420 Feet Away: How Grindr Helped Me Find Weed While Traveling the U.S.

On looking for a different kind of hookup...

Grinder (n): a cylindrical device with two halves (top and bottom) that separate and have sharp teeth or pegs aligned in such a way that when both halves are turned, material inside is shredded. Though the manufacturers claim they are intended for use with herbs and spices for cooking, they are often used to shred cannabis, resulting in a product that can be more easily hand-rolled into a “joint” that burns more evenly.

The scariest part about traveling across America wasn’t the fact that I was doing it alone; it wasn’t that I had left the only city and state I had known as home for most of my life. Rather, I was worried how the actual fuck I was going to get stoned. Grindr provided a surprisingly reliable option, though as is Grindr’s way, it also proved problematic.
 

A Tree Smokes in Brooklyn

I left New York City at the end of February, after some 15 years—all of which I spent high. I’m a stoner. A highly productive stoner, but a stoner nonetheless. I smoke when I wake up, I smoke before I go to the gym, I smoke before and after and—since I work remotely, during—work, and I smoke before going to bed.

I could easily get into my chemical dependency/addiction but I’ve long reconciled that aspect of my marijuana use: Just as some people require medication to even themselves out or to simply face the day, I require weed. It’s my medicine. It helps me with my creativity as a writer, with my recovery from working out, and with my overwhelming anxiety as a black queer liberal millennial living in America. If you haven’t noticed, shit’s pretty nerve-racking.

When I first started getting high, the summer after my freshman year of college, it was so hard to find weed. I had returned home to Poughkeepsie in New York’s Hudson Valley, broke and reliant on the kind bud of strangers. Back at NYU, I quickly joined its chapter of NORML, not to advocate for the reform of marijuana laws so much as to find a hookup—which I did in the chapter’s president. I would go over to his apartment on Rivington St in the Lower East Side, sit around smoking weed, and leaving with an eighth to last me the rest of the week.

An eighth a week—ah, youth.

Eventually I graduated to inviting myself over to a professional drug dealer’s place on St. Marks Place. He was a lecherous old man with a crush on my girl friend and so I benefited from his generosity, buying heavy grams when he sold almost exclusively in pounds. By the time I was smoking blunts religiously, I had formed enough relationships to provide for my habit. Living mostly in Brooklyn, I’ve had multiple roommates who’ve dealt and so I’ve rarely had to worry about not having weed.

That all changed when I left New York. My first stop was Provincetown, Massachusetts. I took an ounce with me up there, which I burned through in about two weeks. Luckily, I had friends in town, and Massachusetts is one of the latest states to legalize recreational marijuana. The small fishing town and gaycation haven had, last I heard, four dispensaries planned. They should be open by the time my friends and I go for our 10th anniversary trip there this August.

But in lieu of the dispensaries, I got weed the old-fashioned way: through a friend. The next stop was Miami, where I also had friends, and so finding weed was less of an issue. It became my main issue, however, on the next leg of my great gay American tour.
 

Ames-less

Ames, Iowa is a medium-sized college town with about 66,000 people. I was visiting Jim, a friend from college who worked and had recently bought a house there with his fiancé. Ames is a popular, if not required, stop for prospective presidential candidates. I arrived just narrowly missing Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders palling around with locals at their respective rallies, just one day apart. The home of Iowa State University, Ames is relatively more diverse and progressive than the rest of Iowa. With a major university so close, one would think finding weed would be a lot easier. Alas, that was hardly the case.

Jim had a dude he would occasionally contact who would occasionally respond; he had mediocre weed and worked at the nearby water park, which was closed until Memorial Day. Had the park been open, he might have been available; but as it was not, he was not. Not wanting to be that 33-year-old man hanging around a campus whispering “smoke, smoke” like those I encountered in my early days in Washington Square Park near NYU, I took to Old Reliable: Grindr.

It had served its purpose in Miami, where I was encountering men literally a dozen feet away from me. But Ames was no Miami. Which was exactly why I liked it. I was able to get a lot of writing done in peace, without a ton of dickstractions. Even if I wanted to, finding a man that sparked my interest would’ve proven difficult. Could I, however, find something else to spark?

Recreational marijuana is legal in 10 states and the District of Columbia; medical marijuana is legal in 33; and nearly half of all states (23) have decriminalized marijuana. Last December, Iowa opened up its first medical marijuana dispensary, with major restrictions. Despite this minor step towards reform, a first-offense possession of just a joint is punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, making Iowa’s marijuana laws among the harshest in the country.

