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Two years in meth alley

May 25, 2012

I rented my offices two years ago. We are located at 230 Truxtun Avenue in Bakersfield, California.

In the alley next to my offices, we had until recently three apartments from which people bought and sold methamphetamine.
Since then, all of them have closed down. Meth house number one was just steps away from my offices’ parking lot, in the apartment where the flowers are now.


This meth house was run by two women and one man. It just shut down about three months ago. The folks who lived there got evicted. After they got the power turned off, they were visited by two bicycle policemen who thought they might be squatting. In any case, the landlord evicted them for nonpayment of rent.
We had a cordial relationship with those folks. We let them know we didn’t want to make any problems for our business, or cause problems for theirs. They promised to “take care of” any problems their “friends” (customers) might cause. Having said that, there was plenty of drama from that apartment. There was very frequent shouting matches in that parking space. But my very favorite was when I saw two big shirtless white boys with tattoos who looked like twins fist fighting in that space, about where the garbage is stacked in the above picture. I stood in my parking lot and watched while they traded blows. But when one fetched a can of gasoline from inside the apartment, doused his opponent, and started flicking a lighter, I called the cops. They came and arrested him.
The next meth house was two buildings down on our side of the block. A single young woman did the dealing there. She always had a big crowd of hangers-on and addicts around. The more affluent ones would drive up in the alley just like the drive through at McDonalds. The folks a little farther down the events timeline for addicts rode up on bicycles. The fiends at the bottom of the food chain just walked up.


As you can see from the photos, all three units are currently vacant and boarded up. The dealer and her friends had been in all three units, and the owner eventually evicted them all. All three had been occupied by addict tenants, squatters, and assorted hangers-on. Six men were arrested and ultimately convicted of torturing a fellow addict in the middle apartment. A woman had lured him to the apartment, and then the men tied him up and tortured him with beatings and tools like drills all night long. He eventually was released and called the police. All the men plus the woman got long prison sentences.
We had cordial relations with the leader of the meth house, but the hangers-on were problematic. One of them had his pit bulls crapping on our grass every day. When we protested, he started shooting our windows out with a BB gun at night when the office was closed. We didn’t really know how to handle it at first. We called the cops. They told us to file a report online. (Eye roll.)
We finally ended that problem by using an age-old tool: bribery. We offered him $20 a month to pick up any dog shit he found on our lawn. He was shocked and thrilled! Twenty a month? For me? Really? To a methamphetamine addict, anyone who gives him money to get high with is among the blessed. Suddenly we turned into valuable clients, not to be harassed or molested in any way. The word spread quickly that they were to leave us alone. When he saw us, we got a big friendly wave with an arm like a stick  and a “hello”, through a toothless and shriveled up meth mouth. The guy came by almost every day to check to make sure we were being treated right by everybody. Oh, and to beg us for a small advance on his wages. “Come on, man, I been doing a good job, huh, just a couple dollars, please, please…”

One day about a year ago, the police rolled up on a sleeping woman leaning up against the garage at the blue house next to the second meth house. Come to find out she was actually dead. Who was she? Simply unknown. A lot of people in this lifestyle just are not in contact with their relatives, so they aren’t missed by anybody. They have no job, their friends hear voices, they have no dental records. There is no way to identify them when they pass if their fingerprints don’t match up. Just another sad overdose by a homeless addict.

When they all eventually got evicted by the landlord, they made sure to tear up the place and steal literally everything that could possibly be resold. Wiring, the toilet, the sink, the light switches, the light fixtures: Everything. They pretty much destroyed every unit, methodically, covering every square inch like hungry and angry ants. They just left about a month ago. A few days before they left, you could hear a woman screaming at the top of her lungs at about 2:00 in the afternoon, “I want my money! I better get my fuckin’ money, you assholes!” It was eerie. It went on and on for twenty minutes.

The third meth house was actually just the window you see here: Addicts would drive, walk or ride up to it and knock on the window. The “panes” are not glass, they are wood painted white so they are opaque. The older lady inside would open it up and ask what you wanted. The addicts would hand over money. Since meth is sold by price ($10, $20, or $40 worth), the lady would just hand back the amount paid for and the customer would leave. Yup, just like a fast food window, basically.

This gal ran a comparatively low-key operation. She said hi to me once or twice, but that was it. I never saw people loitering around her business, like with the others. What happened to her? She just stopped selling. Who knows why?

We never had any of the problems you would expect from having a business on a block with no fewer than three meth houses. We didn’t have any vehicle burglaries. We didn’t have any muggings. The annoyance from having them around was really more like the collateral effects of having a pig farm or something next to your office: We could hear fights and screaming and see needles discarded in the alley. But really, the problems were not as pervasive as you would expect.

Why, you ask? I had parades of Gollum look alike (the “my Precious” character from The Lord of the Rings) going past my office all day and night. Why would my offices, employees and customers remain untouched? Because the dealers that ran those businesses were not idiots, that’s why. If they or their “friends” made serious trouble for me, could I not bring down lots of uncomfortable attention that would ruin their business? They instinctively know that I probably have connections in the media, politics, and law enforcement, as well as an investigator of my own. I could ruin the good thing they have going, and they don’t want that. So while the businesses in the near neighborhood were all burglarized repeatedly, the word had been passed to leave me alone, since I was their immediate neighbor.

By the same token, some would wonder why I didn’t just expose the dealers? Why didn’t I call the police, conduct surveillance, name names, point fingers, clean up the neighborhood? Because I am not an idiot either. What would it take to make me relocate to, ahem, swankier digs? A can of gasoline and a match. Total cost: Less than five dollars. Risk of being caught: Next to none. The bad guys could be standing there laughing when the fire department rolled up and still there would be no proof that they did it. And if that measure was deemed an insufficiently punitive step?  You can buy a stolen gun in Bakersfield for $50. That plus a $10 baggie of meth to a Gollum-looking tweaker is a hit. I go home at the same time every day. It would be a piece of cake. Toss the gun, everybody keep their mouth shut and it’s another unsolved mystery. And I leave nine crying kids. Yeah, no thanks. I don’t want to be a dead hero.

The view down the alley from my office.

Things are much nicer now. The apartment with the flowers has been rerented to nice guys who do nothing wrong. The second place that you can see all boarded up is just totally abandoned. The third place is out of business. What are the lessons I learned from watching these places for two years? Meth does terrible things to people. I can’t describe the look of the skinny, pregnant women with yellow complexions walking around the crack house for hours in booty shorts and flip flops, asking guys coming up to the house if they can “help them out” for a few bucks. Or the rail-thin men with toothless smiles, thirty years old and looking fifty five, leaning against a dumpster enjoying their high at 1:30 in the afternoon. Just say no to drugs, ladies and gentlemen.


From → Photography

  1. Erica Greene permalink

    Wow, I had never known it was that bad. I always thought, “oh yeah there are a couple of meth users down there, but no biggie.” You guys handled that situation with flying colors. Most people wouldn’t have know what to do.

  2. Lynn Metzler permalink

    Wow good job 😃. So sad people live like this

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