High and Low
A crime reporter revisits his secret life as a crack fiend
S Street Rising:
Crack, Murder, and Redemption in D.C.
by Ruben Castaneda
$26.00 List Price
Ruben Castaneda may be the nicest crack addict in the history of the drug. His worst transgression seems to be missing his brother’s wedding-rehearsal dinner: He couldn’t tear himself away from his pipe and the strawberry (as a young woman who traded sex for rock was known, back in the proverbial day). He also, in the grips of his disease, began to call people near and far saying he’d lost his wallet, and showed up for work disheveled and reeking of booze.
It’s that work that makes the story Castaneda tells so compelling. At the height of the DC crack epidemic, the author was a crime reporter for the Washington Post. He worked nights, and he was also a crack addict—sometimes covering homicides on the very street where one of the women who served as a go-between to his dealers had shelled out forty bucks for a score on his behalf only hours before. As anybody who’s done the research can tell you, powder cocaine has been known to induce paranoia after a long night. With crack, three puffs and you’re hearing people talk about you on telephone wires five blocks away—and they’re calling in helicopters.
The paradoxical setup that fueled Castaneda’s using life lends it an urgency that transcends the trademark one-downsmanship of many a quote-unquote “recovery” memoir. It’s true that the story behind S Street Rising is what we in Hollywood would call a perfect elevator pitch. More than that, though, Castaneda’s tale pivots on something far deeper and more engaging than the how-long-can-he-get-away-with-it drama of a runaway addiction on the front lines of the DC drug wars. At
REGISTERED USERS of bookforum.com and BOOKFORUM SUBSCRIBERS have access to this article, but must be logged in to view it. If you are not a registered user of bookforum.com, please create your free login here. If you are a subscriber, but haven’t activated your online account, please do so here.
SUBSCRIBE NOW for access to our online archives,* and receive the printed magazine for the discounted rate of $18 a year.**