Even though Grindr doesn’t allow you to say “weed” or even “420” in your profile text, it still felt like the safest avenue, especially in anti-pot Iowa—no matter Ames’ purported progressive pedigree. If you can trust a stranger enough to send them pictures that only a proctologist should be forced to see, what’s the harm in asking for some herb? Besides, a tree emoji gets the message across.

Of course, as most gays don’t even bother to read profiles, it took a while wading through a sea of “looking?”, “into?”, and unsolicited dick pics before I found someone who could help a bitch out. Someone who wasn’t looking for anything I wasn’t willing to offer in return. That’s a tricky line to walk, it being Grindr and all, where sex is the only official currency. Once you find that someone, it’s another thing completely to be able to trust him.

I got a message from an 18-year-old—it always astounds me when anyone that young is allowed to be on Grindr, or in any sort of public space—black kid who claimed he could help me out. He was waiting on a delivery from his friend and he invited me over to wait with him. First, I had to get over some reservations about going to this kid’s house: Where the hell were his parents? Am I Catherine Zeta-Jones in 1999 and is this entrapment?

He reassured me enough that I walked over, texting him over Grindr when I was outside his place. He said he’d be right out. Several minutes passed and I was still waiting when a white man pulled up to the curb. Stepping out of his car, the man asked, in that authoritative white man tone, “Can I help you?”

This is the point in my story where either I exit stage left or the credits start rolling for whatever iteration of Saw I’d found myself in—but it turns out he was just his roommate. He invited me to sit and wait for the kid, who came wandering out of the bathroom some 10 minutes after I’d arrived. His roommate looked at him with a degree of concern: “Well…glad you’re still alive.”

I should’ve left then and there, but—as I would tell myself over and over again as the minutes turned to hours—I’d come this far.

The kid was completely out of it. He barely acknowledged me, said his friend was on his way, then promptly fell into a nap. I busied myself with images of the Met Ball arrivals a world and a thousand miles away. At some point, the kid was feeling better. He offered me a bowl to smoke, which I took with a mix of resentment, having waited so long already, and gratitude, having not smoked for days. Then, while sitting literally three feet away on the same couch, he texted me on Grindr, “So what do you like to do for fun, Daddy?”

My initial thought was “Nigga, what?” Like, what are we doing? Moreover, what the hell am I doing hanging out with this dazed and confused teenager in the middle of Nowhere, USA all for the promise of some pot? It was like I was back in Poughkeepsie again, hoping and praying for a crumb of weed to fall like manna from heaven. Though Ames, much like Julianne Moore in 2002, was far from heaven.

Two hours and multiple assurances that his alleged friend was allegedly on his way, I left with only a tiny handful of weed for my troubles. The kid, to his credit, gave me some of his own weed as a sort of insurance policy after the first hour. Gotta love that midwestern hospitality.

That, unfortunately, was all Ames had to offer me. A combination of constant traveling, general anxiety, and a lack of weed made my nights of sleep almost uniformly restless. By the time I got to my next destination, I hadn’t slept in three days.
 

St. Louis Greens

Both Jim and Beth were among my first friends, and certainly my first queer friends at NYU. Beth had settled back in her hometown of St. Louis, Missouri, where she too had recently bought a house and was raising two awesome kids—one who, at nine years old, had just come out to her as a lesbian. She even had a crush who reciprocated her feelings, something I didn’t experience until…like, yesterday.

In St. Louis, marijuana laws were more lenient. Last fall, Missourians voted to legalize medical marijuana while possession under 100 grams has been decriminalized. There was even a CBD store in Beth’s neighborhood. Maybe this more pot-friendly atmosphere made finding weed that much easier. A day after I landed there, I found an older black gentleman on Grindr who was graciously willing to meet up with me. It was his birthday and, as he would tell me later, he only agreed to meet because I was visiting. Again, that Midwestern hospitality.

Beth drove me to a parking lot of the local grocery store and I hopped into this man’s big, black, ominous SUV.

There was a pre-rolled blunt in the cup holder which immediately put my mind at ease. He had wanted me to sample the merchandise before buying and I was grateful for that level of professionalism after the shenanigans and chicanery in Ames. My stay in St. Louis was cut short due to an unexpected press trip to Houston to cover a b-boy tournament, but before I left, Beth’s cool-mom friend sold me a weed brownie that I used to help me sleep. Suddenly, much like Angela Bassett in 1998, I had gotten my groove back.

