“So, Vron asks me if she can borrow my grinder the other day.” Bevin pronounced it like vee-ron, a nickname for her friend Veronica.“And I’m like yeah, sure, why not? Right?”
“It must be nice that you guys live so close together, so you can share stuff like that.”
“Yeah, it’s dope. She lives right down the street. But, she can’t keep any weed or anything at her house because her mom is batshit. Anyways, I give her my grinder and she comes back over after smoking. And she’s high as balls, right? And she’s smiling and she goes, ‘I have a theory… that the dust… gets you higher…’ And I open my grinder. This bitch smoked all my fucking kief.” She opened the top portion of her iridescent purple grinder, as me and the guy sitting next to me leaned in to find the top compartment that usually holds resin completely empty; we were both already laughing.
“Fucking kief thief,” the boy chuckled, head back, face flushed with a heavy red. The three of us were all sitting on the side of the curb sharing a bowl.
Bevin introduced me to Lot 7 that day. It was a student parking lot at a community college. It didn’t look any different from the college’s other 8 lots, but once we pulled into a spot, we could see closely the wealthy Menlo Park and Palo Alto suburbs, and just past there, the salt flats and the San Francisco Bay. Up there, we could see everyone and no one could see us.
There were several spots we went to smoke and drink at, and we could see most of them from the parking lot. Handley Rock was to the east, up on a different hill. It was cavernous and each crater was filled with layered graffiti and empty, plastic liquor bottles. On hot summer days, it was nice to hide in the caves’ pockets of shade. The view from there was less far-reaching and mostly of a valley of trees and hiking trails. We could only see in one direction, so, whenever we heard a car park behind the rock, we had to pray that the footsteps crunching across the dead leaves were just those of an amateur rock climber or someone with a bag of weed and a handle like us, instead of a furrowed-brow police officer.
To the west of the lot was The Cross, which boasts a similar view to the parking lot, but still was not as high up as Lot 7. No one knew why there was a giant white cross and a water tank up there for all of Redwood City to sin under, but it was always empty and we could spot cops rolling up the hill a bit ahead-of-time, giving us a few minutes pack up the goods, scramble into the car, roll down the window, and say we were just on a scenic drive.
To the south, there was an abandoned tunnel under a freeway with writing on the walls that read “Please let tomorrow be better than today.” Even farther south than that, there was an empty pool misplaced in the midst of a large field, also clothed in spray paint. Once, we found a couch off the road in San Carlos and smoked there too.
I lived in a very northern suburb compared to everyone else, and, whenever people came over, they slept in my away-at-Johns-Hopkins-University sister’s bed. Those nights, we’d walk down the street to the Crystal Springs Cross Country Trail, past the tennis courts, and slip through a gap in the fence. The trail was beaten down by the sneakers of college-bound athletes building their applications and running harder past the chunks of sideline filled with recruiters. We called it The Shack because we walked the beaten path to an old concessions stand, which we assumed sold candy and soda during cross country meets in the daylight. We sat along the wall with our legs stretched across the wooden deck. It wasn’t a good place to get too fucked up at because the unbeaten parts were a lavish nature preserve: big and empty and tucked in the suburbs. When the tired moms turned their lights out, it was pitch black and populated with coyotes and bobcats, and I could feel their there-ness, although we never saw any. Once, I took an edible and thought I saw a coyote walk right past the The Shack in a quick, white flash, but I was probably just too high. The cops never rolled by there, probably because we were the only group of teens who sat in the miles of nature preserve to smoke weed and drink wine. There were no abandoned bottles or lost lighters to be found.
The areas heavily populated by high schoolers were labeled “hot.” These included many state beaches and a creek bed that cut through Palo Alto which sits dry in the summer. It was littered with mattresses and shopping bags, but none of the people who lived down there ever bothered us. Once, some of us were sitting down there – it was one of the first times I ever got high – and we heard a voice call out, “Hey, guys!” We looked up to see two police officers staring down at us with their hands resting on their belts.
“Why don’t you come on up?” We started to stand up when they asked, “What’s that next to you? A can of beer? None of you look twenty-one.” We were fifteen. We looked back down by our feet and laying between smooth, dry creek stones was a smashed beer can, full of spiderwebs.
“It’s not ours. It was here when we got here,” I said. I was surprised at how calm I sounded. I was surprised at how calm I felt.
“Alright, just come up here,” the officer conceded.
“Do you want us to bring the can?”
“No, it’s fine.”
There was a rope someone had tied to a tree up at the top and we grabbed onto it to pull our sideways selves up towards the cops.
I had gotten high and paranoid minutes before the police arrived and told everyone to put the bong, weed, and grinder back into the backpack that one boy had picked up from a pile of leaves behind a fence. He and his friend shared the paraphernalia and left it in a backpack around town for each other, since it was hard to come by a smoke shop that sold to minors, and they could only steal so many twenties from their moms’ wallets before they noticed. At the time, my anxiety had annoyed the circle of smiling, red-eyed friends.
“You’re way too sus,” one said.
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“Suspect, suspicious,” he replied.
