You're ordering the banana pancakes, and the guy out in the parking lot is ordering two ounces of cocaine.
(To go, please.)
Welcome to Chattanooga's new drug world. Take any leftover imaginations you may have of midnight dealers quick-pocketing drugs and money on shady street corners -- like "The Wire" on HBO -- and flush them like baggies down the toilet.
Our city's drug trade is both underground and quite above it. Documents obtained in the case against one local man paint a picture of drug deals planned and conducted in broad daylight, in the most harmless of places.
"Jenkins then drove south on Gunbarrel Road and pulled into the Bone Fish Grill parking area," court documents say.
He wasn't there for the artichoke hearts. Jenkins is Juanzell Jenkins, a local man authorities say is a major dealer of crack and cocaine. (Where'd the drugs come from? We'll get to that.)
For months, police tracked him in a "CSI"-like drama of surveillance, wiretaps, evasive driving, burner phones and undercover informants. The evidence collected against him reads like a diary, a daybook in the life of a crack dealer.
Police have evidence of him conducting deals in the parking lots of the most ordinary of places: Hamilton Place mall. Big Lots. Family Dollar. Auto Zone. Kanpai of Tokyo.
"At the lot of the I-Hop, Jenkins handed ... a plastic bag containing approximately two ounces of cocaine," court documents read.
The case against him tells us four things.
• First, don't worry. All those places are still family friendly safe.
The evidence against him does not show overt violence. He's just dealing in the parking lot.
More flapjacks, please.
• Chattanooga's drug market is alive and well.
We talk so much about shootings and gangs, yet seem to have lost any public vocabulary for drug activity. City Hall talks about reducing violence, but what about the drugs?
The case against Jenkins shows it's all a three-legged stool: drugs, violence, gangs. According to court documents, Jenkins -- who police say is a leader of the Gangster Disciples -- admits to controlling several gangs in the city "because his group controlled the cocaine."
What tail is wagging this dog? Which lever should we pull? Would a stymied drug trade lead to fewer shootings? Or vice versa? Man, what a maze.
• Our drug trade is not segregated like our violence is.
Most shootings happen within a concentrated geography, not citywide. Yet if Jenkins had left a trail of breadcrumbs behind him, you could have followed him down Gunbarrel Road, through downtown and back into Hixson.
What an ordinary looking life. Jenkins drove a VW Touareg. Lived in a nice neighborhood.
(Several days ago, police arrested three people for possession of Lots of Bad Stuff: 94 grams of meth, syringes, scales, baggies, $15,000 in cash, marijuana, a .38-caliber revolver, and a glass jar believed to contain morphine. Know where they were staying when police arrested them? The Chattanooga Choo Choo.)
People, it's everywhere.
• Our cocaine comes from Atlanta.
That's where Jenkins was getting his drugs, police say. And it's where much of America is, too.
"Atlanta has become the epicenter of Mexican cartel drug activity," Drug Enforcement Agent Chuvalo Truesdell said several months ago.
He had come to speak to the Hamilton County Coalition; his presentation was jarring.
Truesdall said Atlanta now feeds drugs to Miami, not the other way around. He said Americans consume most of the illegal drugs on earth. Said that 90 percent of the drugs consumed in America come across the Mexican border. Talked about Atlanta like it was a drug dealer's Wal-mart. A place you can buy anything, everything.
"You name it," he said.
And we are just 100 interstate miles up the road.
One hundred easy miles away from the epicenter of Mexican cartel drug activity.
Are we becoming Little Atlanta?
"Jenkins travels to the Atlanta, Georgia, area and obtains kilogram quantities of cocaine," documents say. "Jenkins then returns to Chattanooga."
That means we are just two steps removed from Mexican cartels.
Mexico to Atlanta to the I-HOP parking lot.
To go, please.
Contact David Cook at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.
David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...