In The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, author Tom Wolfe follows Ken Kesey’s band of Merry Pranksters on a cross-country road trip in a Day-Glo painted school bus from California to New York to meet Dr. Timothy Leary—the foremost scholar on LSD at the time. Upon arrival, Kesey’s crew is unceremoniously turned away by Leary’s assistant being told that the Dr. was in the midst of a multi-day meditation and could not take visitors. Kesey took the L in stride and remarked “that’s ok. New York is about 10 years behind anyways”.
Reading this in college was the first time in my life I had ever even considered the option that New York may not be the unparalleled trailblazer in any facet of human existence,
I grew up in Arizona. At a time when no one lived there, there were no freeways leading to my parents’ house, and we didn’t even have a baseball team yet. We got none of the cool concerts and there was nothing to do.
From this desolate, arid vantage point, New York was always the gold standard in my eyes. Birthplace of Hip Hop and Punk Rock. The worldwide standard for fashion and theater. Saturday Night Live, all the best concerts, New York University, Columbia, The Apollo, Jazz. Home to my lifelong favorite sports franchise (Go Yankees) and all-time favorite place on the planet (Central Park). New York City—the capital of the world—was the epicenter for food, museums, art exhibits, and humans I could only dream of from my marooned desert isolation.
Arizona is the only state that doesn’t observe daylight savings time. So for part of the year, New York is 3 hours ahead. As a kid, those 3 hours felt like a very tangible divide between our respective evolution. At 10pm Arizona time I would think “it’s already tomorrow in New York”. Every New Year’s Eve I would watch the ball drop in Times Square and think about how Arizona’s midnight was a stale second-hand knock-off. “It’s already next year in New York”.
Throughout my life I’ve made it a point to not let too much time pass between visits. Although I’ve never lived there it’s always felt like home. Often times people ask me what part of New York I’m from or will look to me in agreement when a group discussion of “back East” comes up in an assumption that I’m part of an in-group I’ve spent my whole life just on the outside of.
In 2011, heartbroken over a girl who was already taken, I decided it was time to finally make the move to the city. Perhaps unfairly putting her on the spot I asked “do you want me to stay, even if it’s just as friends?”
Her answer was yes. So I stayed in Los Angeles. And it was worth it, even though it didn’t work out the way I wanted (and if you’re reading this—I’m sorry).
I will never know what my life would have been like if she hadn’t asked me to stay. Nor if I had gotten into NYU instead of UCLA for law school. Nor if I had actually jumped the LA ship post-COVID as so many did.
My last venture to the city, in 2014, was as a touring Stand Up Comic. We went up in the freezing cold in Brooklyn and I immediately alienated the audience by calling out gentrification in Williamsburg. It was exhilarating and we marched off joyfully to the next open mic in the snow. A few days later I went up in The Village. Even years later, just typing it gives me a thrill. A few days later, I killed Upstate and felt untouchable later that night in the hotel room the booker paid for.
When my time’s up and my life flashes before me I will see these again in the highlight reel.
New York feels like the one that got away and LA the one I married out of convenience. Los Angeles is the only place I’ve ever lived as an adult. It is where I graduated from law school. And decided not to become a lawyer. It’s where I started doing stand-up to impress a girl (and even though it didn’t work out the way I wanted it to, it was worth it). It’s where I’ve lived, died, killed, laughed, cried, and parented other people’s children on film and television sets. It’s where I improved with Kevin Hart. And got paid to dub the lead of a Netflix series (“Welcome to the Family”). Fantasies beyond my wildest imagination and well outside the scope I envisioned when I moved here for law school, dreams realized that germinated and grew in Los Angeles soil.
Recreational legalization of cannabis and its magnificent accessibility and superb quality and variety of products is another of these unforeseen miracles. In March 2020, days before LA shut down I had my birthday party at the (now defunct) Cannabis Cafe owned by Lowell Farms. A chef-driven restaurant with cold-pressed juice, delicious coffee, and every imaginable incarnation of cannabis consumed joyfully out in the open had a WeHo feeling like Amsterdam. Looking around the restaurant to see all types of people participating in the cannabis ritual without shame or threat of state violence was an image I’ll never forget.
