Annie in Wonderland
In which we learn that the grass is not always greener on the other side.
The trouble started when I left my jacket in the car. Or maybe it started when the plane touched down in Denver. Or maybe it started in 1975…
If you attended college in the 70’s, you smoked marijuana. It wasn’t the greatest quality – seeds and stems were just part of the deal and who knows where it came from – but it was cheap, plentiful, and easy to obtain. Everyone knew that guy who always had a little extra. Your friends were willing to share at nominal cost. Or you could just hang around a likely group and wait for someone to say, “You want summa this?” You could find “summa this” whenever you wanted it without ever interacting with an actual Dealer. Bottom line: if you didn’t smoke some righteous weed, man, you should write your college and complain that they failed to provide a proper environment for higher education [rimshot].
Then came the 80’s: Reaganomics, a job, a family, post-Valdez drug tests. One day you realize that it’s been years since you smoked any dope. None of your friends and co-workers smoke it. You wouldn’t know where to get any if you wanted it. What are you supposed to do, hit up Rafael in the mailroom? Ask that admin with the son in high school if he can set you up with an ounce? While those approaches would probably have worked, they just weren’t socially acceptable. Besides, changing a diaper while stoned isn’t something you want to try. I would have put the thing on my kid’s head, laughed my ass off, and called my friends to come over and check it out. For most of us normal people, Smoking Marijuana was eventually filed away in the folder marked Things You Used To Do.
Fast-forward a few decades. The kids are grown up and on their own. You are approaching retirement. The job – whatever you’ve made of it – is what it is. If you haven’t made CEO by now it isn’t going to happen. When you consider the pros and cons of revisiting your old college habit, the answer is “Why the hell not?”
And then – Boom! – a gift from the Marijuana Gods. Colorado, a place you visit occasionally on business, legalizes marijuana. And better yet, people set up nice little stores where you can just walk in and buy it. And they put the stuff in all sorts of tasty little treats so you can eat it without smoking up your lungs, your clothes, the hotel room, or your PowerPoint slides. All you have to do is buy one of these treats, take a nibble, and go wandering around behind the little animals.
So… When my Significant Other – let’s call her Annie, a good name for a hippie chick – made a business trip to Denver, I took some time off and went along for the ride. We went up the Friday before her meetings to do a little clubbing, a little hiking, and to take in the Tedeschi Trucks Band at the famous Red Rocks Amphitheatre. It was a normal pre-business vacation until, after piling into the rental car and exiting the airport, Annie said, “I need to stop and get something.” I wasn’t sure what she meant, so Annie had to spell it out: she wanted to stop at a dope store.
Full disclosure: I don’t do this sort of thing. I work in an industry that has zero tolerance for THC. Even a few residual molecules, floating around in that sector of your brain that you never use anyway, will set off an Exit Interview. And while I‘m looking forward to retiring from the job, I’d like to wrangle a few more performance bonuses out of the deal before I ride off into the sunset. Annie, on the other hand, works for a more enlightened crowd. If she does her job well, makes money for her employer, and doesn’t piss off too many people, they don’t mind if she rearranges a few brain cells on the weekend. Just as long as all of the neurons are back in their proper positions on Monday morning. So this was Annie’s show; my role was to Trip Sit the hippie chick.
We found a “dispensary” – there’s no shortage of them in Denver – and pulled in. These stores have a few common characteristics: most are not in the best part of town or in the nicest buildings, they have cute names like Mile High and Green Man, and they display a big green cross: the same green cross that pharmacies display in Europe. There is still a pretense that the product is “medicine.” It might be medicine for some, but for most customers the only thing being medicated is Reality (not that there’s anything wrong with that!).
When we entered, we were greeted by a man who checked our ID’s then pointed out the ATM machine that occupied the most prominent position in the lobby. The dope business is a cash-only enterprise. Banks and credit card companies won’t touch it since marijuana is still illegal at the Federal level. If the industry remains cash-only, it will eventually fall under the control of the guys who make offers that you can’t refuse. How do I know this? Name one cash-only, pleasure-oriented business that hasn’t, at some point in its history, been controlled either by organized crime or a cartel. The opportunities for skimming, tax evasion, and money laundering are just too great, especially when the inventory is grown in the back room. And you don’t want to mess around with these guys when your product has a tendency to go (cough cough) Up In Smoke. The only way to insure that a business is on the up-and-up is to monitor its cash flow, which means they have to use banks like every other honest enterprise. You can’t monitor cash flow when the “flow” is being carried around in a brown paper bag.
