When I woke up Saturday the morning sunlight was beginning to slice through the blinds. It was cool in the farmhouse and quiet. Today Cornelius and I were going to the coast. Looked like the weather was already in our favor. The Oregon Coast is legendary for its beautiful landscapes and as a photographer, I couldn’t wait to get out there and finally see it with my own eyes. The coast was half the reason moving out to Oregon was so enticing.
We were out the door and in the Porsche-uh by about 10:00.
“Before we head out, I want to show you something,” Cornelius said. He drove up Stagecoach Road then pulled a hard right up a steep driveway that pulled into a large two-story home that was surrounded by magnificent pine trees.
“This is the house May Hampton bought for Brett and Dick to stay at while they’re here,” Cornelius said. “Check it out.”
We got out of the Porsche-uh and walked around to the rear of the house. From the back porch, the house had elevated, expansive views of the entire Rogue Valley, with both Upper and Lower Table Rocks in the background, and of course a direct line of sight to Trato Diablo Farms (click for full res):
“Why is the yard so overgrown?” I asked.
“I need to send some of the workers up here to mow and weed,” Cornelius said. “When the guys are here I usually have to send workers up here to take the trash out and stuff, too.”
“How often does Brett come out here?”
“Hardly ever,” Cornelius said. “He doesn’t even have a job title with the company. His business card literally just says Owner.”
“So why not just stay in a hotel? Wouldn’t that be cheaper?”
“Not necessarily to May,” he said. He huffed through his nose and looked at me, “These people are rich, Nate. Like I said, senator rich.”
I’ve been around wealth before, I thought. So what?
“It’s a different world, Nate.”
“So how did you get mixed up with May Hampton?” I asked.
“I’ll tell you about it on the road,” Cornelius said. “There’s cameras here, too.”
We left the backyard and climbed back into the Porsche-uh. First leg of our trip? A thirty-minute scramble north to Grant’s Pass to pick up his friend Jenna. She was a grower at small hemp operation up there. On the way, Cornelius continued his story.
“Back in Fresno I was working here and there as a consultant in the cannabis industry,” he said. Cornelius had a degree in Business with an emphasis in Human Resource Management from Fresno State. Combined with his passion for cannabis, a consultant within a new industry could be lucrative. I knew he had landed a few gigs and even edited a few business plans for his clients. “One of my clients was May Hampton,” he continued.
“OK, so who is this person?” I asked.
“Very wealthy woman. Very intelligent,” Cornelius said. “She made millions pursuing insurance cases in the 90s. She found some sort of loophole in a government policy and all these insurance companies hired her to pursue lawsuits and she won every single one and she did this for years and years until the policy was changed. By then she had made her millions and moved on.”
“So she’s an attorney?”
“Not exactly. That’s the interesting part. She was working as a paralegal at the time. But apparently she didn’t need to be an attorney to pursue these lawsuits in court.”
I was confused but so what. I could accept the woman was rich, so there was that.
“So how did you get involved?” I asked.
“Well, May had made all this money and bought a bunch of real estate everywhere and they traveled and then she started investing in start-ups. She had actually made a killing growing orchids, which is what fueled her interest in niche artisanal agriculture. That’s how she got interested in cannabis. She called the consulting firm I was with and next thing I knew I was on a flight down to Florida.”
Cornelius opened a plastic container of edibles. We both ate a couple.
“At the time, though, I had no idea who she was at all. No idea how rich, how powerful, how well-connected,” Cornelius continued. “So they send a driver to pick me up at the airport. Guess what he’s driving?”
“A limo,” I said.
“A fucking Bentley,” Cornelius paused. “So we drive out to the coast, right? And then we get to this large, gated entrance with a sign that says Trato Diablo Estate. We go through the gate and then I see it. This huge compound that looks like a Spanish Mission. We pulled up then the driver let me inside the front door and I was just standing there in this big room with a staircase and bookshelves and chandeliers, man. Then May strolled in, You must be Cornelius, and so on. Then she showed me around. Her husband, Junior, has an office that is an exact replica of the Oval Office. He even has a replica of JFK’s desk in there. And he’s got, like, his own museum of sports memorabilia that would blow your mind. And a bunch of pictures with celebrities. Anyhow the place was monstrous and she just told me I could wander around and do whatever I wanted. I ended up getting lost,” he said.
“You just wandered around the place? By yourself?” I asked.
“Actually, that was after she took me to the guest house – which was bigger than any house I’ve ever lived in. Dude, she gave me a menu and told me I could call and order from the kitchen anytime night or day. I also had a golf cart to drive around the property in. So after I dropped my stuff off I drove the golf cart back to the main house and just started checking shit out,” he continued. “You should’ve seen the garage, bro. May drives her own Bentley. So does Junior. Anyhow, she was already tied into local and state politicians and consulting with professors at universities and stuff, know what I’m saying? So she was well aware of any upcoming or proposed legislation that might impact her decisions to invest in whatever opportunity looked promising. That’s how she got involved with hemp. I convinced her there was a lot of money to be made in the cannabis industry. That’s why she got the farm in Oregon.”
“So why hemp and not marijuana?” I asked. “There’s gotta be more money in the marijuana game.”
“Not necessarily,” Cornelius said. “With federal legalization, hemp is a lot less risky. And the margins are just as good if not better in some cases. Plus with a hemp farm already in place, a hemp grower could easily switch to marijuana if they wanted to. No-brainer.”
