The Golden Age of Getting High in America: How 2 Young Hippie Girls Became Major Players in the Drug Trade
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
Want to get the latest on America's drug & rehab culture? Sign up for The Fix's newsletter here.
If you can believe it, drug trafficking wasn’t always the grim, billion-dollar hemispheric battle that it is today.
Once upon a time, running drugs from Mexico was a surprisingly innocent affair, undertaken by industrious hippy kids who trekked across the border in the late '60s and early '70s. There were no machete–wielding psychopaths, dangling corpses, or vicious human traffickers. The Nogales-Phoenix corridor described recently as a ”killing fields” was once a far more peaceful place.
This tale of drugs and death begins and ends far from Nogales—in Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia, probably the last place you’d expect to find a former drug smuggler. The small park is ringed by high-rise apartment and condo complexes filled with old-money blue hairs, baby-boomer corporate execs and U. Penn kids whose rich parents happily shell out for luxury off-campus housing. Nestled among the city’s elite is a woman with a secret past that includes having moved almost a half-ton of weed from Mexico to the East Coast.
Rita (her executive-level career position makes her skittish about using her real name) met Sally in Philly in 1971; they were two 20-year-old rebellious hippy chicks with age-appropriate ache for adventure. Sally, the wild child, happened to know a Mexican drug kingpin named—no shit—Poncho Loco who would sell them as much weed as they wanted. Sally needed a sidekick, someone to roll her joints and chop her lines while she drove. Rita, the waif, was fresh off a stint bumming around London where she rubbed elbows with rock stars at the notorious Speakeasy nightclub, flopped in “cracked houses” full of squatting dopers and now needed the next thrill. They rented a blue 1970 Chevy Impala and struck out for Tucson, where Sally had a house to use as a way station.
“We were driving machines,” Rita recalls. “We made Tucson in three days.” They drove through a haze of pot smoke, blasting the Allman Brothers and tooting lines of coke.
They rolled into Tucson packing two Browning .45 pistols and $30,000 in cash. They ate some Quaaludes to get to sleep and then struck out for the border the next morning,
How did two 20-year-old hippy chicks pull off scoring huge bushels of weed from Mexican drug traffickers? The deal went down like this.
First they stuffed bundles of $100 bills in their oversized cowgirl boots. Rita was a knock-kneed skinny thing who barely fit in her boots to begin with so she carried most of the money.
“I called Sally ‘Annie Oakley,’” Rita says over coffee in her apartment with views of Rittenhouse Square. Her onetime waist-length hippy locks are now trimmed to a smart-looking bob that, along with a set of modish wire-frame glasses, complement her contemporary-arts professional persona. “We were really playing the cowgirl role to the hilt.”
They drove to Nogales and ditched the car, walking across the border into Mexico where one of Poncho Loco’s banditos was waiting to pick them up. They drove up into the hills where Poncho Loco’s ostentatious pink ranch house stood out among the shacks of the surrounding slums.
It turned out that being two swaggering, fearless young American girls strolling into the kingpin’s house kicking dust off their boots and ready to party worked in their favor.
“The Mexicans were absolutely in awe of Sally, they were blown away by her confidence, taken in by her sense of humor,” Rita says. “Poncho Loco treated us with complete respect. He cut us lines of coke and poured us shots of Mescal Tequila. Poncho’s wife cooked us dinner but we couldn’t eat much, we were so tooted.” She laughs with not a little irony. In present-day Mexico, where street killings, beheading and bombings, even massacres are current features of the War on Drugs, it would be a death wish for two young girls to saunter into El Narco's lair and throw back shooter with his henchman.