After passing muster with the doorman, we stood in line and waited to enter the merchandise room where Annie would make her selections. Only two people – or couples – were allowed to be in the room at one time. The arrangement was similar to a high-dollar jewelry store, which is understandable given the cost of the product.
Annie purchased a couple of “edibles” (the generic term for anything that you eat, rather than smoke or vape), a pre-rolled joint, and a cigarette lighter. The total was about $70. Yeah, this stuff’s expensive, definitely a middle-class-and-higher habit. Those in the lower economic tier can’t afford to indulge very often, which is one probable reason there has been a notable uptick in the level of human detritus – homeless, beggars, people sleeping in alleyways – that litters downtown Denver. The cost will no doubt lead to higher crime rates. Yeah, I know that marijuana isn’t addictive. And I’m sure its proponents will maintain that no one will steal in order to get high. But there’s a fine line between something you’re addicted to and something you really really enjoy a whole lot. And I knew several people, Back In The Day, who, if they were down to their last $70, would spend it on grass rather than putting it aside for the rent. So where does the rent money come from on the first of the month? You also have to figure that the product’s expense, combined with the consumer’s desire, will result in a nice little unregulated black market. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure this stuff out. I’m just sayin’: the full cost to society has yet to be compiled.
But back to the story…
After paying, we exited through the Viewing Room where, behind glass, we saw row upon row of perfectly formed marijuana plants awaiting harvest. Honestly, to someone who used to hide his meager little stash in a 35mm film container, it was mind-boggling.
Annie’s edibles comprised a pair of red disks, individually packaged and labeled, each about the size of an Oreo cookie and of a consistency approximating a soft Gummi Bear. Each edible contained, along with all-natural cherry flavoring and an infusion of Vitamin C (it’s good for you!), a 10mg dose of THC. Annie decided to test the product’s impact by eating half of one disk.
About forty-five minutes later we were lunching in a sidewalk cafe and Annie was proclaiming the dubiously non-descript French fries huddled forlornly on her plate “the best fries I’ve ever had, man!” As I watched Annie devour her greasy victims, I began to suspect that she was something less than a Full-Blooded Rastafarian. She then spent the next hour watching, with fascination, the movements of a construction crane working in the next block and commenting on the numerous dogs and dog owners that trotted by. Denver must have as many dogs as it does humans, and one wonders: what came first, the dogs or the marijuana? The two have always been inextricably linked; I’m convinced that God created dogs to give stoned people something to look at (“Hey, look at the dog, man! Man, that dog is crazy!”). At any rate, the experiment was deemed a success, and 5mg seemed to be the right dose for Annie’s brain. She would consume the other half of the edible the following night at the concert.
Plans for Saturday involved a drive up Lookout Mountain, a visit to Buffalo Bill’s grave, some hiking, and the concert at Red Rocks. The Internet, everyone’s favorite source of weather information, predicted a temperature in the 50’s that night in the mountains. So I packed a fleece jacket. And Annie, a Professional Planner, suggested I put the uneaten half of the edible in my jacket pocket to lessen the chance of forgetting to take it to the concert.
Although the air was a cool 54F when we left the hotel that morning, it had warmed up to 80 by the time we reached the top of Lookout Mountain. I won’t go into the details of these adventures. We saw fat tourists and rowdy kids, sweating people on bicycles who appeared utterly miserable as they toiled up the 5 miles of switchbacks leading to the peak (one biking website warns that on the last 2 miles “you are throwing up in your mouth”), lots of dogs, and lots and lots of cargo shorts. Cargos are the requisite uniform for Colorado residents. They hand them out at the border, two pair per person. And, as it was quite warm even at the higher elevation, the jacket was left in the back seat of the car, which was parked in a sunny gravel lot. This was when our personal ball of twine started to unravel.
