I grew up on Worcester’s suburbanite west side, in a newer neighborhood packed with kids playing outside day and night in the summer and sharing crowded school busses from September to June. It was the 70s. Our boomer parents splurged on color TVs with a motorized antenna on the roof that made a sound like an alien was landing when you adjusted it. Shag carpeting, a finished basement called a “play room,” and older siblings that took demented pleasure in torturing us as much as they could get away with.
Then came the culture shock of junior high. The soft protective blanket of Flagg Street Elementary School gave way to the prison cot of Forest Grove Junior High. Forest Grove was jam-packed with kids from half a dozen local elementary schools, all in the first blush of puberty and the hormonal hijinks that that (ahem) special time of life unleashes upon us. New friends, new classes, new personas every few weeks. Having to take a shop class (where we spent a week learning to properly sharpen a pencil using manual tools, among other useful life skills) and Home Economics, some time-warped ‘50s housewife idyll, are memories that have grown fonder over the years, primarily due to the innocence of those days when it all seemed so life or death in my 13-year-old eyes.
7th grade is also informally known as “Bar Mitzvah Season” in communities like mine. What seemed to be a every Saturday occurrence included dressing up and heading to Temple Emanuel or Temple Sinai for someone’s bar/bat mitzvah and the party to follow. These were MAJOR events on the social calendar of 12 and 13-year-old kids. All those years of Hebrew school, all the studying and practice, and now you’re up there becoming an adult, according to the Rabbi.
Hebrew school, in my case, had an added benefit: it was the first time I smoked weed. Not in class, mind you, but the first time I ever tried weed—and later bought two joints, from an asthmatic classmate who secured the contraband in one of his many empty prescription bottles—was just outside the Chandler Street entrance to Temple Emanuel, in the bushes next to the makeshift sukkot they put up every year.
In those days, marijuana was whispered about. We all knew about it, or thought we did, from watching Cheech and Chong movies and eavesdropping on older brothers (sorry, Jamie) on the phone and hanging with their friends, talking about scoring some ganja and getting stoned.
I didn’t get high the first time I smoked. Probably not the second time, either. Eventually, though, I did, and enjoyed the bejesus out of this wild new sensation. It wasn’t just getting stoned; it was the illicit nature of it, the rebelliousness of a somewhat nerdy bookworm getting roasted on dirt weed, that appealed the most.
After two years of Forest Grove and the occasional experience with pot, we made it to high school. Doherty High School, class of 1989, to be precise. High school, with all of its cliques and social anxieties—although I didn’t know it then, deep-rooted anxiety is something I’ve dealt with most of my life—and more new people and being a freshmen among kids only a couple of years older yet they seemed like adults, big and tough, with beards and muscles, girls that looked like pin-up models wearing short skirts and tank tops, all of this new shit that was completely overwhelming at first. Just trying to fit in, trying not to get my ass kicked, was the goal.
Early on, my circle of friends and I jumped into the typical high school social life: keg parties in the woods, the occasional house party when someone’s parents went away, and hanging at friends’ houses when we didn’t have anything else to do—we didn’t have cars after all, so our mobility was limited to wherever our feet or bicycles would take us, along with a ride every so often courtesy of a successful effort cajoling a parent or sibling to give us a lift (their motivation mainly being to get us out of the house). In these days, alcohol was the indulgence…and because we were still new to this, we drank wine coolers. You remember those, right? Big in the ‘80s. Bartles & Jaymes especially. Came in 4-packs, and if you drank 4 of them too quickly you were likely to vomit in all the colors of the rainbow.
By 16, beers were the preference. Any kind of beers, however we could get them—cajoling strangers to buy them for us, stealing them from our parents, whatever it took. Yet for me, it was around this time that weed once again entered the picture. Although I drank a thousand beers in high school, I always preferred that stinky green.
This is where the memories clash with reality. In those days, scoring weed was a process. You had to know somebody, and you had to know where to find them. There were no cell phones. The “internet” was some fantastical thing we saw in WarGames. Some dudes had pagers, but in order to page them you had to be at a pay phone or use your parents’ phone when they weren’t home, lest they get wind of your efforts.
You’d hear snippets of hallway conversations about someone selling ganja in school, usually through an intermediary like an older brother or crooked uncle. I was fortunate in that a friend of my older brother’s really did sell weed, a lot of it, and he was around a lot. Scoring an eighth was easy, provided I had the cash to cover this massive $20 investment.
