Overtown Street Fighter Big Red Hustles and Grows

And finds his way from lawless to legit.

On the street, Red earned money by pimping, although he doesn't like to call it that. "Pimp is a bad word; I like to make her smart," he says. "If I get her a $100 date, it's $25 for me, you know."

He also made a quick buck "whooping" people for pay. If there was money involved, killing or jumping someone wasn't a moral dilemma. "A contract is a contract," he says. "If it's somebody you don't know, it's like nothing."

Though he was never busted for any of that, he had plenty of run-ins with cops, including prostitution, burglary, and trespassing charges, plus an alcohol violation. Two months ago, Red was arrested on NW Second Avenue for carrying four concealed weapons, two of which were firearms. According to the police report, he "was in possession of a .38 and .22 caliber handgun and he has been searching the street for bullets." When cops showed up, he "reached into a weight belt around his waist," pulled out a loaded gun, and threw it to the ground.

Big Red is a clever entrepreneur of the street. Just don't cross him.
Marco Kornfeld
Big Red is a clever entrepreneur of the street. Just don't cross him.

While serving 26 days in jail, Red wrote Circuit Court Judge Barbara Areces to request an earlier court date. "I do realize you have a rigorous schedule, but for the sake of my four dogs and three cats.... Please lend me your ears!" he wrote, signing off, "No felonies since 1990!" The case was dismissed because the guns, which he found in a dumpster, were more than 40 years old and didn't work, he says. "I had God on my side."

When he got out of jail in June, his dogs were waiting for him in the usual spot, underneath the Metrorail in southeast Overtown. One had given birth to nine puppies. In the spirit of the hustle, Red put up a sign advertising pups for $25.

Lately, Red's jobs are taking on less felonious forms. Next to his lawn chair, he opens a bag of glass stems and clean needles and holds them out. He buys them in bulk, sells them for $3 to $5 each, and carries around a big wad of cash to show for it. "They're brand-new. It's legal," he says. "It's an honest living."

He's got other gigs, too. After the sun goes down, he stands guard outside Jackson's Soul Food, whose owners pay him to make sure nobody messes with the place. He's also been fixing bikes and has snagged a few welding jobs.

Outside Jackson's, Chastity, a pretty girl with a gap in her teeth, has good things to say about Red. "People respect him big time," she says. One night, a drugged-out woman whacked Chastity across the back of the head with a fence post. Blood was gushing everywhere, she says. "Nobody helped me. So I ran to him, to Uncle Red, and he called me a paramedic."

Amos Allen, pastor at Apostolic Revival Temple, across from the yard where Red sleeps, calls him "a character. A good guy." Then he warns New Times not to walk around with him.

Under the Metrorail, on a recent rainy Tuesday, Red doesn't seem all that dangerous. He cracks jokes. He is sweet with his dalmatian, Snow White. And listening to his laugh, you could almost forget about the machete-size knife he carries in the basket of his bike.

Between chugs from a Busch tallboy, Red plays with the idea of putting life on the street behind him.

"See that store?" he says, pointing to a dilapidated building. A one-legged man sits in a wheelchair out front, sucking on a cigarette. "I got my eye on that. Gonna open up my own shop. Gonna call it Good Lookin' Red's Bike Shop."

It could be the ultimate hustle, he says. "I don't wanna punch no clock."

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