Entrepreneur of Hash

Michael Lewis of Queens, New York.

Herb, green, hash, dank. A gram, a G, an eighth, an ounce, a dub, a dime.

This is just a few terms that those employed in the business of selling marijuana illegally must understand to communicate with their clientele.

“First time I started was towards the end of eighth grade. I wasn’t big into it but I realized I could make money off of it,” said Michael Lewis (it’s a pseudo-name, at his request.)

Michael is a 25-year-old, small in stature, with jet-black wavy hair that parts itself on the left without any effort on his part. He dresses casually—t-shirts paired with half open button-down shirts, joggers or jeans, and sneakers. There’s a cadence to the way he speaks that became more apparent the longer I spoke to him.

Michael has lived with his parents in the same Queens home since he was born. He has two older brothers, now in their 40’s, but he mostly considers himself an only child.

“They were out doing their thing,” he said, “I was an only child most of the time.”

He was raised Catholic and from kindergarten until fifth grade, he attended a private Catholic school. The rest of his adolescent years were spent in public schools in Queens. He no longer practices Catholicism.

“I grew out of it, I guess,” he said.

In the eighth grade, Michael began working as a dealer. It was a minor aspect of his life at the time, a way to make a bit of money for himself.

It was in high school where Michael began dealing in earnest. He was a restless student who couldn’t sit for long periods of time.

“I went to high school but never really went. I went to parties—meet people and just selling. That’s it.”

After graduating from high school, Michael went to trade school, but he quickly became impatient with the curriculum and dropped out. Afterwards, he developed an interest in automotive technology and started working in body shops. He aspires to own his own body shop one day.

“Maintain the hustle and save up, save enough money and own my own body shop.”

Over the years, he has steadily increased his revenue and clientele base. He stresses the importance of his clients and how notoriety or popularity can help increase his bottom line.

“It’s about the money and making yourself known. Not too known of course,” he added with uncharacteristic urgency.

Michael talks about dealing in a nonchalant way that make it seem as if he’s talking about another day in the office. In the past, he has dealt pot to supplement the money he was making from a legitimate job. But there are times when dealing has become his only source of income. Just like now.

“It’s always been on and off. I haven’t continuously sold. I am looking for something to do, a steady job.”

Working as a dealer comes with its own caveats.

“People will call you at 4:00 AM. You can be readily available, or you can ignore that call.”

He tends to ignore it. He spends most days waiting for clients to place an order. Clients can reach him on his cellphone nearly any time of the day.

“I wake up, check if anyone needs anything, create a delivery route… things pop up,” he said. “Paydays are when clients hit you up in advance.”

Michael’s favorite part of dealing is that it requires a lot of movement and travel. He also enjoys meeting people, the public relations aspect to selling that is an integral part of building a large clientele base.

“There’s drug dealers everywhere, they’re a dime a dozen,” he said. “You can make this steady, but you always have to be on the move. There’s people that go state to state.”

Some days he doesn’t have to work at all.

“There’s days that it’s really dry. You just hang out.”

However, the illicit market for marijuana is risky and saturated with workplace hazards and other dealers looking to make fast money. Selling can quickly become challenging or dangerous.

“There’s a lot of competition,” Michael said. “People will try to sabotage your setup. It can go bad in a lot of ways. There’s moments you get pushed to do things you don’t wanna do.”

The threat of arrest constantly looms even though he has never been caught. He gets especially tense when making deliveries.

“If you’re riding with an eighth, then it’s no problem. But if you have an ounce, then you’re riding dirty. When you’re meeting a client, you don’t know who you’re meeting. You always have to be ready to run if anything happens. It’s always in the back of your mind.”

Michael is aware of the insecurity of selling marijuana as a source of income.

“I don’t plan to do this forever, it has its risks. You risk your freedom. You risk losing everything in a matter of seconds… Lives get ruined because of this, that’s the main reason why I’d stop.”

He figures he’ll sell for another five years. He is also thinking about returning to school to study automotive technology or medicine.

“I never gave it a shot,” he said. “It’s never too late.”

The biggest obstacle to his returning to school is his attention span.