 

Houston, Weed Got a Problem

Texas is similar to Iowa in the severity of its marijuana laws and its limited legalization for medicinal purposes. Still, Houston proved rather convenient for my dank dependency. The first night I was there I met this lovely Latinx femme kween on Grindr who didn’t have what stoners call “flower”—the traditional leafy green form of weed—but had a cartridge of weed oil to sell me: Jack Herrer, one of my favorite strains. Upon my request, she sent me a pic of her holding the cartridge, her long white nails gently cupping it. Since there are few things in this world I appreciate more than a good claw, I knew I had found a kween I could trust.

We met outside the hotel she worked at, had a little pleasant chit-chat, made the exchange, and I was set for the rest of my trip. Though I was only in Houston for a few days, I would be in Albuquerque for almost two weeks visiting another old college friend, Joe.
 

You Can Call Me Albuquerque

Joe, one of my oldest and gayest friends, was, like Beth and Jim, also a new homeowner. The fact that so many of my friends are all growed up, getting married, raising kids, and buying property while I’m out here trolling for weed on Grindr makes me happy for all of our lives.

Albuquerque decriminalized weed in 2018 and the rest of New Mexico followed suit earlier this year, while medical marijuana has been legal for over a decade. If the Midwest was hospitable, the Southwest is downright friendly. As a dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker, they’re disturbingly so. People are just willing to have conversations with you and are so pleasant and accommodating—what tomfoolery is this?! This friendliness even extended to my pot transactions.

The first week I was here, I met this very nice young Latino man who met me in the parking lot of a Starbucks. He had a truck, as nearly everyone in Albuquerque does, and after I hopped in—

—he offered to drive me over to the gym…a taxing 500 feet away. I demurred but next thing I know we’re in motion and I’m without so much as a seatbelt. He had offered me what weed he had left and asked me to name a price. It was a decent amount, but I was running out by the end of the week—which is when I had my most interesting ganja journey.

Up until now, I had gotten into strangers’ cars only briefly.

They were like actual hookups: in and out, wham, bam, thank you, henny. But last Friday I found myself on what felt more like a date. This Latino guy in his mid-to-late 30s picked me up in his truck—‘cause, Albuquerque—and drove me over to his dealer. It was a significant ride, about 20 minutes each way, punctuated by some awkward, and at times inspired, conversation as well as great and questionable music choices: I got reacquainted with Erykah Badu’s But You Cain’t Use My Phone mixtape and endured some loosely defined rap that at one point said Bush planned 9/11. No judgments, I just don’t care for forsaking rhyme and flow in favor of ranting over a beat and calling it hip hop.

He left me in the car, taking care to crack the windows, while he consorted with his dude, and then drove me back home. All he asked for in return was a little weed and a slushie from McDonald’s. That goes beyond hospitality to the kind of over-friendliness that ends with me dismembered in the woods. But hey, I guess America ain’t all that bad if it’s okay for me to be all Drew Barrymore in 2001: Riding in cars with boys.

 

The Emerald Cities

Since leaving New York, I’ve been surprised at many turns. Sometimes pleasantly, other times…not so much. But I was especially surprised at how nice people can be and how kind the bud is in different parts of the country. Grindr proved a most useful tool, when I’m used to lamenting how awful it is—with good cause.

Of course, I wouldn’t suggest looking for weed on there. It’s just that desperate times call for desperate measures. Things could’ve easily gone awry, which is the case with seeking hookups in general. You just don’t have to worried about being locked up as a result. I was just lucky, for the most part, that I found some decent folks who were willing and able to help me, especially when the marijuana laws differ so greatly from state to state, even county to county, and city to city.

But Grindr, for all its faults, is a safe space and one where I felt I could safely ask for something that keeps me healthy and happy. I would suggest Grindr stop banning references to weed all together, but I suspect that Apple’s App Store might have a say in that.

Tomorrow I’m off to Denver before I settle permanently in Los Angeles—two recreational marijuana havens where finding weed is as simple as going into a store with your ID and the proper funds. If only it were that easy everywhere. May I never be lucid again.

Lester Fabian Brathwaite is an LA-based writer, editor, bon vivant, and all-around sassbag. He's formerly Senior Editor of Out Magazine and is currently hungry. Insta: @lefabrat