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Michael Benge Friday, 18 November 2011 11:07 TWEET COMMENTS 0

Running In Place - Page 8

And Engle's binges were epic. He talks openly, candidly, about them, spilling out stories like a stuck-open faucet. "My kids know all the stories," he says. "You're only as sick as your secrets. When I talk about mine, they lose their power. And it can make other people realize their own stuff is not so bad."

One jaw-dropping episode, in particular, illustrates the depths of Engle's addiction.

In October 1990, one of the biggest hailstorms in modern history swept through Denver, hammering more than 100,000 cars. "The little frozen golf balls were dollars from heaven for me," says Engle. "So after two weeks in Denver, I had a pocket full of money and a demon in my brain telling me I deserved a little bit of fun. Despite all evidence to the contrary, I convinced myself that this time things would be different, this time I could handle it, this time I would quit after a few hours, this time I would be at work on time the next day, this time I would be safe, this time I wouldn't die."

Although Engle lacked a drug connection in Denver, he had become adept at sussing them out. While Engle was putting out feelers at a bar in downtown Denver, a bartender told him, whatever he did, to avoid seedy Colfax Avenue, "because that's where all the bad shit goes down." Engle drove straight to Colfax.

"I finally spotted what I felt like was an acceptable risk, a young woman dressed in jeans and a T-shirt. By acceptable, I mean to say that it looked like she had showered sometime in the recent past and didn't appear to be carrying a gun," says Engle. "I pulled over and said I was looking for cocaine and somebody to share it with."

Hopping in Engle's car, the woman proceeded to direct him through some poor areas and eventually to pull over behind a dumpster, where a very large man appeared, waving a handgun in Engle's direction. Once the pair, who turned out to be siblings, intimidated Engle enough to become convinced he was not a cop, Engle purchased an "8-ball" for $250. Engle and his passenger, whom he says "loved to smoke crack ... and the fact that once I started getting high, I was only interested in getting higher," raged.

Four times in the ensuing 24 hours, Engle would return to purchase drugs from the big man. Still at it four days later, Engle was almost out of money, and his female companion took his last $100 and car keys, promising to return with one more delivery. Five hours later, the woman had not returned and, Engle figured, would not.

He could not pay his $15-per-day motel bill, and found himself out on the street, without even a jacket, in a snowstorm. He had consumed gallons of alcohol but had not eaten in five days. Delirious and starving, he wondered into a Wendy's and filled up someone's used plate at the salad bar, but was booted by the manager before he could take a bite.

"That moment was powerfully humiliating for me," says Engle. "Even after all of my drugs and bad behavior, I was embarrassed to be a vagrant, a loiterer, a crackhead."

Despondent, crying, frozen, Engle stumbled down the street, and "thought about just falling over in the deep snow and letting my body freeze. I would be well preserved, and at least I wouldn't stink."

Then, amazingly, he spotted what looked like his Toyota 4Runner a couple of blocks off Colfax in a decrepit neighborhood. Drawing closer, he could see exhaust smoke—the vehicle was running!—and his North Carolina license plates. With his heart racing, he jumped in and took off, tires squealing, in his rearview mirror noticing a woman screaming in the yard.


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