My business that I had started was off to a slow start. There wasn’t nearly as much initial demand as I had anticipated. However, that wouldn’t deter me. I continued to put flyers up all over the city, in all of the right white neighborhoods.
I remember that after 10 days, I finally received my first call. It was from an older gentleman who wanted 24 pieces of chicken from a well-known chicken place in our community. When I asked his address, he told me the most expensive neighborhood in Philly.
I figured at this point that word-of-mouth was going to be the best way I could advertise my business. I threw on my best Sunday suit and rode my bike to the chicken place.
After picking up the order, I set on my way to the gentleman’s house.
I arrived sooner than the expected time that I had given him. His house was the biggest that I had ever seen. I walked up the driveway and knocked.
The man that answered looked exactly like the monopoly man
He was incredibly friendly and very happy that I had arrived early. I, of course, was incredibly polite to the gentleman. I had a feeling that this man could be my meal ticket.
I made small talk with him as he fumbled through his pocket for cash. We began talking about the Phillies, our local baseball team. It turns out that he was almost as big of a fan as I was; ok that’s a lie, he was more of a fan.
We talked for what had to be at least 30 minutes before we parted ways. He gave me a tip of what amounted to be 100% of the cost of the food.
This was amazing. I knew I was on to something…
After the first customer that I had, business began to boom! That nice gentleman put in referrals for me to all of his friends. Next thing I knew, I was riding out to his neighborhood 10 times per day. I could barely keep up with demand.
When I knew that I was going to need some help, I asked my best friend Rodney if he wanted in on the action. I told him that he would get 50% of the payment, or 25% of the cost of the food, and I would get the other half. He agreed and suddenly my business had grown.
I could now cover 2x the territory as before! We began putting up more flyers and did some outreach via phone.
We also partnered with our local food places to give my business a 10% commission on any referrals that we sent them from the white people.
This revenue stream proved to be quite lucrative.
Little did i know how much impact that first customer would have on my business. I continued to deliver to him throughout the year. Each and every time, we would chat about sports. It was really great for me to see that all rich white people weren’t evil. This man talked to me as if I was his peer.
One day, after I had been delivering to him for about 5 months, I asked him what he did for a living. He told me that he traded on the stock market. I didn’t know what the was at the time, so I just nodded along.
I think he could see the confusion in my eyes. He asked me how many more deliveries I had that night. I told him that he was my last one. He asked if I wanted to learn about the stock market. I said sure.
The conversation that ensued is what changed my life forever…
I didn’t get to go to much school when I was a kid. Instead I graduated from the school of life. Experience was the name of the game down in Strawberry Mansion – at least that’s what my dad taught me.
In order to escape the game, I needed to be creative and start my own business. I began to look for gaps in the lives of white people that I knew I could fill.
One of the main areas of need I saw was the need for a runner – someone who would go between the white suburbs and my hood in order to get the goods that the white person wanted.
I knew that this would imply that I wanted to be a drug mule, but that was not the case. I wanted to do things the legitimate way.
I knew that the white people absolutely loved the cooking that us black folks did. After all, our restaurants were amazing.
I made flyers and posted them all around white neighborhoods with my phone number. I told people to call me if they wanted black people food delivered to their homes. I primarily focused on rich white people neighborhoods, since they were the most likely to want to use this service.
My fee structure was simple – 50% of whatever their food cost; with a minimum of $3.
As I mentioned last time, my father was a pimp. He had 15 girls working for him at any given time. Generally his girls were loyal to him because he treated them well. He ensured that they had adequate protection when they were out doing their jobs.
There were a couple of times when he had to really step in to protect his girls. He told me that he only ever had to shoot 5 people in his life. He didn’t shoot to kill; rather he believed in shooting to send a message. He would shoot them in the knee-cap – which makes a very long-lasting impression.
My mother was well-aware of my dad’s activities. But of course, Strawberry Mansion was a tough neighborhood and jobs like this were quite common. We’d have people from all over Philly coming to our neighborhood to get a piece of the action. Afterwards, they’d go back home to their cute little families.
I always loved seeing the suburban white people come to our hood. I imagined that they all lived with their white picket fences and dogs and shit.
I was envious. I knew that was the life that I had wanted. The American dream. However, as a black man growing up in the 50s, it was rare for any person of my kind to have that kind of dream.
Instead, were were expected to help the white people live the lives that we wanted. We were their servants.
There were some black folks that made it out of the hood and had that white person dream life. Those people were the ones that started their own legitimate business on the out-skirts of the hood and catered to white folk.
I knew that was what I wanted to do…
I remember the day after my right of passage night, I opened up the paper and saw that the incident was on the 3rd page of the Inquirer. I couldn’t believe what I was reading, about how the man had a wonderful family and supported them as a garbage man – which at the time was a very honorable job to have in our area.
Reading about it in the newspaper made it all that much more real. My mother saw what I was reading and told me how sad she was to read that. Apparently she had gone to school with the man and knew him fairly well. She spoke about how good of a person he was and how he didn’t deserve that. She also wished the same punishment on the person that did that to him.
Little did she know that it was me.
I’m sure if my father was around, he would have known it was me based on my reaction when reading the paper. Luckily, I guess, for me, he was never around. He was caught up in the game too. Not drugs or anything addicting, but he was in the sex game.
He was a pimp back in the day and at one point had 15 girls working for him. More on that tomorrow…
I come from Strawberry Mansion. For those of who who aren’t aware, Strawberry Mansion is one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in America. I wish I could say that things have gotten better since I grew up there, but that’s far from the case. In fact, things have only gotten worse.
When I grew up there, beating someone up was a right of passage that you had to go through in order to ensure that you were protected. The street life was the only life that we knew. Most of us were good kids, but we were forced into tough situations due to our terrible socioeconomic situation.
I remember when it came time for my right of passage, I walked up to a stranger who was walking his dog and hit him in the legs with a baseball bat. I had to have broken at least one of the legs, because I really went hard on them.
I’ll never forget the look in his eyes. He was obviously in pain, but the look that he gave me was of confusion and pity.
That look is what motivated me to turn things around and focus on my journey forward.
I’ll never forget that man.
I want to thank another person, who kind of nudged me to write this journey. That man is Joe, a man that I met when I was about to retire. Joe had been working at the local animal shelter and immediately became interested in my story. We’ve been in touch for well over a year now. He’s a great young man. Please support his business: Best Dog Crates and Beds.
Lastly, I want to thank my family. For without them, nothing in my life would be worth living. They give me purpose; a reason to go on. I am truly thankful for every minute that I get to spend with them. To my everythings, thank you. Thank you and God Bless!