Forget the Wall Street bankers, media executives, corporate titans, the grande dame in a knotted Hermes scarf floating down Fifth Avenue or the black-clad model heading hungry as hell to a shoot in the fashion district. As the COVID-19 pandemic attacks New York City, the important people are the ones that pump this city’s heart 24/7 — the ones that in good times are dismissed as the underdogs, until we are forced to look at the wolf square in the eyes.
The indispensables are the doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers, firemen, cooks, MTA workers, cleaners, postal workers, bodega owners, grocery and liquor store workers, food deliverers, taxi drivers, and doormen. These are the real heroes of the mean streets of New York and of this pandemic.
Yet, from the collective confinement inside cramped lofts in Brooklyn and walk-ups in Bushwick, there is another group we must thank: one that tends to our mental and spiritual well-being in these difficult times. These unsung heroes travel mostly at night, in the middle of this dystopian horror film, to get New Yorkers their Apple Pie Sativa or Chem Dawg oil and ensure their sanity.
These paladins are the weed delivery people. Weed has become part of mainstream America, and this is especially true in New York: essential on any given day, life-saving in the eye of the pandemic. New York is tough, it has gone through a lot, but this is different. We now live in the hot zone of COVID-19.
The city is besieged.
It has more coronavirus patients than any country in the world, aside from the United States, according to CNN. As of the beginning of this week, NYC health officials said there are 104,410 cases, 27,676 in hospitals, and 6,182 have died. The number is probably higher because people are dying at home. The virus is twice as deadly for African-Americans and Latinos: Hispanics represent 34 percent of those that have died and African-Americans 28 percent of deaths. Doctors are wearing trash bags for protection. Funeral homes and morgues are in a state of emergency. The unclaimed dead are being buried in a potter’s field. The well-to-do enact their own form of social distancing — they flee the city. Things are pretty grim.
In the middle of this fog, we sit cloistered as a Carmelite nun, some alone, others with their significant others and many with young children, locked in and restless. That is when you reach for the cellphone and text the weed delivery service: “Will you be around Bedford today? Yes? Excellent. The strongest OG Kush you have, please.”
The weed delivery person is like a modern-day Avon salesperson. They market edibles, wax, oils, creams, tinctures, pens, flowers with names like Sour Diesel, Lemon Meringue and Hippie Crippler — all carried in a neat funky pack and colorful packaging. (Caveat: Doctors are recommending edibles because vaping and smoking affects lung capacity.)
“Our business doubled: Every day is a Friday,” said the owner of Jack Flash, a cannabis delivery service in New York City, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to the New York Times. The sale of recreational marijuana is illegal in New York. “It’s just been really nonstop,” he said. “Where we normally get 200 orders a day, we saw closer to 1,000.”
The worry is that the supply will dry up and the prices will go up. A recent study on marijuana usage in New York City found that over 1.3 million New Yorkers reported using cannabis in the past year. During the pandemic, these same numbers are hoarding weed. Better that than the effect alcohol has on those cloistered in one’s building — where one can hear the anger spilling out from the apartments as the wine consumption escalates versus chilling with Rose Gold oil and listening to Buddha Bar Radio.
All delivery services are keen on keeping their employees safe. The websites now read like this: “Dear Customers: Yes, we are open during the COVID-19 crisis! It’s a stressful time for all and we hope our services can ease some of that additional stress.” The new guidelines are masks, gloves, keeping distance during meets, and keeping products clean and sanitized.
One delivery person in Brooklyn said her company has shortened the staff’s hours and raised minimum orders to help streamline service, something that’s helped to keep their work as chill as possible. “It’s hard, though, being out on deliveries without a place to stand by or to use the restroom… and it’s a bit sketchy being the only one with a big bag riding around,” she added.
The paladins will not enter a building or home and will make a quick exchange in a safe lobby, foyer, or outside. The services enabled their drivers to do touch-free deliveries — they don’t handle products directly to customers. Many are still paying cash (now being put in envelopes) and customers are asking to pay via Cash App or Venmo. This is the new normal in the “hot zone.”
“I am working on commercials in my back office, my toddler is off the wall half-attending her virtual pre-school, banging on a drum in the next room,” shared a resident of Bed-Stuy, who asked not to be named because he works for a corporate behemoth. “There is a background wash of constant sirens wailing to remind you of the constant death that surrounds you. You need something to take you away. Weed is my Calgon,” he said.
It’s a way to stave off the feeling of impending doom. New Yorkers ignore Trump, who has morphed into Jim Jones The Kool-Aid Guy, and switch on New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and text the delivery service. “Delivery, Mama needs her meds,” said a neighbor. New York is hanging onto Cuomo (the new Mr. Darcy) and the weed delivery service like Kate Winslet hung onto that plank of wood in Titanic.
“Most of the American public and an increasing number of government leaders stopped buying into the demonization of cannabis years ago,” Karen O’Keefe, state policies director for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a recent Forbes article.
“Now, not only have two-thirds of states recognized that medical cannabis should be legal — with 11 legalizing adult-use — many are recognizing that safe access to cannabis is essential,” she said.
Even in Manchester, England, the music producer, and activist OUTLAW is making the rounds like our hometown Batman in Gotham. Rolling at 5 mph in a van emblazoned with the words “Free Isolation Essentials: Toilet Roll, Sanitiser, Bottled Water, Grinders, Bud” on the side and playing Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry,” he is giving out free weed and other essential items. He is the Mr. Softee of British quarantine.
Weed is the perfume of New York City — fragrant in Manhattan, pungent in Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Queens. It’s the aroma of Williamsburg. Today, it is the saving grace in the middle of a pandemic.