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Buying Drugs in Iconic Places

I do not often, as a rule, find myself buying drugs on the street. Nor do I make exceptions for parks.

I frown on other people buying drugs on the street, in almost all situations. This is because I have had realistic and horrid encounters with drugs of unknown origins. If I didn’t make it or know the person who did, I don’t do it.

We all make exceptions for addictions. That’s the nature of addiction. It asks for exceptions to your morals. If it didn’t, it wouldn’t be a problem.

Buying Drugs

Golden Gate Park

Photo of Golden Gate Bridge taken while driving across the bridge after buying drugs

I’ve bought weed over a dozen times in Golden Gate Park. I don’t live in San Francisco, at the time of my visits I live about an hour away. On the way I think about risk management and financial stupidity, adding up the gas, toll, difference in weed price/quality/amount, and most of all my own personal, highly-paid time. On the Golden Gate Bridge I hope there isn’t an earthquake, because I’d be horrified to die plummeting into the ocean on the way to buy a shitty two gram eighth or even shittier four gram quarter.

Golden Gate Park is an exercise in spatial black marketeering.

The front of the park is often run by a group, if not a gang, of black men selling the most compressed, least scented, two gram eighths in the park – always in the cheapo plastic sandwich bags with no zipper and that horrible little flap that the shake gets caught in.

The mid-section is populated by very old and very young hippies and punks, who create an orbiting cloud around the few of them that actually possess and sell weed. The back section of this space, and sometimes Haight street itself, is occasionally frequented by growers from all parts of the state – desperate to sell off their harvest in eighths to make the most of it, to make rent, to make the grade. Generally these people are less aware of the market, closer to the product, and give the best deals.

In addition to these – for the “drive-thru” customers, for the “to go” market – there are the runners: young charismatic men on bicycles or skateboards who will hook you up, do the legwork for you. On some days, the mid-section of hippie hill is blanketed with blankets – people selling wares which are not, upon close inspection, of any worth, but rather a front for open marijuana sales.

Thus, the park is like a department store of weed.

And Haight street has every piece of paraphernalia, every flavor of rolling paper made of trees, hemp, rice, cellulose – you name it, it’s there. The Haight and GGP are like a mall of weed

…at least from the customer’s point of view. I’ve heard “I’ve never seen you in the park before” enough times to know that from the inside it’s a tightly knit street community – that the proudly drugged out on almost anything but stimulants (anti-tweaker sentiment runs deep in early naughties California), but mostly weed and mushrooms, come here to be with other people like them. Low end partiers, many of whom actually live in the park, or on the streets nearby. The regulars. Those of us buying drugs are not regulars.

On the days it doesn’t feel like a mall, it’s like an outdoor bar, and I hate USAmerican bars. I go in, get it done, and get out.

The first time I buy in the park I come there with no sense of direction or neighborhood and a circle on the map drawn by a friend who had purchased weed there ten years prior. I ask a young black-clad gutter punk girl (literally sitting in the gutter) with a double zero gauge ring through her lip “Is this the kind of park I’m gonna get hit over the head and raped in?”

“Golden Gate Park? Naw, it’s super-mellow” she clacks out. She then gives me directions to the best place in the park, according to her, to buy weed, hippie hill. I walked about seven feet into the park before a young half black kid smilingly informs me that the tunnel is closed. He sits with a group of other kids, all white and in their early twenties, in my day they would have been ravers. They are clean, warm, happy.

“You looking for bud?”

“How did you know?

“Your cool clothes.”

He sells me an eighth out of a matchbox car case, the top layer of which contains actual cars, sitting in their miniature vinyl garages. I try to pay Los Angeles prices and he reaches back in his car case and eyeballs more buds into my bag. I am too stunned by his sweet innocence and honesty to a stranger to say anything. It is “Welcome to San Francisco” for me. 

“Be safe” I say, as I turn away from him for the last time. I’ve never seen him again, which doesn’t surprise me.

The next time is from someone that tries to sell me mushrooms in a restaurant on Haight street. Though I don’t want any mushrooms, his product looks so good I am sure he’ll know where to find good smoke. He strolls off with a vague promise and returns 30 minutes later with his friend, and that is the first time in the United States that I’ve had weed delivered to my table. It is also the beginning of my acceptance of the Bay Area, this gentle-streeted (and parked) place with honor among thieves.

Now that I have more connections the Golden Gate Park visits become a rarer thing. 

It’s kind of scummy and oddly compulsive and there’s not much to love – it’s been easy to give up. I’d rather go to some other part of the park and enjoy it, play disc golf or take a run or just stroll. What I do love about the park, though – is that such a low end, unregulated, disorganized black market can exist, thrive, and sustain over decades of time. Seedy and ugly though it is to be buying drugs on the street, it’s what it says about the context of the park, about San Francisco and the Bay Area, that I like. 

