The Volvo wagon starts to finds it’s groove finally on the top of the dirt road leading to Clay’s. Helen maneuvers a place for her old friend under an ancient Redwood forty feet from the main house. Turning off the car, the engine sputters to a coughing finale, then spits and dies with a buck and surge. Helen shakes her head knowing that car repairs will have to wait, transportation expenses falls somewhere below medicine and food. Helen runs through the list in her head; Hank’s home probably getting ready for ‘The View,’ with his five pills of various multi-colors and shape and sizes wading in the middle of the coffee saucer. When Barbara Walters speaks, Hank knows it’s time to take his pills. Helen can only shake her head hoping that he’ll remember. She knows that with the four or five hours that she gets in at Clay’s, putting her at her real job at Walgreen’s in Weaverville by four with no problem, then home by nine. Since Hank was laid off two years ago from the Post Office after nineteen years of getting mail to all the hippies and settlers of the Coast, he doesn’t do much except sits in his chair. She worries that he forgets to feed himself. Of course once his health insurance had stopped, that’s when his diabetes kicks in. Helen feels lucky to get a second job at Clay’s. Why not, most of her friends work there too. Well, the friends who were known for not gossiping, not like it would matter. There are very few secrets in the Emerald Triangle, if you’re a local. Closing the car door, Helen almost catches her coat absently thinking about what to get Hank for their thirty-second anniversary coming up this weekend. Plus her sister’s son, Julian, is thinking of coming up from the City and bringing a friend for the weekend. That’s it! They’re going to have a party, just the four of them, Helen thought with a new found smile. There must be something on the shelves at Walgreen’s for Hank. With her discount, maybe she’ll splurge and get him one of those fancy foot baths for his hurting arches and corns. She grabs her trusty Fiskar’s from the glove box, scraping away some residue from the other day’s trimming.
Helen, an avid church-goer and a friend’s of Clay’s family from way back, says a prayer of thanks and of safe passage as she sees Clay going to his van parked on the gravel driveway. Clay grins and gives a dramatic nod of thanks to Helen from the front seat of the van as she makes her way to the main house. The gesture warms Helen and she blesses Clay again as she walks by him without a word and gets ready for part-time job that has saved her and her ailing husband’s life. Walking into the Great Room of the western-style home, she finds an open chair with a place setting of a wooden plate and small glass for the finger hash set at one of the many card tables with pounds of mangy Marijuana flower-tops flopped down like bulging pick-up sticks on newspaper waiting to be manicured and trimmed. It is Helen’s job, like the thirty others, to make the buds look pretty for the marketplace.
Clay was praying his smile didn’t seem too plastered on like something was up. He didn’t want to give Helen or any one of his trimmers the sense that there were any problems. The business was changing so fast and the competition from all over; the indoor growers in the City, out in the woods and the national parks, not to mention the Asian and Mex gangs, some days...it felt like it was all falling apart. But Clay assured himself, this wouldn’t be one of those days. Got to stay psyche, he sang out loud to the Radiohead instrumental. Harvest just started and this was no time to get bummed out. Clay needed his game face. He needed to be firm on his price. He wasn’t going to come down any more, he couldn’t. I put too much heart and soul into my WEED. Marijuana is in my roots.
When he inherited the biz from his dad ten years ago, when he was twenty-four, they were getting about thousand more per pound. Now with all the dispensaries popping up in the City and the whole state, the demand has never been greater, yet the price continues to drop. Leave it to the hippies not to pay attention to Supply and Demand economics. Clay thought about all the people who depend on him. There’s Helen and her friends. Part PTA, part God-fearing normal June Cleaver women, who if they lived anywhere else besides than in the Emerald Triangle, would be attending a Ladies Lunches or worse, getting welfare checks like what’s happening in Cotati. His dad tells him he’s taking it too serious, it’s the dope trade. It goes up and down, highs and lows, just like the weed. His dad is smoking too much Trainwreck to care. Besides, he made his millions. There are banks up and down the North Coast with safety deposit boxes full of green paper totaling around one hundred large in each. No taxes, no man, dad always said. Clay thought his old man was smart to get out when he did. The old guy would go out of his mind if he had to deal with today’s market. Everyone wants Kush or Purple in the name, no matter what the genus or strain. Growing season can be fudged indoors. And the worse besides the whole indoor growing thing, there’s a lot of the product out there that isn’t even organic. His dad would freak if he knew what people are planting in chemically spoiled soil and passing off as product these days. Clay knows he can’t worry about that now. He told the buyer at Compassion Depot, the dispensary he does biz with, that he would get them their product by five today. They said, if it’s not here by five, they would go with someone else, they couldn’t wait. They were running out of WEED in their store. In the old days, the buyer would say, “I’ll see you when I see you. Drive safe.” Now it’s be here by five or else. As Clay pulled into the AM/PM to meet Mara, he thought his dad could never hang in today’s market. The righteousness is slowly being tapped out by the usual reasons, money and greed. Clay scratched at the base of his long dreads and made a pact that when WEED becomes like Marlboros, he’s gone. He made a second promised as he parked the van, he would never let that happen.