It’s easy to forget, in today’s world of legalized pot, where every strain has a name and the effects are detailed on a menu, that there was a time when there was only one kind of weed. WEED. That’s it. You’d hear rumors of things like Maui Wowie and Mexican Gold and the holy grail of dope, Thai Stick. But that’s all they were—rumors. The shit we got was packed with stems and seeds and cleaning it up took an hour. All those seeds we threw away! What a waste. Too often, the cheap weed we scored would burn your throat and make your eyes water and wouldn’t get you high so much as lightheaded. Sometimes you’d score some really good stuff and get so stoned that everything in your world made sense for a minute; there was no anxiety, just laughing endlessly and eating too much (oh to have that teenage metabolism again…).
This was the routine through college, although scoring weed at UMass was easy. It was EVERYWHERE, even if the quality was uneven. (This is where having hippie college friends helped; they were pioneers in cooking with pot, making pot butter on a hot plate and pouring it over microwave popcorn in a rather primitive—yet effective—foreshadowing of the culinary edibles scene we’ve got today. And one semester our dorm floor included a transfer from Chico State who made pot brownies that were so strong I passed out…but that’s a story for another day.).
For years after college, the routine was pat. A couple of good, semi-reliable connections whose only requirement was that you hang out for a bit as they pontificated on…whatever the fuck full-time weed dealers like to philosophize about on a given day. Sometimes sitting through those conversations felt interminable, yet the net result was leaving with some quality devil’s lettuce. By the late 90s and into the 2000s, finding highly potent, indoor-grown weed, minus the seeds and endless cleaning, wasn’t difficult. The one major sacrifice here is that you could only get what your dealer had in stock. Sometimes it was a super potent Kush, the kind that would leave you somnambulant on the couch for hours. Other times it was a sativa, bringing a heightened consciousness with the miserable side effect of a racing heartbeat and an all-consuming anxiety. This green crapshoot eventually led me to quit smoking pot altogether for several years, as the anxiety it was causing was no longer something I could handle.
Then, about 14 months ago, struggling with writer’s block on a personal book project and curious to give it another shot, a friend with a medical card brought me a couple of pre-rolls, an Indica and a hybrid. “This,” I thought, “is not what I remembered at all.”
There was no anxiety. There was no couch-lock. Just a pleasant, relaxing high, one that left me fully functional. The nagging anxiety that usually went with me everywhere like some sort of perverse security blanket was gone.
There’s a concurrent parallel here. Over the years of my life, having spent the majority of it here in Worcester, I’ve seen the city slowly decay into decades of stagnation and false starts. There were long stretches of time where, when someone asked where I lived, I’d mutter “Worcester,” almost embarrassed about living here. Yet over the last 5-7 years, Worcester has been undergoing an incredible renaissance. Artists priced out of Boston/Cambridge/Somerville started coming here for the cheap live/work spaces. Old factory buildings were converted into loft apartments and multi-use offices. Restaurants opened and flourished. The Hanover Theatre began the revitalization of downtown.
Now, there’s a fresh energy across the city. Downtown is being rebuilt into a destination for young adults and empty nesters. The Canal District is vibrant, with restaurants and Crompton Collective and the Worcester Food Hall opening any minute. Polar Park opens in 2021 with the Worcester Red Sox. Housing prices are going up. Worcester has become desirable again to outsiders. As an OG, it’s kind of cool to know how far we’ve come and share it with new residents.
And, of course, there are the dispensaries! The first time I went to a dispensary, I found myself looking over my shoulder, the notion that I was doing something illicit still embedded in my brain. “How can this be happening?” I thought. Weed is legal in my lifetime. It’s amazing! Moreover, the knowledge of the budtenders is invaluable. Sure, the names of various strains border on the ridiculous (Cashmere? Durban Poison? Cornbread?), but the ability to get precisely what you’re seeking, in a comfortable atmosphere, is incredible. I really don’t like getting stoned. Telling a budtender that Sativa spikes my anxiety like mad, and that what I really want is something relaxing, yet not overpowering, just something to help my mind unwind while maintaining my faculties, is no different than telling a waiter you don’t like Brussels Sprouts and prefer the carrots.
Welcome to the weed future. It’s here in Worcester. Welcome to the renaissance.
Written by David Ginsburg