When the cops showed up, they burst our bubble of euphoric high, found no evidence of drugs (California law stated they couldn’t search us without probable cause), and asked us what towns we were from. Most of us replied “here,” meaning Palo Alto, but I had to be honest: “not here.” The badged men smiled, “Where then?”
“Oh, sorry. Belmont.”
The cops acted like they just wanted us to be safe and warned us about the “transients” that live down there, even though they never so much as glanced up from their camping areas when teenagers came stumbling down that ridge. Everyone said my paranoia had saved us.
“We can’t go back there. That spot is too hot nowadays,” one boy said, as we walked past long, suburban driveways.
“The cops always treat white girls like they’re our, like, awkward Uncle, or something. You know? ‘Be safe, girls!’ C’mon. We are the ones breaking the law,” my best friend, Gianna, reasoned.
Lot 7 was densely populated at all times of day, but especially after 3pm, when school got out. I’d commonly run into people I knew from school there, and so did my other friends. I only had a few friends that attended the same “alternative learning” high school as me, but I liked the anonymity in the refurbished warehouse’s hallways. Jessie was the only one from school I ever really spent time with and, before I had my license, she would drive me up to the lot after school. Sometimes, she’d even take me to Taco Bell afterwards, when our eyes were red and her car’s A/C swirled a tornado of her Pink Sands scented air freshener and the warm smell of weed. She loved to paint wings across her eyelids and hated that girls felt ashamed for burping. Once, under the beating sun, in the passenger seat of Jessie’s car, I asked if she could pull the car up to one of the college’s buildings so that I could look for a restroom.
“Just piss in the bushes over there,” she told me.
“What if someone sees me?”
When we found other cars full of familiar teenagers, we’d pass bongs through rolled-down car windows. The only reason Lot 7 wasn’t hot was that it was a community college. Bevin told us that the campus security guards couldn’t arrest us. They could just ask us to leave, and maybe call the cops if we were disrespectful. They’d come up to windows during the day and ask us to open them, feel hot smoke rush across their face, ask what we were doing, to which we would reply, “Just chilling.” They never called the cops, even on Friday evenings at sunset, when the 50-something parking spots were full of people drinking whiskey out of the bottle in truck beds and hotboxed compacts.
Bevin knew all this about campus security because she went to the college part-time, and Lot 7 was technically a student parking lot. She took half her classes at the college and half at a public high school in a special program for “independent, self-motivated learners.” She didn’t go to class much but claimed she could transfer her college credits to a UC and be ahead when she was accepted as a freshman. She was the first person I knew with a nicotine addiction and taught me how to replace the coils and cottons in a box mod, carefully, wrapping metal around a pencil and pulling apart her bathroom’s cotton balls. She drove a twenty-two-year-old Volvo – half a decade older than me, four years older than she – and named it Thelma. “There is only one rule in Thelma,” she told me the first time I pulled hard to open the stiff door, “and it’s that you can’t say anything bad about her if you want a ride.” She strung fairy lights along the inside and always had a speaker sliding across her dashboard because there was no place to plug in an aux cord. I later learned that Thelma was named after Bevin’s babysitter who abruptly died from cancer; she left the car Bevin’s family had lent her full of hidden McDonald’s french fries and for a 16-year-old Bevin to inherit.
The first time I smoked a cigarette was at one of the picnic tables before the parking lot’s dirt drop-off. Gianna was there with pink wine, plastic cups, and her turtle-shaped pipe (I had a matching dolphin). She didn’t smoke cigarettes because her mom always did and she hated the smell, but she stood next to me while the older boy we were with helped me light the right end of the Marlboro Red. We played “Cigarette Daydreams” by Cage the Elephant and looked at the sea of lit-up towns as the lyrics played from an iPhone speaker stuck in a disposable cup: a scratchy “cigarette daydreams… you were only seventeen.”
After that, I made a pact with her that I would only smoke one cigarette per year for the rest of my life. Word of the pact spread amongst our friends and every time I’d smoke one more they’d ask: “What about the pact?” to which I’d reply, “I’ve got sixteen years of not smoking to make up for.” I never thought of death more than when I smoked cigarettes and that was only about seventeen times before I left the Bay Area. Mostly, I wished for time to move faster.
Jessie stuck around in the Bay Area for a while after everyone went to college and told me she found my pink, lacey underwear abandoned among the shrubs and crushed beer cans in the drop-off. I had gone down the hill like she had advised, pulled up my skirt and started to pee without remembering my underwear’s grip. I had to discard them, back in 2015, before going back to Jessie’s new civic.
Thelma doesn’t run anymore and Bevin and I both went to school out of state. When I was 18 in New Orleans, I met some girls and we made a routine of sitting at wood tables in a parking lot behind a college bar. We called it The Nook, which reminded me of The Cross and The Shack. I didn’t know what the word “nook” meant until today: a corner or recess, especially one offering seclusion or security.
By the time I turned 19, The Nook was blocked by gates at night and cars parked where tables used to be during the day. I asked the bar’s manager why they’d closed it and he told me they couldn’t watch people out in the back – that it just wasn’t safe.
I never asked anyone why they closed Lot 7; no one was around when I found it covered in caution tape.
Published in Edition 4 of The Dilettante.