NORML Con, Day 1: Thursday

THURSDAY, October 16, 2008

Russ started driving but I took over halfway, and I drove us into the Bay Area (which is sometimes known as the Yay! Area, which melts my little heart).  I would like to thank Verizon Wireless and their VZN Navigator for making what could’ve been a travesty on the freeway into an easy drive to the Doubletree Hotel and Convention Center on the marina.  A wonderful spot for a hotel; boats lined up at the dock, the fresh smell of sea air.  It looked like a lovely place to sleep for an entire day.

It was around eight o’clock at this point, and Russ and I were eager to find our room so that we could sleep.  This is where our Spinal Tap adventures began.  Let me just say for the record that the Belvilles have a history of weird Spinal Tap moments regarding travel.  The Colorado family reunion springs to mind immediately, but that’s another story.

Russ went in the hotel to get us checked in … and found that check in wasn’t until 4pm.  Four o’clock?  What hotel checks people in at four o’clock?!  This Doubletree must have a history of businessmen flying in around that time or something, but absolutely no record of two siblings hauling ass in a packed Jeep for nearly twelve hours.  We were exhausted, and we wanted sleep, and the Doubletree denied us of this.  So what did we do?

We slept in the Jeep.  For about two hours, before that became uncomfortable.  Then I’m not sure what we did.  I think I started searching for my contact solution and case in my bag, which was nestled in a larger, weatherproof bag which sat on the roof rack of the Jeep.  This took more effort than I would like to acknowledge, but my contacts had been stuck to my face for over twenty-four hours at this point, and while I’m not a hypochondriac by any means, I was still petrified that my eyeballs would grow around my contacts.  I read stories about this happening, and the last thing I wanted was my eyes to suck in my contacts.  Who knows what would happen next?

Just my luck, though – right as I took my contacts out, Russ found Keith Stroup and Allen St. Pierre.  Keith Stroup founded NORML back in 1970 and is now on their board of directors (and is also now their legal council if I remember correctly).  Allen St. Pierre is the Executive Director of NORML.  So within a couple of hours of my arrival in Berkeley, I meet two of the most important people in NORML – and I couldn’t see them because I took my contacts out.  Nothing like shaking hands with a squint in your eye.

Russ told them about our hotel trouble, and Keith invited us up to his suite to shower.  So within three hours of my arrival in Berkeley, I had met the founder of NORML and took a shower in his suite.  I guess Shakespeare was right: some people do have greatness thrust upon them.

(I put my contacts back in, by the way.)

One point I think ought to make now is that everyone at NORML was extremely cool.  This, I think, should not come as a surprise considering everyone was smoking pot all weekend long.  Keith and Allen were two of the nicest people I’ve met who also happened to be Very Important People, and every other VIP (I hate to use that term) that I met was kind and considerate and just really really cool.

After our showers and some brief chit-chat, Russ and I descended to the lounge to get some bar food.  Bar food at this hotel is much better than most bar food.  I had a burger (ordered well done – a mistake on my part, but no one ever asks me how I want my burger done!) and it was there that I met another “VIP” of NORML — Steve Dillon, the Chair of the Board of Directors and an attorney from Indianapolis.  At the time he was wearing a t-shirt and khaki shorts, and went to the bar and ordered a beer, and honestly, my first thought of him was, “Oh boy, here comes the guy who’s gonna get plastered at noon and tell us fishing stories.”  For a while we chatted and I thought Russ was sort of indifferent to this man as well, so I was doing my best to not maintain eye contact or respond.  At one point, though, Steve told a really amazing story about a case he worked on involving a paintball game and a hunt for a possibly poached deer in a duffel bag.  His storytelling was fantastic, and he was extremely charming and fun to listen to and watch.  By the end of his story I was thoroughly impressed, and I thought, “You know, that guy is okay in my book.”

Only to find out later that he was the Chair of the Board of Directors of NORML.  C’est la vie!

It was at this point that I also met Cindy and Marcia (names changed to be a good guy).  Cindy is an attorney?  I think? from New Jersey, and Marcia was her paralegal (I guess that would make sense that Cindy is an attorney … I know nothing about legal stuff).  These two would make regular appearances throughout the weekend, and would ultimately remind me of my terrible lack of skills with the ladies.

