By Sonoma Tom

In the latter half of the 20th Century, marijuana started to go mainstream. I was in high school when Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters rolled their bus through Los Angeles for one of their famous parties. They rented out the Olympic Auditorium and some of the local news people covered the happening. One local station aired a long segment depicting the personalities involved. One of the guys who was interviewed was smoking a joint while extolling the virtues of good weed. I forget what his exact words were but what I vividly remember was how much fun he and his friends were having. I thought that I would like to try some.

Growing up middle class with Catholic schoolmates, nobody in my immediate circle had any idea where to get any but I had a part time job in downtown LA. I had been working in the garment district for the past couple of years after school and had gotten to know my co-workers who were at least 10 years older than me. Cleveland was a young black man in his 20s from Mississippi and he was totally freaked out when I asked him if he knew where I could get some. I got the same reaction from Irwin, a grizzled older black man. They both stonewalled me and refused to talk to me which really upset me. After two days of being treated like a leper, I cornered Irwin and demanded to know why he was avoiding me. I told him what I had seen on TV and said I just wanted to see for myself if it was as fun as it looked. Irwin looked at me as if I was mentally deficient and had to carefully explain to me that marijuana was illegal and could result in a lot of prison time. He and Cleveland were just trying to protect themselves from some dumb naive 15 year old kid. But I was relentless and convinced Irwin that I was not a snitch so he told me that he would look into it for me.

The next day, he told me to check with Big Bob. Big Bob was one of the garment factory’s truck drivers. He was a large very fit looking black man who came by once a day to load and unload garments. Since it was one of my duties to assist him at the loading dock, it was easy to make my request to him in private. While we were loading the box truck, I asked him about scoring some weed. He gave me his address and told me to come by after work. I could hardly wait for work to end that day so I could drive to his place in South Central LA. This was two years before the Watts riots but I remember a pretty intense police presence in that area compared to my neighborhood just 10 miles down the freeway. LAPD squad cars were everywhere on the main thoroughfares just cruising around looking for trouble.

Bob lived in a tidy cottage on a quiet street.  As I knocked on his door, I could hear some cool sounding jazz music. It looked like Bob had been home for awhile. He was flaked out on his couch with his girlfriend. He was in a real mellow friendly mood. He was definitely stoned. I spotted a smoldering roach in his ashtray and noted his bloodshot eyes. It was the first time I had seen anybody high on weed other than the Pranksters on TV. At the time, I thought that maybe I shouldn’t smoke any weed until I am parked for the night so I declined puffing any at that moment. We chatted about work for a few minutes before I asked about purchasing some. Bob told me to go to his bedroom and look for a shoebox under his bed. The box was filled with a partially dismantled brick of Mexican. It then dawned on me that I had absolutely no idea how much I wanted to buy and at what cost so I asked Bob for guidance. Bob was too busy smooching with his girlfriend so he said to just take what I need and leave some money. I smoked cigarettes at the time so I removed the cellophane wrapper from a pack of Marlboros and stuffed it with a mixture of buds and shake. For this I left $5 in his shoebox.

In 1965, nobody differentiated between shake and buds. It was all just marijuana. About the only thing readily agreed upon in the mid sixties was that seeds and stems were to be discarded. Nobody was a Strain Snob….yet. I put my little bag of weed in my pocket, profusely thanked Bob and went home. The next day, I proudly announced to my two best friends at school that I scored some weed. One of them lived with a grandparent who traveled a lot and we could smoke there by ourselves that weekend. We agreed to meet there Saturday morning to fire up. When the weekend arrived, I drove out to Santa Monica, a beach city where my friend lived. Back then, you could drive from the eastern suburbs of LA to the beach in less than 45 minutes. Today, it takes at least 2 hours. When I got there we holed up in the bedroom to inspect the goods. It was then that we found out no one knew how to roll a cigarette. The three of us tried and failed rolling the ZigZags. I refused to let this lack of a skill to stop us though. I had the bright idea to empty out a Marlboro and drop crumbs of weed into the cylinder. It was slow tedious work but I was able to make three fat joints this way. I lit one up and was immediately impressed with the taste and scent. It was really a pleasant experience. After about 3 good puffs, we all got high for the first time and it was better than we expected. Conversation, music, and food took on whole new dimensions and sensations. I finally understood why the Pranksters loved weed. In the next few years, millions of other young Americans “turned on” too and we’ve been mostly having fun ever since. 


– Sonoma Tom

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