Pot and Coffee

pot

The morning was cold and rainy in Missoula, Montana, and rather than drive somewhere, I was in the mood to walk. There was a heaviness in the atmosphere, a wet weight that clung to the trees and showed up as wisps of clouds and fog across the sky. Against the dense green backdrop of pine trees and rolling hills, and over the river, the fog rolled and made everything just a bit magical.

My head felt full as I walked along the railroad tracks. The night before, the film crew and I had conducted a particularly heavy interview for our pending documentary, and I was still processing all the new information, the tragedy and pain of it all. The storyteller side of me was on fire, but the therapist side felt disheartened and exhausted. So, while the two sides battled it out, I walked.

After a time, I stepped up onto a road and noticed a small shop in an old brick building advertising coffee with a paper sign. It had the word ‘green’ in the title, but I didn’t realize what that meant until I stepped inside and smelled the pot.

The door opened with a small ‘ding’, a bell attached to the door announcing my entrance. The room was sparse, with a few black leather couches and some patio furniture, tables and chairs arranged against wooden walls and floors. It was an old building with a history, I could sense that much. On the back half of the room were lit up counters showing off baked goods, all of them edible pot concoctions, like snickerdoodles, lollipops, cinnamon rolls, and cookies, each wrapped individually or in bulk, each with a price listing next to it.

“Hey, welcome, man, how are you?” A skinny, good-looking white guy was behind the counter on a stool, shuffling through some business cards, probably looking for a phone number. He was likely in his late 20s and he had a killer smile. “I’m Kyle. How can I help you?”

I walked over to the counter. The shop was completely empty except for the two of us. “I saw your sign for coffee. It’s cold, sounded nice.”

“Right! Coffee!” Kyle stood up quickly and enthusiastically, knocking his stool back a bit. He caught it with a hand and set it down with a little flair, like he’d just done a magic trick, then he laughed. “Yeah, man, I got a fresh pot in the back. Ill bring it right out. Take a seat.”

I found a seat at one of the patio tables, and Kyle brought out a styrofoam cup of coffee. It was likely something from a K-Cup machine in the back. “Coffee’s free, man. Just glad to have the company. Make yourself at home!” He got me the Wifi code and I sat down to blog as we chatted idly over the next few minutes.

Kyle explained that he’d grown up in Missoula and he loved it here. He was putting himself through the local college, working at the pot/coffee shop during the day and as an Uber driver at night. We laughed about the fact that the shop had very little in the way of coffee. Kyle had a local girlfriend and talked about his philosophies of just getting through life by being a good person. As we chatted, old Metallica songs from the 90s played on the overhead speakers.

Soon the bell dinged again and Kyle rushed out of his seat again to rush to the door. “Evelyn, welcome, lady! How’s your rainy day?” He held the door open as a woman in her mid-60s entered. Her hair was gray and plastered against her head. Her face was angular and she wore a thick and baggy brown coat. She was hunched over, clearly in pain, and she had a cane supporting her weight. She slowly made her way into the store.

“Oh, Kyle, I’m well, thank you, dear. Do you have my usual order ready? My arthritis is something terrible in this weather.”

“I do, yes, ma’am. Enough to get you through the week.”

“You’re a lifesaver. My grandchildren are coming over this weekend.”

I watched casually as Kyle brought out an order from behind the counter, seven individually wrapped baked goods that Evelyn would presumably use daily to help keep her pain levels manageable. I wanted to ask her how long she had been using pot, and if she’d ever tried prescription painkillers in the past. As a therapist, I had known so many clients over the years who had struggled with chronic pain issues. From cerebral palsy, or multiple sclerosis, or old injuries, or chronic migraines, or recovery from a surgery. I thought of them self-medicating with alcohol or addictive medications that had harsh side effects. Now here she was, in a state that had approved medical marijuana use, picking up an order of cookies that would keep her pain levels down and keep her relaxed while allowing her to be with her family and grandchildren, not impaired and not constantly suffering.

Evelyn left, after sipping on some free coffee from Kyle, and another man came in, Bill, him talking about his anxiety after a car accident that left him with a traumatic brain injury, and after that, Sam, a younger man who struggled with severe headaches. After that, there was a lull, and Kyle came back by to chat.

“So you just see customers every day who come in for their orders?”

“Yeah, man, absolutely. These are good people. They just have to get the doctor to approve their cards, then they have the right to pick up their alloted order. I mean, before it was legal here, they would just do it anyway, but they could get in trouble for it. Now it’s legal and it’s regulated.”