Mara was still sore from Yoga. She taught three classes already that day and it was only a little after noon. Usually her muscles are more fluid but attendance has really dropped off and since harvest started, she might be hitting the bong more than usual. Besides, the WEED is so good when it’s fresh like this. Her little Toyota wasn’t that much different than the rest of the traffic on 101 going south. She counted on that. She told Clay that she didn’t care how many turkey bags he uses, the car still smells like a hothouse. But it’s like she said to Solar, her jealous roommate, “like what are you going to do? I get a free bag, easily an ounce and half. Plus, couple hundo for making the trek, doing the deed. Not bad for a college chick few times a week during the season.” Plus...plus...Clay drives the stuff to the freeway and with that Mara high fived Solar, leaving her roommate to think Mara has it pretty sweet for only having to bring a few pounds to Clay’s man in the City. She made Mara promise to let her have the gig if Mara decides to ever give it up. Mara drives a steady sixty-two miles an hour in the right lane singing to KFOG thinking about how her Solar is never going to have this gig ‘cause she never going to give it up.
She gets nasty looks for going less than the speed limit from campers and the Beamers from Napa. But every so often there’s a long hair or a knowing grin from vehicle purchased from the Triangle area that makes eye contact with her. In a split second, conspirators grin like only criminals can.
He was sorry to see her go. Armando liked Mara the most out of almost of all of Clay’s people. She was pretty. She was cool. She did her job like a pro, being on time and never having a sob story that somehow includes him helping the person with gas money or something. Armando was a city dude now. He left the hills years ago but kept the connections. For the past twenty, thirty years business has been real good. Why not? He was the only game in town, him and the other fifty thousand pot dealers in the Bay Area. But that was before the dispensaries opened shop. This was before everything changed. He took the garbage bags of WEED with turkey baster bags taped around trying desperately to conceal an odor that can’t be corralled from Mara’s old car into his nicer SUV. The sooner he could unload the WEED, the better he’s is going to feel. The public still seems to be surprised when someone in San Francisco gets busted for pot. Three pounds doesn’t sound like much, but if you have a record...Armando seen much in terms of the change. Weedapause, that’s what he should call it. Somehow as Marijuana’s matured and grown older, it’s changed. It’s no longer two business people who get together and discuss the price of Dope in China. No, now it’s a real business. Pot exchanges hands and not one joint is smoked. Guys just like Armando with duffle bags full of smoke are waiting in backrooms of dispensaries, sitting in black studio chairs, patiently ready to be summoned and have their stashed purchased. No, it’s not like the old days when you’d meet your Man in Sausalito for breakfast at noon, do the swap in the parking lot. Go for a walk and share a jay. No, it’s take a number like in a deli and wait your turn, and what hurts him most? It isn’t the prices dropping; it’s the lack of respect for the guys who got us here. Guys like me, thought Armando. He made it to the dispensary by four-thirty just like Clay asked. But that’s what Pros do. Looking around at the young hipsters, absolute and secure with their duffle bags full of WEED probably with names like ‘Igor’s eyes’ and ‘Sweet Camellia’ that are oxygen deprived or CO2 injected for the color purple effect that kids love. Armando wondered how many more there are like him. Then he knew it didn’t matter as long as he got Clay his money, so he could get his money. He wouldn’t be the weak links of the chain like the guys sitting next to him.
Karl couldn’t believe River needed a break again. She’s just been working for a little better than an hour. Maybe he’s putting out too much in the bowl next to the bong. He can hear the door chiming every few minutes so he knows business is good and more importantly, brisk. The whole business is fast. Trying to find the right people, to work for him and to buy from keeps him busy when not telling an employee who’s supposed to go on break.
Being a lifelong pot smoker helped. It wasn’t too hard to find dealers once his permit was approved for his dispensary. But to find a good, reliable one, that is the task. Everyone knows someone who is growing these days. The Avenues and the Richmond are full of Mom and Pop Stops for small cultivation. But for the Egyptian barrage variety of abundance, look to Oakland. O-Town is where it is at for bulk deliveries. Karl suspected there was some organization behind his East Bay purchases, but what can he do? The stuff flies off his shelves. Everyone has a card it seems these days.
Karl rubs his eyes and cleans his magnifier with the soft cloth he keeps in a box that he has from when he was a child in Hamburg. There are three dealers yet to be seen and he only has money for two of them. Someone going home sad, Karl thinks as he gets up to inspect the next seller’s wares. Oh well, such is the business we’ve made.
On the other side of the wall where patients line up while waiting their turn at the counter, a happy kid who just finagled a card by telling the doctor his back aches after working a forty hour week at the quarry is just leaving the dispensary. The bell on the door echoes as he exits with a quarter ounce of Purple O.G. Cinderella Kush in smell-proof paper bag throbbing in his coat pocket. The kid can’t wait for the weekend. He and his partner are going up to his Aunt Helen’s place at the River. She doesn’t know he smokes, but he thinks this is the weekend for no more secrets.