Flying high with the prince of pot
No doubt about it: Allen Long inhaled. Running bales of high-quality marijuana from secret runways in Colombian jungles to the public university campuses of 1970s America, Long, the consummate hustler and riverboat gambler, lived the high life of a dope smuggler. He indulged nonstop, not only in the drugs he dealt, but also in wealth, women and toys.
In Loaded, author Robert Sabbag follows Long into the heart of the marijuana trade at a time when "smuggling aircraft were beginning to stack up over the Guajira [a coastal region in Colombia] like commercial flights over JFK." Sabbag, author of Snowblind an inside look at the cocaine trade recounts Long's high-wire act in an exciting, page-turning adventure, complete with a cast of characters that few fiction writers could conjure. The brawny JD Reed has "arms the size of railroad ties, long brown hair, combed like that of a renegade cavalryman, and eyes as resolute as Manifest Destiny." When he wasn't setting up portable runway lights in northeast California to help land planeloads of pot, Reed liked to tear big city phone books in half with his massive hands.
If only Long had stopped after the first half-dozen successful dope runs and bought some land or stock with his wealth. Instead, he scored and consumed cocaine by the ounce and invested $3.5 million in a final, winner-take-all marijuana buy. To move 60,000 pounds of Colombia's Santa Marta Gold, Long and his partners employed a 170-foot ocean freighter, a DC-4 plane, a Sikorsky helicopter, a 5,000-gallon fuel truck and a few tractor-trailers. What happened next to Long is what eventually happens to all smugglers if they're lucky.
Sabbag's book is not an indictment of drug smuggling but rather an appealing behind-the-scenes look at a more innocent time in America's infamous drug history. Crack wasn't on the scene yet, nor were methamphetamine labs. The South American cartels hadn't declared war on their own citizens, and all business was based on a post-1960s culture of a shared bong.
Still, whenever your work takes you to dimly lit warehouses, and the people you work with pay you with suitcases of cash or a bullet to the brain, it's usually time to go straight.
Stephen J. Lyons writes from Monticello, Illinois.