pleaded to be knocked out with some pain medication.
The doctors decided that it would have been too risky to operate on me due to the fact that I would lose too much blood during the surgery. They sedated me with morphine and had me in intensive care for almost two weeks. They monitored how much blood I continued to lose. I had a morphine drip with a button I pressed when I was in pain. It was regulated so I didn’t overdose. I clicked that button every time I was able to juice my veins up. I had family and friends come visit me from far away distances. I was flattered by the strong show of affection.
I remember my friend, Ginny, flew in from Boston to visit me and potentially say goodbye forever. She was at my bedside for two days feeding me ice chips and telling me stories. When I got out of the hospital, I called her to let her know I was in an accident and that I was OK. Being juiced up on the morphine, I had a bad case of amnesia and totally spaced that she even came to visit.
I miraculously recovered quickly with no long term effects. The liver is very resilient and regenerated tissue quickly. I was finally released and went back home to repose for several weeks. It was the greatest scare I gave my family to date. I would have been taken out of the game at twenty-six years old, way too young to die. Winding up in the hospital or morgue are typical outcomes for a manic person making poor decisions. This time I got lucky.
The Return to Costa Rica
After several months recovering from my accident, I returned to Costa Rica in September of 1997 to try to make a living teaching English. Luckily my liver healed in less than two months. All of the friends I met my first time down there during the infamous cocaine escapade were still there. All were top notch people and good friends to this day.
I interviewed with a language school called Centro Linguistico Conversa to teach English. They hired me on the spot. I was so excited to teach for the first time. The Costa Ricans are some of the best people in the world. They were so fun to teach. Not only did I teach, but I also studied Spanish at the school to improve my skills and learn the local dialect. It was at that school that I met my best friend in Costa Rica, Conrad. He was one of the funniest people I had ever met. We were two peas in a pod and went everywhere together including Panama, Venezuela, Cuba and Washington D.C.
Chillin’ on Embassy Row - Havana, Cuba
Conrad was living in a house with the brother of an old fraternity friend who was serving as the Consul of the United States that worked at the U.S. Embassy in 1997. His name was Alfred. He was the youngest person the pass the Foreign Service exam. He was stationed in Cuba at the U.S. Office of Interests prior to taking a position in Costa Rica. He told us how fabulous it was and that we ought to go at some point.
I had made a great local friend by the name of Gunter at a local expat hangout in San Jose, the Beatle Bar. He was dying to get to Cuba. We planned it out and bought tickets on Cubana airlines and off I went with Gunter, Conrad and his friend Rakesh. Alfred found us a place to stay and that was right on Embassy row in a neighborhood called Miramar next to the beach.
We stayed in a mansion from the Bautista regime that was partitioned into several apartments. The occupants of the downstairs mansion were an old couple that had fought in the revolutionary war with Fidel Castro. They had pictures on the wall of the two of them with a pre-beard Fidel. We had to take pictures of the priceless snapshots.
As far as my mental illness went, I progressed everyday further into the danger zone due to the elation of being in a place so foreign and bizarre. I made sure I had three weeks’ worth of lithium just in case we stayed longer or something would have happened to me like ending up in a dire situation.
The people of Cuba were so accommodating. They greeted us with open arms and asked us lots of questions about what life was like in the United States. I remember walking alone along the promenade along the beach one day and was passing the U.S. Office of Interests. There was a party in the parking lot, so I thought I’d see what was up, as I typically do when there’s a party nearby. It turns out one the men there had just won the visa lottery to go to the States. The U.S. gave out a certain number of visas to the States based on a lottery system. When they saw I was American, they sat me down and fed me. We drank the only beer I think they served in the country – Bucanero. I was in heaven talking to these people in their native tongue. Little did I know I was manic; a very precarious state to be in while in a Communist country.