Returning to the car after a hike, I noticed something red seeping from the jacket pocket. It was, of course, the cherry edible which had completely liquefied and was now nothing more than a sticky residue lining the pocket. So no edible. We hadn’t brought a backup edible, but that wouldn’t have helped anyway as it would have melted also. The lesson here is that these gummy things have a melting point somewhere south of a chocolate bar. I guess that promotes local commerce because there’s no way you can transport them any distance without refrigeration, not in the summer anyway.
Attending the concert without altering the time-space continuum was out of the question. The lineup was a trio of bluesy, pass-the-mushrooms, let’s-jam-on-this-chord-change-a-few-more-minutes bands, the type that practically demand that you toke up before listening. And although Annie is more of an Earth, Wind, and Fire type, there was no way she was going to experience this music unstoned.
Over lunch at a family-type bar and grill (think Buffalo Wildwings but in a mall and with waiters wearing cargo shorts), we discussed where we might find a reliable dispensary. Being a male, I figured we should just drive around at random until we stumbled across one. That would probably work inside Denver, but we were out in the suburbs where the green crosses are farther apart. Being female, Annie suggested that we Ask Someone For Directions. This prompted the discussion of Who Should We Ask. The obvious choice was a busboy, but they’re never around when you need them. Second choice was a bartender.
We had three bartenders to choose from: a guy, a cheerleader type, and a girl who looked like she’d just rolled out of bed. I suggested Just Out Of Bed as the likeliest candidate. Annie wanted The Guy. As it happened, both were busy when Annie approached the bar, and she had to settle for Cheerleader. “I don’t do that sort of thing,” she said (probably a lie, but one has to keep up appearances). “But [Just Out Of Bed] probably does.” So this is a universal sign: if you look like you just rolled out of bed, people will assume that you Do That Sort Of Thing. In this case it was a False Positive, as Just Out Of Bed claimed that she doesn’t do that sort of thing, either (obviously a lie; she isn’t fooling anyone). That left The Guy, who of course does Do That Sort Of Thing, was perfectly happy to admit it, and gave excellent directions to his favorite dispensary.
The shop turned out to be on the edge of a residential neighborhood. This time I stayed in the car while Annie went in to score a lid (or whatever they call it these days). She returned several minutes later bearing a thick plastic bag stuffed with $250 worth of THC-infused products. The bag was secured with a heavy plastic bolt. Apparently dispensaries near residences must put the goods into one of these special bolted bags. I guess the idea is that you won’t be able to step out of the store and immediately start passing out cherry edibles to the kiddies like Good King Wenceslas. You have to wait for, like, 30 seconds while you unbolt the bag. The Special Bag costs extra but repeat customers can bring their own Special Bag. Always good to recycle; it’s Environmentally Sound.
I’m not sure what Annie was thinking. She goes into the store to buy a single 10mg edible of which she planned to eat half. She comes out with enough THC to carry her through a Grateful Dead reunion tour. At any rate, we were now fully armed and ready to take on Red Rocks and the Tedeschi Trucks Band.
Red Rocks may be the most beautiful concert venue on the planet. It’s easily the most beautiful venue I’ve experienced, and I’ve seen some of the great ones: the Old Gym at Tennessee Tech, the Cotton Bowl, the warehouse known as the Brooklyn Night Bazaar. Red Rocks is a natural amphitheatre nestled between huge bluffs of red sandstone. The views are great because it’s Way Up There, at around 6400 feet. You park your car below the amphitheatre, walk up the road, then climb a long flight of very steep steps just to get to the gate, which is at stage level. After entering, you have another long climb to get to your seat. The farther back you sit, the longer the climb. It has become a popular location for
fitness buffs mental patients to run and work out.
It’s legal to purchase dope products in Colorado, but you aren’t supposed to consume them in public, not even the inconspicuous edibles. Annie, being a law-abiding citizen – for the most part – didn’t want to take anything into the concert and decided to dose herself with an edible before we left the car. This is where the wheels came off the wagon. Friday’s pilot project had demonstrated that 5mg of THC was a healthy dose. Nice buzz but nothing she couldn’t handle. But the stoner who sold her this particular edible – not a nice cherry gummy but something resembling a green brownie – had maintained that you needed at least two, 20mg, to get a proper buzz. Not feeling up to a twenty but perhaps feeling overly confident after the successful test drive, Annie popped a full 10mg chunk into her mouth.
