This Is The Life

Meet Tanya, a 28-year-old hustler from St. Paul

I got together with Tanya at the Perkins on University Avenue in the Midway area of St. Paul. Her turf. A bit of a mistake, I thought, since it's hard to discuss the ins and outs of crack and pot dealing while lonely blue-hairs zero in on your every word. A born storyteller, Tanya didn't seem to mind. She described her exploits in detail--she once supplied an entire apartment building in the Highland neighborhood; she's been in jail twice, neither time for drugs--and her various, mostly recent, attempts to go straight. She's the kind of person who is not so much accustomed to getting her way as she is accustomed to making it seem that she's gotten her way even when she hasn't. As she said of herself, "I've more or less lived the hard-knock life, the thug life, hustling to survive, scraping and scratching." She's a hustler, all right. With perfect teeth, a charming, hearty laugh, and gorgeous skin and eyelashes--she's part black and part American Indian--she maneuvers along the fringes, trying to keep from getting done in by what she calls "the life." At Perkins she had a story to sell. And at the mere cost of a meal (including a chicken strip sandwich and an entire carameled apple pie to go), City Pages got a genuine bargain.


City Pages: When did you know you'd be a dealer?

James Dankert

Tanya: My father died when I was three. He was a mechanic for the Ford Company and he put some money aside for me, like a trust fund. I couldn't touch it until I was 18. Then I received $60,000. I came into [the bank] with this certificate. I wanted to know what it was like to have cheese in my pocket. Once the money ran out, I wanted to have that money again. Thus became the dealing state.

CP: Is that when you started selling?

Tanya: Yeah, because I'd seen too much money going by. And I had cousins that were in the life. I had no choice but to do it. They were doing good and they'd always come up to me like, Get your money, get your money. And I'm like, I don't know what to do, and they'd say, You better get to it. Because in the game nobody watches you and holds your hand and tells you what is what. You have to learn this all by yourself and you have to learn to talk to people too. And when I first came into it I was quiet and shy, Goody Two-shoes.

CP: Do you only sell pot?

Tanya: Now I do. Like in the past year. But from 18 until this age, I was both. I was multitalented. I'm not missing no money.

CP: When you say both, do you mean crack?

Tanya: Yeah.

CP: Who is your clientele?

Tanya: I've had all kinds. Like when I lived down in this apartment building--I used to live down off of Rice Street--they used to pull up. My homies would pull up. Mexicans with bangin' systems. Everybody would be like, Damn, that car looks like it's broke going down the street. I got friends, 50-year-old men, ex-truckers, got great big hands, that drive these collector, vintage, old-school Ford trucks. They used to pull up. I had people that were nurses down at Regions. Anybody, doesn't matter how old you are, what color you are, how tall you are. Everybody wants a little green every now and then.

CP: Who were your best customers?

Tanya: My brother has had a lot of friends who have had nervous breakdowns and been on like the crazy ward up at United Hospital or whatever. These are cool-ass kids. Really, those are damn near the best customers, because they are crazy. They just got out of the nut ward and the first thing they are thinking is, Give me some of that shit. I'm like, Here you go, you crazy fucker. I hate to say it. It wasn't like I was preying on them, because they actually found me. Because they were crazy, they would do what they had to do to get it.

CP: How did you develop a customer base?

Tanya: Being in this seedy area where a lot of low-income apartments are, where the landlords didn't give a fuck. A lot of shit went on in these places because they had a habit of not the green, but the other one. I had dealt with these guys, in their scrubs, getting fresh off work at Regions, and they'd come to me and I'd say okay and I'd give it to them. They'd start geeking out and I was tripping because I'd see these big handsome guys. They don't look like your typical, average, everyday crackhead. They got their paychecks on Friday and I'd fucking shut down and go sit down at their house. Because like $900 is all coming back to me. And because they are on a habit there is really no loyalty in it, so if you are not around they are going to buy it anyway. Some of them had loyalty though. I ain't going to lie about that. I held the whole apartment down, there was like 30 apartments.

Next Page »