Freeway Rick Ross by Rick Ross and Cathy Scott

Freeway Rick Ross CoverRick Ross dropped out of high school, functionally illiterate and with few prospects. Within a few years he was running a successful business, had dozens of employees, and was worth millions of dollars.

It was the 1970s and cocaine was about to become the biggest moneymaker in South L.A., and the country. Bishop Noel Jones in the book’s foreword said, “[Rick’s] goal of ‘getting in the drug business and then going legit’ is indicative of the mindset and entrepreneurial skills of any corporate American magnate.”

“Young blacks stood openly on sidewalks and even in the street to hawk their product to passerby’s as if it was the most legal thing they’d every done.” Rick saw the business on 81st street and saw opportunity.

Any compelling autobiography knows the story is more about the time and community, then about any specific individual. Freeway Rick Ross reads partly as the classic businessman’s story, putting together whatever little cash he had to get a start and get ahead. Ross’ first business was buying and selling subsidized meal tickets.

“All I had to do was purchase tickets from Bret Harte underprivileged students. They were more than happy to get money for something they were ashamed to use, then I’d sell the tickets to those who could afford them, and I made a profit.” Rick compassionately explains why students at Bret Hart were embarrassed to use the meal tickets, while also explaining the puzzling reasons middle class students at his new high school desperately wanted the meal tickets.

The book weaves together the history of South L.A., the migration of blacks from southern states, to find work and prosperity in the Golden State, and the growth of gang culture. While Rick was never a member of a gang his close family relationships and friendships with top leaders kept him and his business protected.

Dates are sometimes lost in the narrative, especially as the corrupt LAPD Freeway Rick Ross Task Force increased their focus. The narrative is driven by Ross’ personal story and as important figures are introduced their future notoriety is revealed for context.

As the story introduces the shadowy interplay of the Nicaraguan drug supplier and the connections to the Iran Contra scandal the story focuses on Ross and does not get lost in the Iran Contra story.

After his arrest and imprisonment, Ross learned to read, partly as a way to prepare his own defense in the appeals courts. Once he was released, the second time, he was finally able to go “legit” and now teaches economics, while working with the community.

“I cannot change the negative impact that crack cocaine had on my community, the people in it, and the role I played . . . I haven’t sold drugs in more than 20 years. I tell kids in inner cities that they need to make informed choices, stay in school, stay clean, and stay positive. They cannot do that by gang banging or dealing.”

For readers whose only context for life in South L.A. comes from movies and music produced in the early to mid 90s, Freeway Rick Ross gives a compassionate view of the delicate game people played to fit in, while trying to get out or get ahead.

Freeway Rick Ross focuses on the life of one man at the center of the cocaine epidemic and a key player in revealing LAPD corruption and the Iran-Contra scandal. This is all done with a compassion and insight on the history of South L.A. and the drug trade.

I originally published this review at NY Journal of Books 

Author: Cathy Scott, Rick Ross
Release Date: June 11, 2014
Publisher/Imprint: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Pages:298

Memories and a tick

Sankofa Avocado SmoothieRecently an experience from my childhood has vividly returned to my memory.

It’s this…

I am a child, perhaps 8-9 sitting in my grandmothers living room as the adults are talking. One woman, a journalist and childhood friend of my mom and aunt, is speaking about a trip to the middle east.  She is talking about riding a military personel carrier plane and having a large tick removed from her scalp.

I don’t remember really anything else that she spoke about or even who she was, until I spoke with my aunt and realized it was Cathy Scott. She is is an American true crime writer and investigative journalist, born and raised in San Diego.  Childhood friend to both my aunt and mom.

What is interesting about this memory is that she represents to me one of two important figures that have helped shape my sense of self.  She represents the adventurer, the woman with dust from far away lands, carrying stories of people and lands into my grandmothers living room and my heart.  She represented part of the woman I wanted to become.

When I asked Cathy about the memory, it turns out the story fits even more.

It was Somalia and Saudi Arabia I had gone to during Operation Restore Hope in the midst of the turf and civil wars within the country. The tick was awful! In Baidoa, a nurse in a make-shift hospital put some purple stuff on it, trying to get it to back out. It left quite a hole in my scalp, as I recall (I’d almost forgotten about that)! And I got bitten up by mosquitos too, which was sobering, because they carry diseases (as do ticks, as you probably know).

The armored personal transport flight was surreal, sitting with 1st Marines arriving in country via the gutted-out cabin with Humvees loaded in the back. My gear was actually sitting on the seat of a Humvee.

I didn’t consciously carry this memory with me, it sat somewhere in the recesses of my mind and reemerged while I was sortting through the profound experience of traveling to Uganda and of this entire year of change.

I am still sorting out what it all means, and trying to awaken my mind to the intricacies of the experience in a way that can prove helpful to myself and others.  It feels like I have writers bloc, and the best way to get through writers bloc is to start with what you can write about until you arrive at what you need to write about.  At least I hope so.