Not one to enjoy a May Pole, I dutifully followed Sam-dog as he circled a telephone pole in search of a good pee spot, and chanced upon a sign.
It warns that the adjacent property is being monitored by police, which was true. I've seen many a squad car parked slightly to the north with their lights off. They'd hang out for several minutes, taking notes and sipping coffee. After a few minutes they'd swing around the block and re-park.
The building in question is a spider-infested, rotting mess. Most of it is obscured by trees, but there is a small patch of cleared gravel where "unauthorized assembly" took place. It's private property and this is a free country, but apparently there is still such thing as "unauthorized assembly".
The assemblers were a group of men and boys from Ethiopia who would flag down cars for the dealers inside. They'd lean into the cars and some sort of exchange would take place, and the cars would leave without bothering to park and pretend they were visiting. The Ethiopians were the Wal-mart greeters of the drug trade, and at first they did their job with broad grins and polite waving. Whenever I'd pass by they'd always have a smile for me. Eventually they stopped smiling and took on a tough exterior as gang life wore them down.
A neighbor friend of mine had befriended one of the men before he'd been swayed. They would have lively, heavily accented conversations about literature and art, he dressed in a snappy sweater vest with shined shoes and a laptop bag. When that changed, my friend voiced her dismay.
"Don't hang out with gangs, Amare!" she'd instruct. "They are bad news." He would nod agreement, pull up his over-sized jeans, pretend to tuck in his flashy sports jersey and change the subject.
Around the corner from the gravel there are a few dark doorways where the dealers worked. The doors were always open, and from time to time a pit bull or two would pop out to see what Sam and I were up to. The dealers were all of Hispanic descent. I'm not sure what country, but there is a large Mexican population out here so that makes the most sense.
The dealers were rough. They'd yell at each other and push other neighborhood dealers around, and these scuffles could be heard from half a block away. They'd head into the middle of the street, block traffic and carry on with their pit bulls by their sides. The squad car on duty would blip its siren, flash its lights and make arrests when needed.
I haven't seen any of the Ethiopians or their bosses around in the last few days. Though I'm certain the faded "Neighborhood Watch" sign didn't help, the constant harassment of police must have. The entire building is for lease. Eventually the owner will figure out that the "gang activity" warning is discouraging new renters and remove it, and it will be business as usual.