From Part 14 we jump ahead a few years to February 2022:
THE TRIP TO PHILLY
After taking the red-eye out of Denver International, Hank picked us up at Philadelphia International on Monday afternoon. Hank was a short, dark-haired Polish guy, but he had a big personality.
“Philadelphia has all kinds of history. Yous guys like history? I love history,” he said. “I’m gonna take yous guys on a little tour.”
We drove by the Liberty Bell Museum and Independence Hall.
“Yous guys hungry?” Hank asked. “What you want to eat? I got you.”
“What’s the best Philly cheesesteak around?” Cornelius said.
“That’s a matter of personal opinion. My personal favorite is Geno’s.”
A few lefts and rights on the downtown streets and we arrived at Geno’s. Hank ordered the cheesesteaks. Paper sacks in hand, we hopped back in Hank’s white GMC Tahoe, and he hit the gas.
“Yous guys Rocky fans?” Hank said.
“YES!” I said with a mouthful of cheesesteak.
“We both are,” Cornelius said. “We want to do the Rocky Run while we’re here. Nate knows everything about Rocky.”
“No shit?” Hank said looking at me in the rearview.
“Been a fan all my life,” I said.
“I’ll take you on a Rocky tour,” he said.
“Right fucking now!”
Hank drove us through the old Italian Market, we drove by Mighty Mick’s Gym, the pet shop Adrian worked at, Father Carmine’s church, and other famous Rocky landmarks. When we drove past the docks, I said, “There’s the docks!”
“Where Rock was a leg-breaka!” Hank said.
“Don’t break my thumbs!”
“Keep the coat! Keep the coat!”
We quoted more lines with each landmark we passed, cracked Stallone jokes, we had a blast. Hank eventually drove us to the Museum District and showed us where the Philadelphia Art Museum was.
“There it is!” Hank said pointing out the window.
At the base of the steps leading up to the museum, was the famous Rocky statue. It was like seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time. I rubbed my bloodshot eyes.
“You guys are staying at the Marriot downtown by the Delaware River,” Hank said. “You can walk to the museum from there. It’s just a few blocks.”
“When are we going to meet with Gazzo?”
“Tomorrow or Wednesday. I’ll let you know,” Hank said.
He dropped us off at the hotel and we checked in. On our way in the elevator to the 18th floor, Cornelius said, “Looks like Gazzo paid for our room.”
Once we got into the suite and unpacked a few things, I said, “So tell me more about this Gazzo character.”
“He’s an older guy. Made his money selling dildoes and sex toys.”
“Exactly. And he’s making millions on this thing called Pop-Its.”
“Something the gays use for sex. Apparently, it’s a drug that loosens the soft fibers around the muscles,” Cornelius pulled on his nostrils. “So, it makes it easier for penetration. Doesn’t last for a long time. Shocker, gay dudes love it.”
“Is Gazzo gay?”
“Not at all,” Cornelius laughed. “He’s got a wife and grown kids. Hell, he’s got grandkids. He’s also one hell of a golfer. He invented a new putter he’s trying to get on the market.”
Dinner time rolled around but we quickly discovered almost every restaurant within walking distance was either closed or required a COVID-19 Vaccination Card. We had Pizza Hut delivered instead.
While eating a slice of pepperoni and black olive, Cornelius’s mother shot me a text: Please take care of my baby boy! This is his first trip outside his home without his pancreas! Make sure he takes his insulin!
Cornelius chuckled, “My mom sure is stoked we’re doing this together.”
I responded to his mother: Don’t worry! He’s in good hands.
We met with Gazzo the next day. Hank picked us up and drove us to a nondescript warehouse district in an industrial area just north of Philly.
We were ushered into Gazzo’s office. Gazzo was seated behind a desk littered with papers. He stood up and shook our hands. He was wearing a gray sweatshirt with some oil stains on it. He was a rotund guy with a bush of ashy hair on his head and a hedgerow of gray moustache below his nose, like Jabba the Hutt crossed with a walrus.
Hank occupied a chair to the left of Gazzo’s desk, facing us. Cornelius was seated next to me. An older bald man sucking on a red lollipop then entered the room and sat down behind Cornelius and me. His smile faded when I turned around in my chair and made eye contact with him.
“Don’t mind Savalas,” Gazzo said. He then passed around a Ziploc bag of freeze-dried Skittles and started telling us about a cannabis grow he abandoned in New Mexico. It was located on the King Ranch and obviously tied to the King Family, though I didn’t gather the specifics. What I did gather was this Gazzo dude was tied to the King Family, and I was aware who they were.
The King Family owns the largest cattle ranch in New Mexico, and I think their kin of the same name own one of the largest cattle ranches in Texas. Hell, even Ford has a line of trucks named after them. The family even produced a governor, Bruce King, who served New Mexico in that seat for twelve years. Gazzo was obviously tied to this family and that relationship legitimized some things in my head. I didn’t think a family with their reputation would be getting into shady deals with people who made millions in the sex toy industry, but who knows.
“If you can go out there and figure out how to monetize it,” Gazzo said to Cornelius, “It’s yours. When can you get out there?”
Cornelius and I looked at each other.
“Can you go next month?” Cornelius asked me.
“Sure,” I shrugged.
“I’ll make the arrangements and get the meetings scheduled,” Gazzo said. “I’ve got everything you need out there. Greenhouses, tractors, everything. They’re just sitting there. If you want, you can stay at the house on-site or we’ll book you in a hotel.”
“I can drive there,” I added. “It’s only a four-hour drive from where I live.”
“Perfect,” Gazzo said. “I’ll cover everything. Whatever you guys need.”
We left Gazzo’s office a little light on our feet. Gazzo may have just given us the keys to the kingdom.
Hank asked us if we wanted to borrow his white Tahoe for the rest of our trip in PA, to make things a little easier. He tossed the keys to Cornelius, who then gave the keys to me.
That night, Cornelius and I celebrated a bit. We had a lavish dinner at the hotel restaurant. Cornelius and I both ordered the braised short ribs. After dinner we knocked back a few Old Fashions. Looked like we had some deals in the works. No money yet, but some solid potential deals – if they could be managed properly.
The next day, we did the Rocky Run. Cornelius helped me make a goofy video out of my run up the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum to show the kids – and I’m glad I did. I felt like a kid again.
On Thursday we checked out of our room in Philly and drove to Lancaster. After checking into our room at the Marriot there, where the PASA Convention was being held, we headed out to Barto in the heart of the Pennsylvania countryside to pay a visit to Rob at Wild Child Provisions. Rob and his wife own and operate a 130-acre USDA-certified organic produce farm called Wild Child Farms. They also raise hogs and chickens.
A few years ago, Rob needed a cash crop and decided to grow hemp – like many small farmers have chosen to do. That’s how he got connected with Cornelius. Cornelius consulted with Rob, and since then growing CBD flower has been very profitable for Rob and Wild Child Provisions, the hemp arm of Rob’s Wild Child Farms.
Cornelius had worked a deal with Rob to white-label products made by Wild Child Provisions. The new Trato Diablo brand was going to sell pre-rolls, tinctures, teas, and other products from Wild Child Provisions once the e-commerce site was built and launched.