“Maybe if I quiet my mind enough, I can commit to it,” he said.

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A Taste of Ecuador

 

When I was a child, Papi never told me how he arrived in the United States. It wasn’t because I hadn’t asked him.

Hidden on the cargo section of a plane, my father made his way across the border.

One time, he evaded detection from law enforcement in the luggage compartment of a train headed to the United States.

In another version of the story, he swam through a rio to get to the US.

“When I arrived in this country, I got here illegally. I didn’t have any documentation. I crossed the border of Mexico like thousands and millions of people who came to this country illegally looking for a better life.”

In 1990, my father was one of 85,000 Ecuadorians that lived in New York City. By 2015, the Ecuadorian population had nearly tripled to 223,000 people.

“I lived with my uncle and my cousins in Manhattan in a really small apartment with two bedrooms. There were six of us in that apartment. He gave me a place to stay and I lived with him for 8 or 9 years.”

Queens has become an enclave for many Ecuadorians. More than 122,000 live in the borough.

My dad rents an apartment in Lefrak City, a large housing complex situated in Corona. It’s the same apartment from my childhood, but he lives there with his Ecuadorian wife and their daughter now.

He used to take me and my sisters along Roosevelt Avenue to shop and eat. Hidden underneath the 7 line, Roosevelt Avenue is a hotpot of many different Hispanic cultures. The Spanish on the street is interrupted by the sound of subway trains passing overhead.

On the corner of Warren St. and Roosevelt Avenue, there are a half a dozen food carts lined up along the entire block. They each look different but serve the same food of Ecuador. The employees are nearly all Ecuadorians. So are the customers who dine out in droves throughout the day.

The carts serve food of all regions, from Quito to Guayaquil. You can order a shrimp ceviche from the costa at one cart and get pork fritada from the Sierra at the next.

“I was born here, but I’ve lived in Ecuador. My parents are from Guayaquil.”

If you’re lucky, you can find Senora Lamolina cooking brocheta over homemade ovens made from shopping carts. The chicken, onions, and peppers slowly cook to a crisp on the aluminum foil. The aroma of the seared meat on wooden sticks hangs in the air.

Lamolina was hesitant to speak with me when I started interviewing her. Like most of the employees I spoke to, she came to this country illegally. Asking too many questions made her uneasy.

“Well, an angel brought me here. I can’t tell you more than that.”

Everyone I spoke to believed they were better off here than in Ecuador.

“To get to know (the United States). Now that I have the opportunity, here I am.”

“The economic situation of our country—the same motivation for most people that immigrate here. Of course, to improve my financial situation and my family’s situation.”

“I immigrated to this country to have a better life. To help my siblings and my father who were still in Ecuador. And to improve my financial life.”

There is a rich history behind every employee that works at the food carts. If you ever find yourself on Roosevelt Avenue, stop by the carts. I suggest you try the pork fritada, it’s my favorite.

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A working father of New York

Tazi, right, at work in the Shah’s Halal cart on Melbourne Ave and Kissena Blvd. He quickly leaves after his shift to pick up his son from an afterschool program.

Mohamed Tazi begins every day at 6:15 AM in the morning with his wife. They wake up their two sons at 7:00 AM, Tazi cooks breakfast for his sons while his wife heads to work. He drives them to school and arrives at work by 8:00 AM. After he finishes his shift at 5:30 PM he picks up his two sons and spends the rest of the evening with his family at home. This is the everyday routine.

Tazi works at a Shah’s Halal cart situated near Queens College on Kissena Blvd and Melbourne Ave. His steady routine has been developed over the decade that Tazi has worked at the cart. His time at the cart has made him a fixture of the Queens College community where he serves dozens of students every single day.

“I love my job” said Tazi, “it pays my bills and I save some. My favorite part is I get payed in cash.”

The daily grind of Tazi’s lifestyle leaves little room for much else besides his faith, work and family. Tazi works every day except for weekends. His Fridays are spent observing Jumu’ah, when Muslims gather for midday prayer; Saturdays are spent with his wife since that is one of her days off from work.

“I dedicate my Fridays to prayer,” said Tazi. “At night, my wife and I watch TV and then we go to sleep.”

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