When a parking spot is open and not being fought over just off La Cienega Boulevard, it’s hard not to feel like there is magic in the air.
Just as we remark on this magic, a guy of maybe thirty-some-odd years in a tank top emblazoned with the American flag, trucker cap on backwards, Jesus-long hair, biker beard and glasses with pastel flowery print board shorts skateboards past us down the middle of the street.
We walk around the corner and consider where we are. Some might call this West Hollywood but it’s actually just Los Angeles. Across the street is a billboard of the members of KISS posed in suits with the logo JOHN VARVATOS. We walk by a used car lot, a tea shop. Just down the block is the L.A. landmark Largo (at the Coronet) and what others might consider alternate L.A. bastions: the store Trashy Lingerie, a Sprinkles cupcake shop, a Ducati dealership, a rippling LCD rainbow sign advertising a psychic, a pet boutique.
The Los Angeles Times on March 10, 2014 reported on the closure of more than 100 marijuana shops. Meanwhile, since the Interim Control Ordinance passed last summer limiting the opening of new dispensaries, 300 more shops have applied for and received business tax registration certificates.
I’m not clear on whether we’re walking into a “pre-ICO” shop or not, but we’re here because this is one of the places my original interviewee mentioned to me way back in September when the column began.
We’re buzzed in and greeted by an attractive young woman with impeccable make-up who looks to be wearing clean and well-fitting workout clothes in magenta and black. After she assumes incorrectly that we are regular customers, she leaves us in the lobby and returns with clipboards and forms. It is clear this is a person who has been trained in the lost art of excellent customer service. My consort spills her doctor’s recommendation and then the pen on the floor.
“Anything else you want to drop?” the young woman says with a friendly laugh as she bends to pick up the slippery paper and pen before leaving us.
We sit in white plastic retro chairs to sign and initial three pages of documents on forms that are crisp and fresh with color logos. I look up and notice there is an enormous papier-mâché bong sitting across from us.
“Is that a costume?” my consort says aloud. It does indeed look like there are armholes and an opening where someone’s face would peek out.
Moments later, the skater with Jesus-long hair and biker beard ambles out from behind the door to the buying area, opens the door, drops his skateboard to the sidewalk and glides away.
There’s actually very little to focus on in this lobby. The ceilings are high and the walls are white, which makes the security orb stand out like a large black pupil. The wall separating us from the buying area is not full length, so we can hear conversation on the other side. One piece of art is behind us on the wall, a small woodcut triptych of a face. The papier-mâché bong costume is the centerpiece of the room.
After our forms, doctor recommendations, and driver’s licenses have been scanned we’re allowed behind the door. On one side is what appears to be an open office area for one, maybe two people. Stacks of paper overwhelm the surface of a short filing cabinet. The desk area is messy with papers, artist pencils and markers.
For such a large buying room the glass cases displaying the wares are actually very small. Two people work the counter: our young woman with customer service expertise and a young man with a golden hair and a waxed mustache. Behind them on the white wall with some signs of smudge and smear are two stickers. One reads “Thank you for pot smoking” in the font of the American Cancer Society logo. The other is in the font and colors of a FedEx label and reads “Four Twenty.” Seedlings under grow lamps line one wall. A giant screen television looms overhead on another wall and underneath are shelves that look to be Ikea, housing Playstation controls, Xbox games, and two DVDs: Jackass and What If Cannabis Cured Cancer? The glass blocks I’ve seen in a few other shops cover part of this wall. Above the seedlings are large Space Invader wall decals. On the floor below sit steel-plated dumbbells and push-up handles.
Our now-favorite pot sommelier engages us in conversation about what is inside the kitchen jars that look like they’d normally house dry pasta. Every jar has a hand-drawn label. Loose bits of marijuana, known to consumers as shake, litter the counterspace, along with a small scale and wooden chopsticks used to handle the buds. The shop offers a few of the same strains we’ve seen at other dispensaries, but in this one they offer a “Platinum Girl Scout Cookie” as opposed to the “regular.” I ask to smell something labeled “Chernobyl,” a hybrid made from three strains, and it’s hard to get the stink out of my nostrils. I cleanse my nasal palate with a sniff of Blackberry Kush. Our budtender is at turns sales-oriented and playful, offering us a smell of a “cheesy” strain, which my consort sniffs and deems “assy.”
On our way out we pause by another Ikea shelving unit topped with bamboo plants and various statues of Buddha. On display underneath are what appear to be name brand items—snack chips, bottled water, ground coffee, small bottles of bleach. One of the bags of chips is priced at $18. Upon further investigation, we realize we’re looking at sophisticated containers whose purpose is to hide items of value. I pick up a plastic-encased personal air filter, something not present in the dispensaries we’ve already visited. Also available are a variety of detox products in pill, tablet, and liquid, as well as toxin washes for hair. I pick up one yellow box to examine and it looks as though it has survived the 1970s.
Back outside on the sidewalk we walk past the chain diner restaurant that is only one of seventeen left in southern California. We say the name of the young woman who helped us, wonder where her unusual-sounding name originated.
“Did you drop everything in front of her on purpose?” I ask my companion.
“No,” she says, “but when she asked me if I wanted to drop anything else, I almost threw the paperwork down again.”