Life Lessons from Drug Deals

“Hey Amigo!” Shouted a scruffy voice from behind me as I walked down a dusty street of Cartagena. A scruffy man cruises towards me on a shaggy bike, as I keep walking. His bike has seen better days. Both handles supported large Costco sized plastic bags full of junk and his hunched posture tells me that he didn’t buy that bike. Furthermore, he’s not looking too good either, with a few teeth missing. He calls out, “Cocaine, Hierba! Do you want?” I’ve should’ve kept walking…

It’s my first month in Colombia and second day in Cartagena, where I’ve escaped from a shitty city called Barranquilla where I’m currently living, two hours away. That city is such a dirty and hot concrete jungle that any chance to escape is a decision well made. The only thing that could make starting a startup from the confines of my computer screen in Barranquilla more bearable is being stoned. And without enough time to let my responsible self talk me out of it, I seal my fate – “Hierba.”

I didn’t ditch lose all my wits after that. With three pesos to one American dollar, I know five grams should cost no more than 25 pesos, that should last me a long time. If I get it now, I won’t have to later. Screw it, let’s play; if he bullshits me, I’ll run away.
Money Holder
This is also the story of my wallet. For some backstory, I’ve had my wallet for three years already, since I lost my old wallet and decided to buy a nice Gawker wallet. Needless to say, it’s disintegrating after heavy usage, and I really needed a new one. Unfortunately when you’re busy bootstrapping a startup, things like new wallets aren’t top priority.

“Five grams for 25-pesos,” I tell the fellow. “Alright amigo,” he nods, “give me the money and I’ll go get it,” – “What, you mean you don’t have it?!” I respond, “I’m not givin you my money until I see it.” And I turned around and walked away. I should have just run away…

“Amigo, come on, I’ll get it for you,” he pleaded while following me. I don’t recall how many times he mentioned amigo, or the sequence of pleas, but he regained my attention, on one condition. “Give me your bike,” I demand, “as collateral.”
Bike Holder
In New York City my friends told me how their dealer bike over and come directly into their apartments with the weed they’re selling. Here I am, standing around, waiting in Parque Del Centenario while some chump has run with my money looking for weed, except now I have his bike. It’s midday, sunny, squelching hot, and I’ve had a typical day sightseeing touristy things, nothing exciting til now.

Excitement evaporates to boredom, as I wait for him. He told me he’d be quick, I’m starting thing he got caught up, or has no idea where to get some. Of their own volition, my eyes start peeking into the two large white plastic bags hanging on the handlebars. I feel the bags, and without untying them, I only see junk. I patiently wait and look around.

This is getting too boring. I’ll ride his bike around the park til he gets here.

I quickly discover this bike is very hard to ride, owing to the fact it has no breaks. I ride for fifteen more minutes until I realize, he’s not coming back…

Fuck it – he’s run off and left me with useless junk bags and junk on wheels. The opportunist in me starts thinking, how I can save this being a loss? Having a bike in Barranquilla might make living in that shit hole slightly more bearable. I’ll see if I can bring it back on the bus tomorrow and fix the brakes myself.

Before leaving, I untied the junk bags and left them by the park entrance; I don’t want them, however I’m curious what’s in them. I dig through the first bag: Christmas lights, a plethora of medicine pills, a TV remote, dead batteries, etc. – the definition of junk. I open the second bag: plastic knobs, wire hangers, sandy chips, ply boards, more junk. I lift a board and feel something small with a smooth surface. A leather wallet?! Suddenly, I experience the same rush every bum feels before opening a found wallet for the first time. Maybe I’ll find my refund in here!

No luck. The wallet’s been long since vacuumed of any valuables, it’s empty… On second thought, this is a good quality wallet; it’s real leather. It’s not new, but it’s much sturdier than mine and I only see one scuff.

And that’s how I got my wallet.
Lessons Learned
Bad news about the bike. Neither the hostel receptionists nor the internet could tell me how to bring my new bike back. Well fuck it, I have a shitty bike that I can’t lock or brake with, I’m getting lunch.

I left the bike at the hostel and wandered back through the streets looking for a local cafeteria. I have to accept that I spent almost $9 for a wallet and a lesson learned: if someone approaches you offering drugs, keep walking. For now, I’m putting this behind me. I eat my lunch and forgot about the whole thing.

After lunch I walk the now familiarly streets back to my hostel to figure out what I’m doing, when I suddenly hear a familiar voice, “HEY! Amigo.”

I look across the street to see my amigo with another dusty fellow digging through a junk container. “Oh shit!” I tell him, “I’ll be right back with your bike.” I run a few minutes to my hostel, seize the bike and speed over to the junk container and brake as hard as my feet allow. “Here’s your bike,” I gasp. “Where are my bags?” He asks. “Oh shit, I’ll be right back.” I tell him. I ride over to the park entrance where I left them, all the while praying they’re still there. “Thank god nobody steals junk,” I think to myself, because the bags were still there. I retie the bags and ride back over.

I return him the bike and he tells me, “Amigo, the weed was much more expensive, and I’m going to need another ten pesos.” I realize I made a big mistake by giving up the bike – my bargaining chip…

“Ten pesos!? We agreed on a price,” I argue. “Yes but ten pesos for service,” he adds. “For service!? I could’ve wandered off to the guy myself if I knew from who,” I squabble. “Fine!” I relent, “I’ll give you five now, you’ll give me the weed, and I’ll give you the rest.” We squabble some more, until he understands I won’t give him anything until I see something. He’s reluctant, but he finally agrees. I hand him five pesos and he hands me a baggy. “This is much less than five grams,” I gripe, “I’m not giving you anymore,” and I finally walked away…

I paid $10 dollars for some weed and a leather wallet and a lesson: street dealers will always try to screw you over. Otherwise, what the fuck just happened?