I inhaled

On June 8, 2009, in Amsterdam, Netherlands, by Ralph Grizzle

Unlike our dear former president, I inhaled. And while I did so intentionally and without apology, I also did so, as I do many things in life, with some degree of discomfort. Please, stay with me a moment. I promise I am not stoned as I write these words. Obliged by journalistic duty to explore […]

Unlike our dear former president, I inhaled. And while I did so intentionally and without apology, I also did so, as I do many things in life, with some degree of discomfort. Please, stay with me a moment. I promise I am not stoned as I write these words.

Obliged by journalistic duty to explore one of the reasons that some travelers visit Amsterdam, I set out one afternoon in search of a coffee house. Not the type of establishment where you buy coffee (wink, wink), but the type where you can “Bogart” a joint. Chalk it up to curiosity.

My quest, however, was not without a couple of false starts. The barista at the first coffee shop I walked into gave me a puzzled look, when I cowered up to the counter and asked for marijuana.

I half expected a SWAT team to descend on me after I had intoned the words. “I’m sorry,” she replied. “This is not the kind of coffee shop you’re looking for.” I gathered my composure and said brightly, “Then, I’ll just have a cappuccino.” I was somewhat relieved of the worry of guns pointed on me while I was handcuffed and hauled away.

Caffeinated, not stoned, I continued my quest, and I was soon to be rewarded. Not far from Amsterdam’s red light district was my Shangri-La. I knew well that the leaf emblazoned on the window was not basil or cilantro or parsley. That leaf, I recognized, was the holy grail of my quest.

Crossing the threshold of the establishment sheepishly, I walked up to the counter and eyed the clerk behind the counter with a conspiratorial look. “Marijuana,” I asked. “Yes,” he replied. “What type of seed would you like?” Eureka! “Whatever you recommend,” I said, with a bring-it-on look. He reached under the counter and returned with, well, seeds.

“How do you smoke it,” I asked, dazed and confused. “Well, you have to grow it first,” he replied, explaining that I had stumbled into a seed shop. He had no license for consumption on premises.

Happily, he informed me that I could go to the Bulldog Cafe for what I was seeking. And boy was he right. The moment I opened the door to the Bulldog, I knew I had hit the jackpot. The air was thick with smoke, and everyone appeared carefree and happy. For a moment, I thought I saw Jimmy Hendrix through the purple haze.

At the counter, I was presented a menu. There were two columns of weed, categorized, as the clerk explained, from mild to heavy. Seeing all this intimidated me a bit, and then something happened. I am not sure if it was the vision of the SWAT team, my Southern Baptist upbringing, or Jimmy Hendrix in the corner, but I lost my courage. “Thank you,” I replied. “Just looking.” And I turned on my heel to leave.

It took an eternity to reach the front door. The smoke was so thick that I could have cut it with a knife. The aroma was pleasant, and I began to enjoy it as I continued the long, long walk to the front door.

People were smiling at me. I smiled back. I thought I heard Hendrix ask if he might be excused to kiss the sky.

I finally reached the front door, but before exiting, I turned to take in the happy scene of people legally toking. And then I did something that I had wanted to do from the beginning. I took a long and deep breath. I inhaled.