The reaction was immediate: “UDFHGGGHH!!! Gross!!! [sounds of spitting out the car window] I feel like I just ate an entire joint!” I take it the taste left something to be desired. But with the chemicals now percolating through Annie’s body, we started the long climb up to the gate, which would not open for another forty-five minutes.
Waiting concertgoers packed the steps. The crowd comprised a young and aging mix of what my dad would uncharitably call dope-smoking hippies, many of whom were violating the law (gasp!) by openly indulging. Dad would have been wrong about the smoking part, though, since vaping seemed to be more popular than firing up. Annie and I stood out like a pair of sore thumbs as we were the only ones not wearing cargo shorts.
The two guys ahead of us – who had apparently just met – launched into a detailed discussion of Phil Lesh and Friends, the loose musical amalgam led by the ex-Grateful Dead bassist and with whom Derek Trucks occasionally plays. After an extended analysis of “atonal solos” (words they repeated about infinity times) they got down to the important stuff: who stands where on the stage. The consensus was that Derek Trucks is usually at stage right, which is where they had both purchased tickets. I thought about jumping into the discussion when they mentioned Dave Nelson, lead guitarist with the New Riders of the Purple Sage, my favorite band back in the day. But I held off because I knew I would be labeled a Rookie if I didn’t know what gauge he uses on his B string. I know he uses a string-pull device on the B but, heck, everybody knows that. I also know that Dave played lead guitar on “Box of Rain,” one of the few Grateful Dead songs on which Phil Lesh was the lead vocalist. But that’s common knowledge, too; if I had used that as a bid to enter the conversation they would have looked at me the way a bouncer looks at a 16 year old trying to get into a bar with his dad’s driver’s license.
Annie, with the edible now kicking in, was completely fascinated by these guys because, she told me later, she thought that one of them was Louis C.K. I wondered why she was staring at him with her mouth open. She said she kept waiting for him to say something funny.
As 6PM approached we were still packed onto the steps like upright sardines when Annie murmered, “I think I need to sit down.” I tried to maneuver her into a seated position – not easy due to the crush of bodies around us – when Annie solved the problem by THUNK! falling to her knees then THUNK! tipping forward and striking her forehead on the concrete. Picture the last gasp of Elvis as he toppled off the toilet. Annie was lights out.
One never knows how one will react in a crisis. I now know that if you pass out at my feet I will tug at your clothing, say your name several times, and try to get you to sit up. CPR? Check for a pulse? Make sure you’re still breathing? Damn it, Jim, I’m a blogger not a doctor! But after a few minutes of these highly professional efforts I got Annie seated on the steps. She wasn’t dead or choking or gasping for breath, so I figured she must not be too bad off.
The people around us, meanwhile, kept yakking, too stoned to notice or comprehend, or too wrapped up in the really important parts of Life, like Phil Lesh and Friends. At this point the gates opened and the Army On The Steps surged forward. Now they noticed Annie and me because they were tripping over us. Someone said “That lady passed out,” someone handed us a half-empty water bottle (yeah, I think I’ll pass on that), someone said “Put her head between her knees.” No one stopped to help. At least someone said “When I get to the top I’ll tell security.”
Two security people wearing yellow shirts and blue cargo shorts arrived forthwith. Annie was now semi-conscious, so the Yellow Shirts suggested we haul her up the steps and through the gate where she would be met by the medical staff.
Even in this emergency-ish situation, we had to cough up our tickets at the gate. I suppose this would be required of anybody, including a corpse. Don’t want anyone sneaking in by pretending to be dead. This being the Digital Age, we didn’t have anything as prosaic as actual paper tickets, just some scan-thingies in an app on Annie’s iPhone. It’s a tribute to the designers of iOS that even a stoned, half-blacked-out person was able to access the scan-thingies and get us through the gate. The iPhone’s ease of operation no doubt enables the huge volume of Drunk Texting and Sexting that takes place every weekend. Someone needs to invent an app that decreases the phone’s user friendliness as alcohol is consumed. Inside the gate we got Annie propped up against a railing where she was found by the EMTs of West Metro Fire Rescue. I have to insert here that these guys were great. Professional, thorough, completely non-judgmental, and funny. If you have a medical emergency, these are the guys to call. With Annie coming around, they began a verbal examination to uncover the root of the problem.
