Everyone for blocks got a contact high when the Rutledge Street pot bust hit the news. It was good for morale. At the very least it broke the winter doldrums because nothing says "Fun City" like a full-blown marijuana-growing operation in a quiet, middle-class neighborhood.
I've walked by the house a thousand times. Burnt yellow-colored, like resin. It seemed like a bit of a bummer place, shades pulled tight, but never did I stop in my tracks, turn toward it with my hands on my hips and think, "I bet there's 166 adult marijuana plants, 4½ pounds of pot ready to go, and $17,000 in there."
I would have been right on target if I had. Little did I know that the cops had been staking the place out for months. A big-boy investigation with dogs sniffing garbage and everything.
We were out of town the night of the actual bust. It was right at Christmas time. Neighbors who witnessed it tell us that police unwrapped a pretty big present for the growers: one of those sawed-off telephone poles with handles on it used to bludgeon the bejeezus out of a front door. Hated to miss that.
The law may not have decriminalized marijuana yet, but our culture seems to have. Nobody I know in the 'hood was too concerned. People I encountered elsewhere, conservatives and liberals alike, seemed amused. Compared to a meth lab or crack house, this was like waking up to discover that a moonshiner moved in on your block.
Details were slow in coming. Madison police didn't release the address for a couple days. Initial reports pinpointed the 1800 block. That got a lot of us off the hook, but it started a wild round of guess-ticulating on Rutledge.
"I'm depressed about it," said my neighbor Marc, walking his dog one morning. "Why?" I asked. "I've never felt so old and feeble in my life. I used to know every spot in the 'hood where you could score."
Rumors are the stems and seeds of reality. Imaginations flared as folks made up their minds about which house it was. "They seem so normal," surmised one neighbor, having decided (not the right house) was the one. "Those people always keep to themselves," said another, which, when you think about it, is about the most damning thing you can say about a suspect these days.
All of us were wrong, but it was sure fun imagining your neighbors and friends, folks with whom you lose contact during the cold months, toiling through the winter under the white glare of the grow lights. No seasonal depression there.
The release of the address and other facts kept the Rutledge Street pot bust smoldering in the news bin for days, like a roach in the car ashtray.
The story turned Rutledge Streeters into stars of their very own reality show. "Got pot?" chirped a fellow passenger on the bus. "How can I score, Andy?" asked a coworker with an absence of drama that forced me to wonder if he was serious as I left the men's room.
Turns out it was a couple of renters, not the owner of the home. The dude was 61. "An old dude! It was an old guy!" came the chorus. At 53 this made me self-conscious about getting up there in years myself. It also had me revising my own retirement plans. In any case, the 61-year-old suspect would have been 17 during the Summer of Love. I like to imagine that he was getting his chops down that summer with fellow peaceniks Rainbow and Sunbeam, going one-toke-over-the-line toward a lifelong career.
The ordeal forced people to have untidy conversations with their children, the way that Clinton getting caught in the White House forced ready-or-not family talks about oral sex. As I mentioned, most neighbors were amused by the episode, but there's nothing funny about sending young people lighthearted messages about an unlawful activity.
Still. It's been a fun ride. The Rutledge Street Pot Bust rolled us tightly together for the past few weeks, proving that stories are like any good stimulant when passed from one hand to the next.