Looking to cast light on a lost age of outlaw heroics, NBC News senior writer Dokoupil digs into the adventures of a major drug smuggler of the 1970s and ’80s: his father.
If you smoked marijuana on the East Coast after President Richard Nixon declared war on drugs in 1972, chances are “Big Tony” Dokoupil had a hand in getting it to you. Highly intelligent and entrepreneurial, the senior Dokoupil was a college dropout and recovering junkie when he discovered that dealing pot was a highly effective way to earn lots of money quickly. Within a few years, from bases in Miami and the Caribbean, he was helping to smuggle hundreds of thousands of kilos of Colombian Gold all the way north to New England and as far west as Colorado, until a cocaine habit he developed clouded his judgment and sent his life and career into a tailspin in the mid-1980s. Once a self-described “Pirate King” at the apex of Miami’s drug scene, by the early ’90s, Big Tony was a paranoid wreck, sleeping under bridges, assumed to be dead by his former friends and family, trying to remember where his buried treasure went and waiting for the Drug Enforcement Agency’s ax to fall. Though Big Tony was more an idea than a steady presence in his life, Dokoupil the younger, now a father himself, struggled with an intense ambivalence about his dad. A bit of a delinquent himself in high school, Little Tony was saved, mostly, by a talent for baseball that earned him a college scholarship, but he remained haunted by the ghost of his father in his genes. “I’ve tried to write a broad chronicle of marijuana-smoking, drug-taking America rather than a closed circle of family woe,” he writes.
While the author does show how the drug culture has grown up and settled down, his father’s story and his own outshine the large-picture history and bring it up-close and personal, with humor, sensitivity and a keen eye for the surprising detail.