Do you have a heart condition? No. Has this happened before? No. Do you suffer from altitude sickness? No. Are you dehydrated? Stick out your tongue. Yeah you’re a little dry. Have you been drinking? A glass of cheap Moscato at lunch. Are you on any medication? No. Well, I think we should get an ambulance and transport you to an emergency room for a complete examination.
At this point I finally had to blurt out: “Well, she is stoned out of her gourd!”
This information triggered a collective “Ohhhh. Now we get it!” And the two defining questions:
Are you from out of state. Yes.
Was it edibles? Yes.
As the EMTs explained later, older people who haven’t smoked anything in over thirty years fly in from out of state and the first thing they do is stop at a dope store and buy some edibles. But, as one of the EMTs said, “This isn’t the same weed that you smoked in college.” The 10mg of THC in the standard edible will kick your middle-age butt.
There are scientific reasons why edibles are more potent than smoked weed, involving passage through the liver and other anatomical stuff (read this to learn more). But the main problem is that this business of extracting THC from marijuana and infusing it into an edible is uncharted territory, based on dubious manufacturing methods and non-existent quality control. Yeah, there’s a green cross on the storefront, but the guys making these edibles don’t work for Merck or Pfizer. When you pop an edible into your mouth, you have no idea what it’s going to do to you. So start slow and for God’s sake don’t take dosage advice from the stoner who sells it to you. The guy who sold this green thing to Annie told her she would need two for a righteous buzz!
The problem now identified, the EMTs suggested we drag Annie to their clinic, watch her for a while, and stuff some food down her. I put my arm around Annie and tried to walk her to the clinic, but halfway there she started fading out again. So two EMTs grabbed her and more or less carried her the rest of the way like a prisoner being led off for execution. Annie was laid out on a gurney, her vital signs checked (normal-ish), and given an EKG [yeah I know there’s a bobble. I’ve always had that]. I was dispatched to fetch hot dogs, and Annie spent the next 90 minutes laughing at my “jokes” (amazing how my material improves when the audience is blasted) and occasionally fading out. She got a second EKG and another check of vital signs.
While we waited for Annie to stabilize, another victim walked into the clinic, a middle-age woman complaining that she was dying. Again the telling questions:
Are you from out of state? Yes.
Was it an edible? Yes.
The EMTs assured her that she was not dying and prescribed food and music. I could empathize with this person. In college I once got so completely stoned that I thought I would never come down and asked my roommate to take me to the emergency room. Wally just handed me an entire loaf of white bread and told me to chill out.
The dying woman wanted to wait out the concert in the clinic, just in case she actually did die, but the EMTs discouraged that. “In another hour this place will be full of people like you. We don’t have room for all of them.” She was released into the care of a friend with the instructions, “Don’t let her jump off a cliff. [alarmed look on face of friend] I’m kidding. She won’t try to jump off a cliff. Enjoy the show.”
By now Annie seemed to have come down enough to walk on her own. They let her go in my care, and I was officially recorded in a computer as the Responsible Party (possibly the first time I have ever had that designation). We very slowly made the long climb up to row 55 and got to our seats in time to hear the last song by Doyle Bramhall II. The band was great – well, that one song was great – and the view was fantastic.
But just as the Dope Gods had frowned on us, so did the Weather Gods take exception to our presence. It had been drizzling steadily for the last hour, but nothing unmanageable. As the band was packing it in, all the Windows of Heaven were opened and the water came down in a torrent. Pretty miserable, but survivable. Then it started hailing. And in the midst of this enormous Ice Bucket Challenge, I heard a feeble, “I want to go home.”
An hour later we were dry and warm in the hotel, Annie was marveling at the little suction cups left attached to her body after the EKGs, and she was vowing to “Never do that again.” I guess “that” meant take a full 10mg dose. Because the next night, after downing half of a cherry gummi, she was counting the E’s on a pack of Camel cigarettes. “The number of E’s changes every time I count them! Oh WOW, man!”