So apparently This American Life is chronicalling peoples stonned adventures, regardless of which substances you may have ingested. Here's the link for anyone interested in sharing their stories. I figured I'd write up a few quick paragraphs paraphrasing my time in California. For those that know me, it wasn't an easy trip. In fact, I find it hard to believe that any of it actually happened. It feels so sureal looking back on it all. For anyone interested, here's what I wrote:
Including my name in the email might be a stupid mistake. But this is a story about stupid mistakes so I guess it's ok. My Name is Corey and I come from the Hamptons specifically the East Hampton-Montauk region. I’m about to tell a story about how I spent a year of my life in Oakland California getting by off of the illegal marijuana industry while living in a run down hotel converted into monthly rentals. I prefer calling the hotel “squat central” as a majority of the people living there were either months behind on their rent or just plain squatting. A person I met there: Jimmy lived two rooms down from me and was making crystal meth to sell on the streets. He broke into his room and was not a regular tenant. Oakland was an interesting contrast to the Hamptons but as someone that’s always appreciated art and music which juxtaposes two extremes it’s a period of my life that I both admire and appreciate.
It all started sometime after college. You might expect the Hamptons to have a thriving economy but to be perfectly honest there’s no work to be had in the off season. It’s a summer resort town and if you don’t work in contracting or real estate there’s not a whole lot of capital to be made out here. I met a girl from Sag Harbor at a party one night. She said she was moving to Oakland California and that she didn't really have much of a plan other than to crash at a friend’s house until she could find a place to live. I asked her to take me along but she was hesitant until I let slip that I’m transgendered. At that point she became willing to make the journey with me saying “I’ll do anything in my power to help.”
One week later with $3,000 in my pocket and my cat Wolfgang, I started to make the long drive across country. The only notable feature about this part of the trip is that Wolfgang got fleas somewhere in Arizona. Upon arriving in Oakland I quickly realized that this girl I had made terse plans with was absolutely neurotic. After Wolfgang’s fleas infected our room, Alicia was driven into a crying heap of anger and frustration. I parted ways with her two weeks into the trip. I did a number of odd jobs such as canvassing for security companies and even a brief stint as a prostitute. I ended that gig after a really lame pimp conned me out of $175. I didn't really expect much from him seeing as how I had met him through Craigslist but it taught me that people are willing to eat you alive out there. Life is short and some people have no remorse in fucking you over while you’re at your worst.
A few months slipped by and rent kept getting harder and harder to pay. I was without financial ties to my family so I was really on my own. Someone had broken into my car in an attempt to steal some of the potential loot but I was lucky that I had managed to move all of my belongings into my room. I didn't plan on staying at this hotel very long but I’d find myself stuck there for the entire year. It was downtown Oakland, 13th street and Webster. Across the street from a club, I caught sight of a few drive-bys while living there. As previously stated I had grown up in the Hamptons so seeing poverty, violence, and crime on a daily basis was new to me. It was a sort of beautiful car accident. I didn't like what I saw but I couldn't look away. One out of three kids in Oakland drops out of school before they acquire their GED so a fraction of the population out there is entirely uneducated. A friend of mine at squat central was dating a girl with two kids. Her oldest daughter was getting ready to drop out of first grade. She was two years behind her class.
Tired of doing canvassing jobs that didn't pay; I made contact with a friend of mine who had moved to Oakland a few years prior. I had no idea he was out there until my contacts got us in touch but apparently he was making his way buying and shipping marijuana across the country. He needed someone to ship packages and with no better jobs available I started working for him. Early on in the trip we went up to his dealers grow and I helped trim marijuana on a farm that resembled something out of a TV drama. Upon arriving on the farm, the grower in charge started yelling at my boss for “bringing a stranger onto the mountain.” I was the intruding stranger.
The next day I watched helplessly as the man pushed my boss around the campsite, knocking him down while attempting to drag my boss by his hair. After hearing a story about black hawk helicopters being spotted circling the mountain two weeks earlier I kind of realized I had gotten myself into a potentially life threatening situation. The only thing I could do for my boss was plead with the grower from a distance. I’d later learn that the two were in fact “friends” and they were previously arrested together for possession charges. While on the farm I met a lot of interesting people. We’d all sit around the camp fire and trim marijuana into street profitable nuggets while sharing any life details we weren't too paranoid to let slip. That was one thing I remember about the farm, the constant paranoia. While my boss assured me that the farm could be lovely during the right time of year, we were drawing towards the end of the grow season and tensions were high. No pun intended.
At this point in my California adventure I began to smoke weed five to six times a day, every day. It was a job benefit. The grind I got myself into consisted of going to the library to pick out books to read while waiting for my boss to call me. Once to twice a week I’d be called on to ship a few pounds at various post offices around the city. I was paid a couple hundred for every successful delivery. There were a couple of times where our packages were stopped and my boss lost his investment but that was his problem, not mine. I had my own issues in squat central to deal with. I had apparently gotten on the bad side of one of the non residents who was hustling cocaine to survive. I’m not about to waste time getting into the details of what led to that mistrust but it ended with a wrestling match in front of my doorway. He was high on coke one night and apparently fully ready to fight me. He tried to invite himself into my room so I went on the offensive and moved in for his face. I ended up gouging his eyes and ended the tussle with elbow strikes to his head. I’m assuming no permanent damage was done because one month later we were smoking weed together on squat centrals fire exit. Something I learned in Oakland is that street life is very hard. Life is too short to stay mad at someone. The best option is to just keep those people at a distance but if you live in close proximity of them that’s kind of difficult. Also, Oakland is “snitch” territory. I made the mistake of calling the cops after the tussle subsided and a week later some Spanish gangster was pushing me around in front of the building. He was clearly pissed off that I had called the cops as he was calling me a snitch and a faggot repeatedly. I ended that second conflict by passively disengaging but it occurred to me that if I had thrown a punch it may have been the last bit of air I’d ever draw. You hear stories in Oakland about people getting shot or stabbed to death over $2 dice games in the street. Snitch culture is dangerous territory.
So why did I stay in Oakland for so long? Well, as I said earlier I’m transgendered. There was a clinic for it on the same block I lived on. They offered affordable hair removal. Over the course of the year I’d spend thousands on electrolysis and laser hair removal. That might have been the economic downfall of my trip but without it I wouldn't have got the jump start I needed to begin my transition. After an entire year of living in the ghetto I broke down and decided to drive back home. The places and stories had left me with a bit of lingering PTS but I consider that a minor result of a series of poor choices.
All in all I had learned a lot. I don’t regret the trip one bit. It confirmed a handful of my moderate political beliefs. Nothing will get better in our country if we don’t take care of the people at the bottom who are born into that mess. It’s very easy to mud-sling the poor as drug addicted Sob’s that deserve their life of poverty. The reality of it is that most of them never had a chance in the first place. Born into abusive and poor families people can easily be grown into a life of crime, drugs, and prostitution seeing as there’s little alternative for them. People at the top of the economic food chain can charitably help out by paying slightly higher taxes. Call it liberal socialism. I really don’t care. Those were people I met while living out in Oakland and every day is a tragedy out there. I don’t care about your mortgage or your second car or any of your ephemeral assets. We’re all just buying time as we continue to elude death. It might sound pessimistic but I think it’s fair to say that not everything is bleak. I stopped in Colorado to visit my brother on the car ride home. He had just had a baby sometime during my exile in Oakland. I'm an aunt now. Watching this baby grow has been an amazing experience that fills me with happiness. I get to see him every so often in the flesh and digitally though facebook via the posts his mom makes. In many ways, life has come full circle. I only pray that child doesn't have to live and die with crippling college debts.