In our week there, we visited the beach in Veradero and toured throughout Havana. We went to the Partagas cigar factory, which was really neat. We went into the national museum, Plaza de la Revolucion, the old town including Hemmingway’s favorite spot, La Bodeguita del Medio. I was able to get good historical perspective of the country and the real history as told by them. They were much divided with respect to their allegiance to Fidel. There is a large population that does not have the basic human needs such as food, clothing, and shelter. They were not happy with the regime.
Another Stupid Stunt
The promenade along the ocean in downtown Havana is called the ‘malecon’. It was about thirty feet above sea level. When I first saw it, I said, “I’m doing a back flip off that”. With cloudy judgment, I
weighed the risks. I couldn’t tell how deep it was and there were thousands of sea urchins embedded in the rocks. If I were to plunge too far down and land on the spikes, it could have possibly one the most painful experiences of my life like diving head first into a cholla cactus.
Just like my daredevil jumps in Greece and Switzerland, I took a few deep breaths, counted down from three, but this time, sprung backwards. I hit the water in almost perfect form, then I did a ‘banana’ with my body to stop from hitting the bottom. Turns out I had tons of room to work with. After Greece and Switzerland, I was three for three on the high jumps and pretty much hung up my gloves after that.
Buying Buds in Havana
One day we were at the famous Bodeguita del Medio where Hemmingway used to hang out. After several mojitos Gunter came up with the brilliant idea to get stoned. We met a guy in the town square whose leg had been blown off in the Cuban-Angolan conflict that said he knew where to score some herb. We gave him about forty bucks and he took off with Gunter and Conrad. I was asked to wait so as not to crowd the deal about to go down. So I waited there for about thirty minutes and they didn’t return. I started getting paranoiac.
I waited another half hour and nothing. I thought for sure they were busted. I started thinking that somebody was watching me too. It didn’t seem to me to be out of the ordinary for Cuban officials to set up a sting operation to throw an American in jail. I was helpless with no one to turn to. I couldn’t go to the police. My hands were tied, so I waited another whole frickin’ hour before they finally rounded the corner. I almost lost my mind.
We all could have been locked up indefinitely as criminals. There are three places in the world where you definitely don’t want to get locked up. Those are North Korea, Iran and Cuba. Turns out the pot was awesome and we never got caught. We narrowly averted disaster once again.
Papa Joe’s Harley Crossing
In the summer of 1998, Milwaukee was hosting the 95th Anniversary celebration of Harley Davidson. I went to a Jerry Garcia Band concert (without Jerry) and found a gorgeous black girl named Tamara that I ended up dating for the summer. My father had this idea of selling Harley merchandise in a parking lot right on Water Street where the action was. He worked out a deal at cost + 10% with a distributor to get a good price on shot glasses, hip sacks, t-shirts and so forth.
We rented a huge party tent for bands to play in. We couldn’t legally sell beer so we rented a Pepsi truck to sell sodas and clandestinely sell alcohol. My older sister was the accountant. I hired psychedelic rock bands to play in the tent called “The Kind”, a reference to ‘kind buds’ or excellent pot. They were a hit with the patrons.
We had so much fun with the bikers. They are some of the coolest people on the planet. They come in all shapes and sizes and economic backgrounds. Our little operation was called Papa Joe’s Hog Crossing at Juneau and Water. There was magic in the air that week.
With all of the organization and responsibility that went into the event, I started becoming overwhelmed. I was conducting a business as well as entertaining my closest friends and family including forty of my father’s closest friends. Add on top of that, Tamara and I were doing ecstasy all day and night long without anybody noticing. Although I became extremely manic, I didn’t have much choice but to make the right decisions all of the time. I was being watched by everybody to see how I’d perform, so the level of responsibility was high. It goes back to juggling balls on a tight rope with a unicycle. To take a quote from Star Trek, I had to “MAKE IT SO”.
I wouldn’t say I had some spiritual breakthrough, but I made it to ‘the other side’ of the mania. We did get busted by the cops for selling liquor without a permit and I had to handle the situation with two asshole policemen while higher than a kite. Luckily, they decided to write me a ticket and not haul me off to jail; another impending tragedy narrowly averted.