“See?” he says. “Like fish scales.” I’m watching him measure out $20 and $40 bags using a metal, digital scale and two business cards. He’s bent one card into a trough and uses the other to scoop up the blow. Two lines he has set aside for himself, from “the good shit.” The good shit we just picked up in a diner parking lot, from a kid in a black Honda Civic. No rims, no underbody glow, 4-door, nothing fancy. Maybe in a place more prosperous than Albuquerque, flashy cars would blend right in, but when parking lots, alleys, and gas stations are your office, it’s best to have transport that seems just like everybody else’s. We’re in a old Subaru wagon.
As Rico, another dealer, tells me, “You have to maintain appearances.”
Rico works a full-time job and only deals as much as he can reasonably use or hide. He lives in the the same small house he’s lived in for 12 years, in a down-and-out part of Albuquerque that recently began to “yuppify,” as he puts it.
“I’m not trying to be some rich guy. I’m just trying to get money to enjoy myself. Real-world jobs don’t allow people to do that. I think that’s why a lot of people sell drugs,” Rico says.
His “real-world job” pays a few bucks more than minimum wage. He says that it’s just enough to pay bills and occasionally go out. “You don’t make enough money to do anything: Travel, get your car fixed up. Naw.” He explains that when an hour’s work at minimum wage buys you two gallons of gas, and you spend a gallon each day getting to work, the choice becomes pretty clear. “It’s almost like you work to go to work,” Rico says. “I wanted something else.”
Mention “Albuquerque” and “drugs,” and chances are someone will squeal “Breaking Bad!” Walter White’s transformation from a cancer-stricken chemistry teacher to a successful drug lord made great TV, but for most dealers here in Albuquerque, selling will never be so bloody, nor so profitable. They are cogs in a multi-billion dollar industry. (The United Nations estimates that the drug trade generates $600 billion per year. If the drug trade were its own country, this would put its GDP somewhere between Saudi Arabia and Switzerland.)