We are tolerant, we prioritize celebration, we are entrepreneurial, we are free, we are stoned.

Chungking Mansions

Chungking Mansions

I’m in Hong Kong with The Plant Whisperer, so have to walk around the block three times to calm his demeanor down enough for anyone to approach us. It’s just as well as I get to scan the scene along the way. The addict’s determination has kicked in. I’m stone cold sober and know that I stand out, but have done this so many times in so many places that it doesn’t matter I’m half a world away from anywhere they’ve been. I Google how and where to buy it before I go. 

Chungking Mansions is a stereotype well known, especially after the movie Chungking Express, and it’s circled by recent immigrants preying on tourists who prey on its reputation. The front is often “Hey mister, want to buy a watch” – said to The Plant Whisperer, never engaging with me, which now I realize I’ve heard in a dozen places in Asia

The glitzy lights make trails through my smeared glasses. That 1980’s feel that all East Asian places have blended with the giant LED video walls and I am sure I’ve walked onto the set of Blade Runner.

I think of Kowloon Walled City, and all the iconic places from history where I have not bought drugs.

Earlier in the day I visited the park that now lives where it once stood. Tried to see if I could feel the energy, but it was blank. And then took a bus ride straight out of my nightmares on a narrow, winding road through the hills to the police museum and gawked at opium pipes seized from Kowloon, made of jade. Ivory. Gold. Silver. Jewel-encrusted. 

But no, not opium. Not a drug that real wars were named after and fought over here. Just hash.

I ignore all of the touts and hawkers on our third lap, but as we come around a side street a man with open eyes and absolutely no watches makes the pitch to The Plant Whisperer, and I intervene.

“No watches, but…” I trail off.

“You want to buy something else?” He looks me straight in the eyes, from then on ignoring The Plant Whisperer.

“Shisha.” I say.

“I have Nepalese I swear from my family, I am honest and I have good stuff, you follow me.”

And I follow him. “How much?”

$300” he says. He means Hong Kong Dollars. He doesn’t tell me the weight to go with the price. “No talk now. We go where there are no cameras.”

I follow him through a maze of alleys, all clean and empty. The Plant Whisperer nervously trails behind. We walk silently in a train for a good ten minutes before reaching a tiny dark corner. He points upwards at the cameras and I see that it is indeed a dead spot. He pulls out two grades of hash and shows them to me. 

“This one is local. Is cheap. $200. This one is from Nepal, like me.” he smiles. “Is better, see?” he pulls out a lighter and shows me its quality by how it burns. I scrape off a piece with my nail and look closely. It looks excellent.

“I will take the Nepalese.” I say, and count out the money for him. He slips me a full gram from his pocket, covered in foil.

“Please take my card. I am honest. Can get you anything. I will not cheat you.” he repeats, handing me his card.

Looking into his eyes, and he into mine, I see the pain and shame of a desperate refugee.

“I trust you, Joti” I say, looking at his name on his card. The card has the printed phone number crossed out and a handwritten one scrawled underneath it. 

“I’m not supposed to be doing this.” he says. 

“Neither am I.” I reply, meaning buying drugs. We smile and shake hands. 

“Be careful,” he says. “Cameras everywhere, even when you no see them.”

“Don’t worry about me. Take care of yourself.” I say. Walking away I put his number in my phone, knowing it’s likely I’ll lose the card.

Later my Chinese host lets me stay in his apartment for a few days while he is visiting his family in Shanghai. We’ve gotten close, his humor has me lose many of my Chinese stereotypes. When he is not visiting his parents he seems to be on the phone with them frequently. And then jokes about it.

“And now I must phone my parents. To inform them that I am still alive. I do this… every day.”

Sitting in his manicured, beautiful Hong Kong apartment, I fashion a bong from a plastic bottle, a pen, tin foil, and some tape. I create a little bowl of foil and poke holes in it with a safety pin, then affix it to the stem and crumble my hash into it. 

It’s exquisite. 

Pablo Escobar’s House

Photo of Monaco House at night

I hate Medellin. It’s profoundly disturbing. I cannot ignore the impact of 50 years of violence. There are people missing limbs. Shifty stares. Strung out runners. Rich businessmen making wide circles around desperate beggars.

Each walk I take, I find at least half a dozen small plastic zipper baggies with cocaine residue inside of them. One of them is full, but I don’t trust it enough to use it. I’m not a regular user of cocaine, but I am curious to try Colombian at the source.

