One Pack. No Turning Back.



Day 34: Westbury, NY, 7.22.15

Number of miles driven today: 59

Total miles driven on road trip: 6,983

Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts? I counted 6 DDs for every 1 Starbucks.

Starbucks' record (# of days Starbucks was more common): 20-11-2

Dunkin' Donuts' record: 11-20-2

Cheapest gas I saw today: $2.83

Number of states visited overall: 18

Number of red states visited overall (as of 2012 presidential election): 10 (Texas, Arizona, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina)

Number of blue states visited overall: 8 (California, New Mexico, Florida, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York)

Number of rats I saw fighting over a discarded Snickers bar on the subway tracks: 3

Injuries sustained to my 2002 Honda Accord almost 7,000 miles into the trip: Broken windshield fluid dispenser, blown right headlight

Number of speeding tickets: 0

Number of parking tickets: 2

Dwight Gooden Jr. pulled up the right sleeve of his Doc Gooden brand t-shirt, revealing a large tattoo on his upper bicep. It pictured a cross with his son's name. Unlike the other tattoos covering both of his arms, this one had relief, a slight elevation of the skin where the ink had been injected.

"Feel that," he told me, "and then feel the other ones. You can feel the difference, right?"

"That one," he continued, pointing to the cross, "I got in jail."

He explained how the inmates rigged up a tattooing device--they used the motor from the washing machine powered by batteries, a safety pin, and for ink, they burned a black Checkers chip until the dye vaporized, which they then collected in a tube. 

The tattoos on his right arm represent the lighter aspects of his life, while the right arm is reserved for the darker sides of his past. And there are plenty of options for the right arm.

I sat at the kitchen table of the Gooden household in Westbury, NY, a middle class town in central Long Island praised for its "melting pot" environment and demographics, as whites, blacks, and Hispanics are all well-represented. 

"I'm big on love," he told me, flashing a bright smile. His face was smooth, well-proportioned. It lacked the bluntness of his father's. If Doc Senior was often caught walking with his head down, Doc Junior's head is always up, waiting for a camera. 

"I want to speak to kids of successful people. I know what it feels like to just want to feel normal. I'm not him," he said, pointing to an autographed photo of his dad. "I have the name Dwight Gooden, but I'm Junior. I'm me." 

By the time Junior, or Little Doc as he was always known, was 14, he was in the streets of Tampa, soon "catching cases" for crack cocaine possession and intent to sell. He was never homeless, but his playground was the streets of East Tampa. In his own words, he was "young and dumb" and having plenty of fun. He was also filthy rich for a teenager--crack is a lucrative industry.

He lived with his mom Debra (the only child she and Dwight Senior would have; Senior had six more kids with 2 other women), her son from a previous relationship, and his Uncle Elmo, who was close in age to him. It was not an extravagant lifestyle; not even a modest one.

"My mom made $25,000 a year," he said, working for a children's medical services center. During the summer months, he would join his dad in New York City and experience the complete opposite world. Limos, five-star restaurants, and the adulation of the most powerful city in the world in the most powerful country in the world.

Little Doc didn't understand it. He had lots of half-formed questions that only now he can complete. Why did his mom have so little and his dad had so much? Why did he not grow up with a man in the house?

"I have a lot of 'why' questions for everyone" he said. 

I asked him why he doesn't ask his dad those questions now. His bedroom is just across the hall from his. 

"I dont know why I don't ask," he said. Little Doc looks away, stealing a glance back at me. 

"I think because I know the answers."

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