Thursday night was the big NORML reception, so Russ and I set up speakers and stuff in the reception room, which was on the fourth floor of some convention building on the other side of the hotel.  Thanks a lot, Doubletree!  This would be one of many hotel screwups, which will be outlined later.  Anyway, I’m getting things a little mixed up.  We got the reception set up, then went to get lunch, and then Russ got our hotel keys but we went to Steve’s room to smoke.  Well, they went to smoke, I went because where the hell else was I going to go?  My fear of smoking pot for job-related reasons would prove to be a majorly debilitating part in the Fun Factor of my trip.

So they all smoked and I tried to make friends without participating in the group activity, which is awfully difficult.  I mean, everyone was very cool towards people who didn’t smoke pot, and this is just generally true of pot smokers.  You’ll never see a pothead try to force you to smoke.  It’s just not cool.  Now alcoholics might get a bit antsy with you, because an alcoholic is not an alcoholic if he’s drinking with other people (he thinks, at least), but potheads know that it’s just not cool to force things on other people (probably because they’ve had prohibition forced on them…).  On the other hand, not participating in something as social as pot smoking just feels weird.  I told Russ later that I felt like a documentarian, taking some kind of false objective angle with the whole thing – sitting back, watching it from afar.  And that, for the record, is something I hate doing.  Just hate it.  I hate being outside of a group.  I’d rather be inside, with people, doing the fun things that they are doing.

This, as I have already said, will become a Big Deal for the rest of the weekend.

The reception had finger foods and an Elvis pinball machine.  So it was kind of awesome.  They also had Pac-Man and Frogger, though some jerk set up his l
aptop on top of the Frogger machine because, I don’t know, maybe he wanted people to not enjoy Frogger.  Which is impossible.

I knew nobody except Russ and Madeline (the Executive Director of Oregon NORML) and her husband (whose name escapes me because everyone always calls him Smoke Dogg [I’m assuming there’s an extra G there]).  I spent most of my time playing pinball.  I’m terrible at pinball, to the point where I can’t see how anyone would be good at it.  It’s just a ball rolling around!  There’s no end boss, there’s no next level.  It’s all the same thing.  Booooring.

It was around this point that a profound irony began to unravel within my chest.  I was getting an anxiety attack.  People generally know me as an amiable and friendly person who likes to have fun.  This is true, but it’s mainly true around people that I know very well.  If I’m around groups of people that I don’t know at all, I tend to be quieter and listen more than usual.  This was what was happening for most of the day on Thursday.  But at some point, I started to get anxious.  I bring this up as an ironic because I was surrounded by people who had an excellent remedy for anxiety, readily available and quick and effective, and I couldn’t use it.  If I did, I would lose any job lead I had.  I would be back to square one, and might even have to wait a couple of weeks to get the THC out of my blood system so that I could look for work again.

This is coming from a guy who smokes maybe once every six months, remind you.  Not habitual (I use that term loosely), not every day.  My risk of having amounts of THC in my system for longer than a week is greatly reduced by the fact that I don’t have any in my system now.  But it’s a terrible economy.  The job market sucks.  For me to smoke would ruin my chances of finding ANY sort of job at this point.  And I need any sort of job.  I can’t be dependent on my brother or my parents or anyone anymore.  I’m an adult, for Chrissakes.

And so I didn’t smoke.  All because of a corporate system that funnels me into a pre-packaged box, complete with drug checks and lousy pay.

Instead I walked outside, spent a few minutes at the hotel computers, and basically was not social for the entire night.  At some point I went back to my room, just in time to miss introducing myself to the Florida NORML chapter (out of the University of Florida?  I forget), which were all kids around my age (probably younger) and who seemed pretty cool.  The end of the night saw me and my brother playing our respective instruments in a hotel room with about a dozen people in it, them smoking and enjoying themselves, and me wondering if I was going to continue to alienate myself for the rest of the weekend.

By Josh

I'm the guy who owns this site, ya dummy.

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