The first apartment we moved into together as a band was 354 Bergen Street in Brooklyn. We lived there from the early summer of 1988 through 1989. It still says Blues Traveler on the sidewalk where Chan and Brendan wrote it in the cement. We were on the top floor and had a beautiful view of lower Manhattan — we could see the Twin Towers — and we were just a train ride away from lower Manhattan, and the neighborhood wasn’t as dire as our next apartment, where people were smoking crack in the hallways and vestibule. This was an alcohol neighborhood turning into a heroin neighborhood, and the good thing about alcoholics and heroin addicts is that they’re slower and in many ways harmless, whereas the crack guys hit you and run before you even see them.
In our crack neighborhood we would pack our van trailer after doing a gig, and if we didn’t park it in some place that was absolutely secure, people would come and unscrew all the sheet metal from the trailer. Then we’d come outside and find some wheels and screws on the ground. You know it’s a crazy neighborhood when they’re stealing the steel from your trailer.
The other problem with living in a crack neighborhood was that the guys had to try the crack because they’d done all the drugs in Princeton. Crack had been demonized in our suburban mindset, but Chan and Bob seemed pretty fearless about jumping in and trying it. There was a brief point when I went right there with them.
One of the four times I smoked crack led to an incident in which I almost got razored in a crack house in Brooklyn. Crack seems like a social drug, but everyone is actually sitting there silently waiting for their turn to smoke, listening to the clicking sound of the gas stove kicking over because you need that flame to heat up the stem of the crack.
When you smoke crack it feels good, but just as cocaine seduces you into thinking that everything is a brilliant idea, crack makes you think you’re down for anything. I was leaving after our big crack session and wanted to grab a bag of weed for the next day. So I went down to Myrtle Avenue at two in the morning, which, when you’re on crack, seems like standard routine.
Now the thing we all knew about Myrtle Avenue is that if you gave somebody your five bucks, they’d say, “Wait here,” and then you’d never see them again. So up comes this guy who looks like Mike Tyson and asks me what I want. I explain that I want a nickel bag and he says, “Give me the money. I’ll be right back.” I tell him, “I can’t leave the money with you. I’ll go with you.” That’s my solution: I’ll follow him.
So he takes me into this very scary project, which starts looking worse and worse, but I’m not deviating from my plan. When you’re on crack, that’s all you have to worry about: don’t deviate from your plan. We go up to the second floor and he says, “Okay, now you’ve got to give me the money and I’ll get you the weed.” My response is, “No, I won’t part with the money.”
This is how I learned a very valuable lesson. When you’re in a rundown project trying to score some weed from a Mike Tyson guy while you’re on crack, you shouldn’t say the word no. When I did, his face changed from a Mike Tyson face into an angry Mike Tyson face, and he pulled out a six-inch razor blade. Suddenly I’m very aware that the mood has changed and that this is not a cooperative market experience.
He said, “I think you’re going to give me your five dollars — what do you think?” I said, “I think here’s my five dollars.” But that didn’t stop the aggression, because when you’re turned into the victim, you’re encouraging a robbery, so he started patting me down. I remember weakly saying, “What are you doing? Stop it.”
This whole time I was carrying on my shoulder a lunchbox tied together with a bandana, which held my harmonicas and my Shure 58 microphone. When he said, “What’s that?” it snapped me out of my victim mentality. It was clear to me he wanted my five bucks more than I could ever want my five bucks, but it was also clear that I wanted my lunchbox full of my harps more than he could ever want it. That’s when I turned on him — “You’re not going to get it, so walk!”
That actually stopped him, which left me a little stunned, but he said, “You better not be downstairs.” Then he left and I thought, “I’m on the second floor, how can I not go downstairs to leave?” This had me perplexed. I was afraid to leave, but eventually I sucked it up and decided he meant, “Don’t be downstairs hanging around.” When I finally left I could hear him in the background with his friends saying, “Hey man, I got your weed,” and they were all laughing. So I walked out of there with my harmonicas and my life, realizing that crack is a little whack.
I also remember various episodes during this time when people would disappear into the Brooklyn night and then come in at four in the morning kicking me awake for eight dollars. That period lasted for about half a year, from 1988 to 1989.
This was the era that established me as the teetotaler of the band, at least comparatively. Brendan drank a lot with the guys, but he didn’t party the way they did. But I became the sheriff of drug consumption. If something was done in front of me, I would throw a huge tantrum. That being said, I certainly partied with the guys at certain points, just to such a lesser degree that it didn’t really seem to count. However, I was eating constantly, and that really became my drug of choice. Instead of going out, my big party was staying in with food and television.
Still, the drugs were a fun part of that time, and I heartily recommend them except for all the damage they do.