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Later that night, after midnight, I drove the truck back to the house to sneak inside and look around one final time. I had nowhere else to go.

After a long while of wandering aimlessly from room to empty room, in darkness for fear of alerting neighbors, I took out my cheapie pay-as-you-go cell phone and called my supplier to make one last house call. We did the deal in the rental truck, which I then parked in a nearby motel lot. I smoked away the rest of my first homeless night in the back of the empty truck, out of sight and, almost certainly, out of (my) mind.

I spent the first couple of weeks crashing in a garage behind a house just off Morena Boulevard. This had been converted by my longtime friend Duane into a kind of guest house. Duane was one of the few people in my life who rarely drank or did drugs. He knew the same could no longer be said of me; then again, he saw that I was still working at my 'puter every night, completing multiple freelance gigs and drawing weekly paychecks. I must've appeared, on the surface at least, still in control. My mobile supplier met me once a day at a nearby KFC, even after my Le Baron was found.

A friend drove me up near Oceanside to pick up the car at an impound lot, though she had to leave before the paperwork was finished. Other than a cracked steering column, the car was in about the same shape as before, though the battery was dead. A couple of impound guys volunteered a jumpstart. They hooked my battery to a charging machine and signaled me to crank it up.

Unexpectedly, all the dashboard indicators started going crazy, and there was a horrible noise, between a grind and a fizzle, and then a loud thump before the car stopped turning over altogether.

The impound guys laughed as they pulled the clamps off the battery and attached them to the opposite posts as before. They'd hooked it up backwards and apparently thought frying my car's operating systems was pretty damned funny. Once the car started, everything was going wonky before I even got it past the impound sentry booth. About four miles away, the Le Baron came to a smoking, shuddering halt. I used my cell to order a tow to the nearest repair shop. The phone battery held out just long enough to call Duane for a ride back to his guest garage.

Repairs weren't cheap, and I found myself borrowing money from Duane a few times to tide me over until paydays. This made me as uncomfortable as it seemed to make him, especially since, after I'd taken his cash, he was usually within earshot of the calls made to arrange another delivery at KFC. The computer I brought with me to work on was tying up his phone lines, and his wife seemed uneasy about the grubby, wild-eyed guy hiding out in their guest garage, tippity-tapping on a keyboard all night long.

At this point, I was also occasionally smoking heroin, usually with tin foil and toilet-paper tubes. Seemed to have the same painkilling effect as rock, but with physical and emotional aftereffects that I preferred to avoid unless there was absolutely no way to get ahold of my preferred smokables, all rocked and ready to roll me.

As soon as my car was running again, I determined to get away from Duane's. I wanted to protect our much-cherished friendship and avoid placing him and his wife in any dangerous predicaments resulting from my actions or those of my shady "associates."

I occasionally spent the night in an empty unlocked garage in the alley behind their house, lying across the cement floor on spread-out laundry. When a lock appeared on the garage, I slept in the back seat of my car, sometimes in broad daylight, under another makeshift tent rigged up between the front bucket seats and rear speakers. It got pretty warm under there some days, but that didn't stop me from brazenly lighting up and blowing my smoke between the seats and into the trunk, to avoid detection from outside.

I began sleeping on my supplier's floor, but that quickly proved problematic, especially after I could no longer access the Internet there, which was important for my weekly work assignments. It got worse when my car was stolen -- again -- from the driveway out front, and this time it did not come "home." I've always thought my supplier had something to do with this, as she had borrowed the car the night before it was never seen again.

Then cops showed up and went through the place, looking for one of the hookers who occasionally slept there. She'd skipped out on a court date. My pipe sat under a towel inches from where one cop poked around, but luckily, whatever gods watch over fools like me were smiling -- perhaps laughing -- at me.

The next day was September 11, 2001.

Believe it or not, the city's druggie underground was affected. FedEx, UPS, and USPS planes were grounded, halting countless drug shipments and money deliveries intended for drugs. Businesses all over the city were closed, including banks and check-cashing places. There was a dearth of available cabs.

You'd be amazed at how big a role cabs play in local drug distribution. Initially, I'd been shocked at how many cabbies turn a blind eye to deals done openly in the back seat. Often riders would duck and, out of darkened buildings, return or leave with their fists wadded and loosely holding drugs at the ready for tossing, if necessary. As I got to know more dealers, I found that several had their own licensed cabbies on a payroll of sorts, paying drivers in cash, drugs, or crack-whore favors in return for running them to and from drugs and druggies.

Someone later suggested to me that the cabbie shortage was because drivers were afraid of retaliation against anyone who might look Muslim. Sounds believable, but I think it's more likely that everyone just wanted to stay close to home. At least, those who had homes.

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