Cocaine and Me: A Memoir

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Since the rigorous emergency-medical-technician training and certification was not necessary for employment, Randle simply offered six-week crash courses taught by one of its administrators. The company buttressed our training by sending us on "hot experience" clinicals, consisting of three ride-alongs with the Metro paramedics. We still needed to be licensed but could work while the certification process went through the channels.

My kid brother Iggy and I signed up. The classes were a breeze, and before long we were vested members of the emergency-response community, earning minimum wage — with a promise of all the overtime hours we could handle at time-and-a-half pay as an incentive.

I was twenty years old, Iggy still in his teens, and we soon found that with the exception of some grizzled, vacant-eyed old-timers, the road crew was mostly a frat pack of quick-buck, in-and-out punks, which accounted for the company's turnstile turnover.

The work environment tilted toward the seedy; you couldn't leave anything lying around in the wagons or the station house without the stuff getting kiped. Fights broke out between ambulance partners all the time, and most of the veteranos were packing weapons. It was a haven for street-smart operators with the sense to stay out of trouble, but it could get pretty ugly for the rookies. Igs and I received valuable counsel from some of the elders: If you greased the dispatchers, you could spend most of the shift sleeping while the rookies were run ragged handling the bulk of the nonemergency calls.

We were supposed to work an eleven-hour shift and then take a day off, work a 24-hour shift and then take two days off in a patterned schedule, but the attraction for many was the option to stay on the clock for months at a time. A lot of guys did just that to buy a car or scrape together enough cash to get out of Dodge. You could eat gratis at the hospital cafeterias, and there were company crash pads and hospital rooms all across town where you could sleep rent-free.

This was the fall of 1980, shortly before Miami was tagged the murder capital of America, chalking up more than 600 homicides in a year — eleven on one day. The Medical Examiner's Office, located next to Jackson Memorial's ER, had to borrow refrigerated meat trucks from Burger King, where they kept the bodies stacked like cordwood. A stench of incinerated body parts drifted from the ME's chimneys over the parking lot where we waited for emergency calls, tossing Frisbees or hitting a bong.

Almost everybody at work was using drugs in some form or another, and if brass was aware, they didn't act on it. It was a price they paid to keep the wagons rolling. I recall being astonished how coke seemed to permeate everything. It was the rare hospital where I didn't party with orderlies, nurses, or interns on duty. It was everywhere.

I still had some contacts from my Mutiny days and knew buddies who were making some side cash dealing. One of them pointed out that I had a bullet-proof cover. "What are you waiting for?" he marveled. "If you're already getting high with those guys, here's a chance for you to snort free and coat your pockets, imbecil. "

So I began supplying some of the crew and developed a radio code so they'd know when I was holding. I'd chant over the radio: "Tengo la turka," signaling the other units I was open for business. All summer I was raking it in, but then people began getting too loose on the job and we had some close calls. On one occasion, Iggy and his partner Joey, today a local cop, responded to a cardiac arrest at a bowling alley. They took the man to Jackson with his daughter in tow. En route they learned she was a stripper. Joey laid his rap on her, offering her a bump. After making the drop at the hospital, they headed back to her place to party while still on duty. Her roommate, also a peeler, said she would sign over her ratty Chevelle if they could get her a hundred Quaaludes.

Iggy called a bud of ours. Chumley lived with his grandmother at a trailer park behind the Aquarius Lounge on Le Jeune and SW Eighth Street, and helped supplement her Social Security and food stamps by dealing Quaaludes and nickel bags of weed.

A couple hours later my partner Frank and I were summoned to bail them out of trouble because their impromptu soiree had spiraled out of control. "One of the strippers," Joey mumbled over the phone, was "bleeding from the rectum and we're too fucked up to drive her to a hospital."

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Carlos Suarez De Jesus