Autumn arrives in Los Angeles with its drizzle of rain ruining the recently washed cars and dead leaves backing up the city sewer grates. It has turned “cold” as only natives and long-time residents call the chill that settles somewhere in the mid to low 60s. A Sunday afternoon drive towards the ocean, then, requires an extra sweater or scarf.

After some cursory consultation with, a trip is planned to visit some dispensaries close to the ocean. Not Venice Beach-close, but designated “seaside community” close. The block I’m looking for actually contains three different dispensaries, amid courtyard apartments, a dry cleaner, a realty office, chiropractor and tailor. The closer one is to the ocean, the higher the rent, so “affluent” is a decent descriptor of this community, and it’s designated as such on the unincorporated area’s Wikipedia page.

The street parking we find is at one end of the three-dispensary block. I decide to go in to the first one we come across.

Privacy windows with the name of the dispensary and “Pre-ICO” appellation are our clue that we’re walking into a dispensary. Without the usually ubiquitous green cross, I often look twice to make sure the storefront we’re entering is indeed a dispensary.

Once we’re past the first security door, we’re greeted by a man who clearly takes pride in his arms. They are tattooed and thickly muscled. He comes out from behind a table with a computer and papers on it to let us in and informs us of what the dispensary needs from patients in order to enter the showroom. A set of dumbbells on the floor by his workstation reveals what he must be working on when business is slow. A young woman also helps usher us in. We’re told to produce prescription cards and driver’s licenses. A photo will be taken. We’re handed paperwork that, once completed, will allow us to become members of this cooperative. The form is short and mentions membership, which we learn is free. The photo is for a membership card that patients use for future visits. I stand against a white wall and smile for the young woman, a tight-lipped and rather self-conscious grin, as we’re in a room with a handful of strangers, all waiting our turn to enter the showroom.

The flooring is a modern ceramic tile that would suit someone’s residence. A few random geometric, psychedelic, computer-generated looking designs are displayed on the walls, and a fish tank hums quietly behind the other small table where the young woman sits after taking our photos. The waiting room can comfortably hold about six to eight people with its couches and random chairs. A whiteboard displays a calendar for November and the free offers for patients of this dispensary, which include massage, blood pressure checks, yoga, “marijuana 101” on Sundays, “advanced grow,” and a once-a-month dietician. On the wall behind a water dispenser hangs a lone color postcard for an Artist’s Way group. Music I can only describe as someone else’s version of alternative rock plays over speakers I can’t see. Under a small table there is an empty glass jug labeled TIPS.

Our fellow patients are a little older than patients I’ve seen at other dispensaries, and we are two of three women waiting. One short, jolly man enters and cuts the line because he knows exactly what he wants, according to the conversation he has with the man who let us in. There are no dog bowls, no Star Trek references. There is, however, a small stack of books for browsing, including one with marijuana trivia. My companion shows me a page referencing Alice B. Toklas’s cannabis brownies recipe, made famous in The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook.

I can only deduce that the showroom is small as people are showed out and others are ushered behind another security door. Two large men in dress shirts and slacks exit the showroom. “Girls,” the man with muscles calls to us. We enter a room that’s easily half the size of the waiting room. A different young woman stands behind the glass cases that hold samples of various strains of marijuana, as well as oils, edibles, and paraphernalia. Shelves holding T-shirts emblazoned with strain names—GRANDDADDY PURPLE and BUBBA KUSH—live under the LCD flat screen that flashes the list of offerings. The woman behind the counter is generous in describing the strains and offering a look at buds underneath the jeweler’s lamp that is a fixture in dispensary showrooms. When we remark on the price list for ounce-sized purchases, she says, “For some people, buying by the ounce is the norm.” Later, when we compare notes, my companion points out that the prices were easily about 10% higher here than in other dispensaries we’ve looked at further inland. I can only attribute this to the affluent signature of this community.

Admiring the goods, I feel carefully watched but assume that comes with the territory. But I turn to see a face looking at us from a small window on the opposite wall from the glass cases. It’s then I understand that the woman showcasing is never the woman handing patients their medication; the person behind the door with the little window is in charge of this task. A little drawer opens under the window and the person, who for some reason I find difficult to look at directly, pushes two plastic membership cards toward us. Next to the window is a flyer for the dispensary with a QR code that will enable the patient to receive announcements of discount days. We take our cards and thank the somewhat unidentified muffled voice behind the door, and the woman. Back through the security door, we’re in the waiting area again. We are thanked and asked if we received our cards that I’m eager to look at up close. The muscled man gets up from his chair and moves to open the door for us to exit.

This small block with its three dispensaries and one high end smoke shop sits across from hotels that vary in price range as one goes further east. The next block down contains more apartments, restaurants, and another dispensary. The smoke shop, which features, among other accoutrements, a pocket-sized, temperature-controlled, vaporizer that runs on a lithium ion battery that will set a consumer back close to $300, is managed by a man who reminds me of certain other men I’ve met before. He seems to run this shop because it satisfies him on more than just a business level. The man is happy to show us the gadget and explain its finer points. He says something about sitting on a couch as I’m leafing through the vaporizer’s instruction guide. When I look up, an elderly man is sitting on a chair in the corner of the shop. I’m certain he was not there before. He doesn’t appear to be looking at anything in particular, and he seems not to be security, but it’s a little eerie, as though he’s an apparition who showed up to listen in on the vaporizer sales talk with a faraway look in his eyes.

Walking out of the shop and back into the nippy air of beach evening, I notice the dispensary I’d originally intended to visit. A giant ficus shoots up from a room on the second floor of a building that advertises massage and lash extensions. There are no curtains and it looks well lit and warm. I finally look down at my membership card.

There’s my photo, quite a bit better than any Costco membership photo, and underneath it is the date my prescription expires and the word MEMBER. The dispensary name graces the top of the card, above a blurry photo of ocean waves receding on a shoreline. In the middle of the ocean is the gold, coded memory chip that presumably captures data such as visits, purchases, and member identification. PROTECT THIS CARD AS YOU WOULD CASH the card says on the back. My name is nowhere on the card.