I only stayed an hour, collecting my thoughts on paper and sipping my free coffee. Soon, I had my bag back over my shoulders and my coat zipped up. I offered Kyle a hearty handshake before stepping back out into the drizzle, the fog, and the green, sorting through my thoughts. My time in Missoula was at an end, and somehow this seemed the perfect way to go. The two different sides of me, the storyteller and the helper, had stopped arguing with each other, finding kinship in a man who helped others by baking cookies and legally dealing drugs.

And so with the taste of cheap coffee in my mouth, the scent of marijuana on my clothes, and my head full of things to get done, I stepped back on the railroad tracks to walk toward home.

Missoula

View of Missoula from Mount Sentinel, in Missoula, Montana.I could smell the smoke in the air the second I stepped off the plane. Wildfires in the hills nearby, I’d heard, and the wind had shifted the direction of Missoula. But soon, heavy rain came in, and I found myself driving in my rented car toward my rented room with the windshield wipers on full speed.

I was staying in the basement of a home that had a backyard full of chickens. When I entered the small room where I’d be sleeping, I killed a giant spider first thing, with a hastily grabbed paper towel, and I watched it kick its legs for dear life as it flushed away.

I found a trendy little coffee shop full of hipster students, all plaid and beards and nose rings, and I did some writing, tapping into a story from my adolescence, one about not knowing how to receive. But my mind kept wandering. My entire married life had been just hours from here to the west, just a few hundred miles. I’d passed through Missoula a dozen times without ever spending time here. A quick Google search of the town revealed that no historian was quite sure where the name of the city originated from, that the city boasted over a hundred thousand people and was the second largest in Montana, and that there were two universities and a decent acceptance of the LGBT population here.

Back on the road, back in the rain, I drove north, passing through the city and turning onto a state highway. The clouds clinger to the hills here, soft rolling white against the deep thick evergreen rows, all against the grey sky. It took my breath. The rain washed out all of the smoke and the land felt new. I drove through small towns, one that boasted it’s wide diameter trees on the welcome sign, and soon arrived at a bar-and-grill in the middle of nowhere.

I stepped inside and found everything made of wood, tables and chairs and walls and bar and decor. A few old cowboys in ten-gallon hats and boots sat at the bar with drinks in hands and three 30-something plump women in tight T-shirts and jeans waited behind it. I took a table in the corner, somewhere private, and set out my laptop and a pad of paper.

I moved back to the restroom where a sign hung over the urinals.

“PLEASE

Don’t write or Carve on walls

Or 

Spit Chewing Tabaco in the 

urinals, it plugs them up. 

Thanks…”

I laughed out loud with delight at the sign, so perfect and characteristic. It captured the ambiance of the place better than anything else. I wondered if they meant Tobacco or Tabasco, with a grin, and thought that these things must be actual problems in this establishment to warrant an actual laminated sign.

Back at the table, the waitress, who had a name tag that read “Mayzie” delivered a menu and a glass of water, then told me about the beers they had on tap. I had some light conversation with her and learned she was a mother of four, and I noticed that she didn’t have a ring on her finger, leaving me assuming that she was a single mom.

My eyes scanned over the menu, where everything seemed to be either alcohol or some beef product, with many variations on steaks and burgers in every form. Steak salad, patty melt, twelve different burger options, steak and potatoes, steak and coleslaw, steak and corn. I saw one item on the menu called the Vegetarian, that replaced a beef patty with a portobello mushroom cap, so I ordered that with a side of slaw. Mayzie seemed disappointed, but jotted the order down. A moment later she returned.

“Oh, I forgot. We are all out of mushroom caps. Almost no one orders that. But what we could do is chop up a bunch of little mushrooms and just put them in a sandwich?”

I laughed, un-enthusiastically, and accepted her offer. The sandwich came out thirty minutes later on toasted bread, and it was strictly mediocre, but I was hungry and consumed it quickly.

By then, I was deep into the interview that had brought me this direction in the first place. I was talking with a woman connected to a thirty year old homicide in Utah, a story I was working hard to make a documentary about. It had taken me months to earn her trust, and she was now openly discussing this ancient history that had taken place when she was only 21. She talked freely about her life, even the hard parts, and about the impact of the homicide on her family and path. She talked about the different directions life could have taken her with a mix of pain and clarity, and shed tears as she talked about it.

When I drove home, the skies had cleared, and I wound the same highway curves in the dark. I arrived back at my rented room and did a scan for spiders as I turned the lights on. I showered, then wrapped myself in the covers on the bed for warmth. Outside was silent. No cars, no electric buzzes, no chickens. My brain was struggling to stay awake, buzzing with the experiences of the day and all the new information I’d gathered, but the body won out and soon i settled into sleep, leaving the brain to work out its obsessions with bizarre dreams that flooded my consciousness.

Hours later, the rooster outside crowed, and I brewed coffee, rushing to my keyboard to capture my thoughts.