USAmerican cocaine primarily comes from Colombia. When the samples are seized off the street, they most often contain only a small minority of cocaine, and plenty of other drugs and fillers that have been used to bulk up the weight along the path. One of the most common of these is Levamisole, which is a veterinary deworming drug that causes agranulocytosis, which is a complete breakdown of white blood cells. 

It’s more dangerous than cocaine.

It also has a slight stimulant effect of it’s own, survives the cook from coke to crack, and even bulks it up a little, meaning there’s tremendous financial pressure to cut with it, though I am not at all sure how it’s sourced.

I’m also very allergic to Levamisole. I have a reaction that lasts about a week, wherein I can barely breathe. I’m the perfect test kit for it. I am hoping that buying drugs in Colombia will show me what Colombian cocaine is like when it’s not more than 50% Levamisole.

Of course, I cannot resist the pull of the history of Medellin, and I make my way to Pablo Escobar’s former residence, the infamous Monaco building. All of his and his cartel’s buildings are white, to reflect the drug at the heart of the industry that funded him. And so the building reflects any available light, and even in the dark, roped off, I can still see the bullet holes that riddle the edifice. 

I stand there staring, until the one armed guard sleepily watching the place notices me taking photos and shoos me away. Wanting a better photo, I decide to circle the block to get a better view. 

I see a twitching Colombian walking quickly towards me, scanning the sky for I don’t know, cameras? Pterodactyls? Chem trails?

I know that I can’t avoid him, the sidewalk is small and there’s no one else on the street. He blocks my path.

“¿Te gustan los narcos?” he asks. I have no idea whether he means the television show or the concept of the narco.

“Uh…No. No me gustan los narcos.” I respond. He hears my accent and switches into English.

“How about white lines? You like those?” he asks, eyes gleaming, intensely staring. I can tell he’s strung out on cocaine. I realize he’s asking me if I’m interested in buying drugs.

“It depends.” I respond. 

“I have some, if you want.” he reaches for his pocket. “I’ll give you a good price, not a gringo price, I’ll give you a gram for 50,000 pesos” he says. I do the math in my head. That’s about $15

I stare at him, knowing this is a terrible idea. But buying drugs on the street is always a terrible idea. It’s all about how it shakes out in practice.

“There’s a security guard right there.” I say, pointing down the block. I really don’t want to be caught buying drugs in Colombia.

“I know, I sell to him, I’m going to deliver to him right now. Don’t worry. No one cares. All the cameras are pointed at the building.” he says, looking up. 

I wonder about his story. His English is perfect, but his accent is thick. 

“Is it Colombian, made here?” I ask. 

“Of course it is. It’s good stuff, I promise.” he grins. I can tell he’s lying about the quality. But for $15, what do I have to lose? He’s obviously completely strung out, sniffing, nose red, eyes bloodshot. 

“What the fuck, why not?” I say, with instant regret as he grabs me and pulls me into the street, out of the throw of the streetlights. I fumble with the money, it’s in my bra and I feel awkward taking it out in front of him. He doesn’t react. I count it out.

He reaches into his pocket and pulls out his wallet, which looks like it’s stuffed with bills, but it’s actually small folded packets of cocaine, wrapped in magazine pages. He hands me one. I marvel that the packaging for cocaine is the same worldwide, and hand him the money.

“Thanks.” I say, which seems the right thing to say when buying drugs.

“De nada.” he smiles big. He’s missing teeth. He scuttles off.

I try the cocaine once I get to the place I’m staying. I immediately react to the Levamisole, and flush the rest down the toilet. I’m astounded at realizing that cocaine is cut at the source, in Colombia. How can this drug possibly be cheaper than pure cocaine in Colombia? I know that it is produced for pennies. And why would they take the risk of shipping something that is tried by weight when so much of it is not cocaine? I don’t know the answers, but I know that I’ll probably never snort Colombian cocaine again.

While writing this up I look at photos of the places that have facilitated me buying drugs. And I see that since my visit, the Monaco building has been addressed. With dynamite. It’s been imploded by the city of Medellin. 

Another story about cocaine in Latin America

Another story about buying drugs

Like stories about buying drugs? Here’s more:

1: Drugs and Sex: The European Lovers: Hookup

2: Christiania: Christiania

3: Mezcal: Ruta Del Mezcal

4: Sonoma County, California: Tweaker Pool

5: Sugar: Gateway

6: Happy Pizza in Cambodia: Happy Pizza

7: Bhang in Delhi: Cannabis in India: Bhang


2 replies on “Buying Drugs in Iconic Places”

It was that hook line in the tweet that captured my interest. But once I’d started reading, I really couldn’t stop. Funny and entertaining, found myself chuckling in places!

The addiction has seen you travel to some exciting places. Thanks for sharing!

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