Cornelius swung through the drive-thru at Heavenly Sweets in Grant’s Pass and picked up a couple cinnamon rolls, chocolate frosted donuts, some Danishes and a couple vanilla lattes. Then we spun over to Jenna’s apartment complex, Cornelius shot her a text, she bounced out of her apartment, I climbed into the backseat of the Porsche-uh and Jenna climbed into the passenger seat, then we were on the road again.
“Jenna this is Nate,” Cornelius said.
“I’ve heard a lot about you,” she said. “Nice to finally put a face to all the stories.”
Jenna was a pretty redhead, youthful, mid-thirties in pigtails wearing a cute hat.
“I was just telling Nate the story about how I met May Hampton,” Cornelius said.
“Oh, well don’t let me interrupt. We have a long drive,” Jenna said.
We ate a few more edibles.
As we sped through endless miles of giant conifer forest, Cornelius continued his story.
“So why grow hemp in Oregon?” I asked.
“It was really a research facility,” Cornelius said. “May had ambitions of having a large-scale industrial grow operation in Florida, but she had to test the waters first.”
“So how does her son Brett get involved?”
“He had some stuff going on in the medical marijuana industry in Florida. He was basically overseeing his mother’s interests, but as things developed she gave him more responsibility. Basically, May was trying to give her son a job. He’s married with kids and needed something to do with his life.”
“What’s his story?” I asked.
“Pfft,” Cornelius said. “He’s a piece of shit. Hasn’t done anything with himself. Never graduated from college. Was an EMT for a while, then he was a firefighter, then he wanted to be a Golf Pro.”
“He was a pro golfer?”
“Nah, he just worked at some exclusive golf resort. That’s where he met Dick.”
“At the golf club.”
“In the pro shop, where Brett worked behind the counter.”
“So Dick was rubbing elbows with the rich old white guys at the golf club trying to score deals, eh? I know the type,” I said.
“That’s what golf is all about,” Cornelius said.
“But that’s where Dick and Brett met,” I said.
“That’s right. They soon became best friends. Next thing you know, Dick’s a family friend. He’s like a consigliere to The Hamptons. He’s going to family dinners, going on family vacations. Ultimately May put Dick in charge of Brett’s affairs, to make sure Brett didn’t continue to fuck up his life by being a lazy piece of shit.”
“Wait, so Dick is like, Brett’s caretaker or something?” I asked.
“Yeah, something like that. He’s not the first one either,” Cornelius said.
“You mean this grown-ass man can’t manage his own affairs? Is he sick or something?”
“Not at all. Just has no direction or ambition. To do anything, know what I’m saying? One time, dude, I talked to him on the phone and asked him what he was up to and Brett let out this long groan and started complaining about how he had to actually get up and take his daughter to school that morning then had to run to the bank and then to the grocery store and, y’know, he was already exhausted from his busy day.”
“Sounds rough,” I said.
“The Rich. They just don’t get it,” Cornelius said.
“So how does Brett get involved with the farm?” I asked.
“Again, he’s basically there to represent May. He doesn’t really do anything other than tag along with Dick.”
“OK, so you’re the COO and Master Grower. Dick is the CEO. How did you guys then become business partners?”
“OK, so after the first year we made enough money to wipe out our debt and pay back all our investment to May. She came up with a contract that rewarded us after that, so we could then have ownership of the company. Dick and I split 40% and May retained the rest.”
“So, Brett effectively owns 60% of the farm but isn’t really involved in the business in any way, correct?” I asked.
“Right. He just kinda follows Dick around, attends board meetings, reports back to May,” Cornelius said. “As long as we’re making money, it doesn’t really matter. I certainly don’t care.”
“Yeah, but you’re the only guy who is actually on the farm. Your other business partners are literally on the other side of the country.”
“I prefer it that way,” he said.
“OK, so after two years you guys are rolling in dough.”
“The farm is, yes. Dick and I were assigned annual salaries – $80k per year plus bonuses, not to mention ownership dividends. Last year The Hamptons gave me a $100,000 bonus. That’s how I bought the Porsche-uh,” Cornelius said. “Sky’s the limit, Nate, we’re just getting started and we’re only going to get bigger.”
“It’s like the Gold Rush,” I said.
“Bigger,” Cornelius said. “It’s happening all over the country. And nobody knows what they’re doing yet, but everyone is making tons of money. The industry can’t even catch up to the demand right now, I mean we can’t grow this stuff fast enough.”
We continued talking throughout the drive. When we finally reached the coast and found a lot at a pier, Cornelius parked the Porsche-uh. “We’re going to seed farms all across the US, Nate. Oregon and Florida are only the beginning. We’re going to have an empire. And you’re coming with me,” Cornelius said.
I never should have believed him.
But as we strolled around piers and beaches that afternoon, I couldn’t help myself. Though it all seemed risky and chaotic, I thought my presence on the farm and in the company could improve things immensely. Not only could I see a need for my help in actual farm operations, but these guys needed help developing new markets. The opportunity seemed promising. And if it got me and my family out of Arkansas and out to Oregon, then how could I lose?
BONUS JOURNAL ENTRY
April 13 
Spent the morning on the farm. Appears Cornelius hasn’t had too much time away from the farm – both by design and by choice.
Before noon we took off, headed north to Grant’s Pass. We picked up Cornelius’ friend Jenna and spent the rest of the day touring the coast.
It’s gorgeous out here. . . . Definitely worth the price of admission.
Lots of good eats out here. Cornelius’ been taking me to some killer places – every place has been incredible. Lots of good coffee spots, too.
Called Chels and the kids. Aspen had me Facetime her (video call) – she was crying. The hardest part in all this is going to be the distance . . . until they get here.