Now as NYC reopens in 2021, Stoned Pizza attempts to catch up with LA’s culinary cannabis offering a safe space to smoke and selling food infused with THC. I’ve always heard New York’s weed is trash. Could the best place on earth possibly have such a large and damning Achilles’ heel? Californians legalized recreational cannabis in 2016 but it didn’t pass for New Yorkers until 2021. By Kesey’s estimate, New York cut its lag time in half.
How does the capital of the world measure up to Los Angeles 9 months after legalization passed?
And in the New York Pinstripes:
The Pizza Pusha: Stoned Pizza Coney Island
Grey market kingpin pushes pies and sides infused with THC in an open-air street art festival on Brooklyn’s storied shoreline carnival.
A tale of two cities
New York is rooted into the earth; LA is the most eye-catching flower. LA is great to look at but New York is where life happens. In Los Angeles, the polis engages a wild cross-section of the avatars each human has built for success in the industry. Because of the value of networking, these avatars engage with the conception of who each person is at the forefront of the interaction (e.g. “I’m an actor, you’re a writer let’s collaborate”). In LA you engage with society as the allegedly singular and identifiable ego you’ve crafted. High-stakes, me-first driving is commonplace on our roads as they express our unspoken credo-every person for themselves and if we get away without a collision it’s fair game. In the 5 boroughs of New York, The City itself reigns supreme and the humans fade into the background. Synchronizing with the rhythm of the city and participating in its flow without encumbrance (not holding up the line to get on the train, not walking too slow on the sidewalk) is first and foremost the duty of each inhabitant. Humans do not look at or deal with each other the same way in The City as they do in LA. Avatars are not permanently illuminated neon signs of creativity awaiting discovery-when you are in New York you are in service of the life of The City and The City will not be bothered with you.
Humanity is a living breathing organism in The City and our oneness as a lifeforce is undeniable in Manhattan. If we release our death grip on the notion of separation and let all of the heartbeats, sounds of construction, streams of consciousness, music off in the distance, the conversation of passerby’s on the street, honking horns of midtown taxis, the clang of footsteps, and woosh of subways pulling into the station become the comings-and-goings of one ceaselessly fluctuating flow of experience we can see NYC for the living, breathing, dynamic organism that it is. In LA it is always about you, in NYC it is always about the city. The flow dictates how we go about our lives and blessed are those fortunate enough to occupy The City’s confines.
Touching down in The City, I had to continuously remind myself that these gorgeous walk-ups were not facades but actual abodes, The Empire State Building was not a brilliant execution of CGI but a brick & mortar edifice. This wasn’t a studio backdrop but an actual, living, breathing place. New York City feels real—it is textured, tactile, lived in, and alive. I wished the spirit of the metropolis would awaken and embrace me in its arms, asking me to stay as my ex so many years ago had done.
It’s hard to explain homesickness for a place you’ve never lived in, but my body aches for Manhattan. Los Angeles is my city but New York my heart. It feels strange to not have friends of years and years walking with me, arm-in-arm. To not be able to point at this building and that building and say at one point they were mine. To not pass by a former job I hated and thank the heavens I no longer worked there. I mourn a life that never was in Manhattan and wonder fretfully if it is one that never will be.
Who could I have become with The City as my guide? Who would I become when I inevitably veered off this beaten path. I always felt New Yorkers were my people. Who would I have met, encountered?
As I wished for as robust history in The City as I had in LA, I stopped in a corner store for some water. In the 6 llllllloooonnnnggggg years since quitting cigarettes I had never wanted one so badly. As I contemplated the purchase and wondering if cheating even counted on this coast, a Billy Joel classic came on the radio and I instantly burst into tears. In a different city, a different life I had ventured to the desert with my former beloved and, inexplicably, had this song stuck in my head the entire car ride. As soon as we reached our destination, the song came on on the casino floor and it felt significant somehow—like I had followed the sonorous bread crumbs of where I was supposed to be, where we were supposed to be at that exact moment. “I haven’t felt it in the longest time”.
Long, supportive hugs and embodied romantic affection seemed much more alive on the streets of NYC than I’ve ever seen in Los Angeles. Maybe it’s the steel obfuscation of our cars or the rigid stratification of our social hierarchy, but I’ve never seen so many people being held in LA. I wanted to hold and be held in every sparkling moment of what the human can experience in this magnificent city.
Puff, puff, pass
The last time my mom came to visit LA she asked if we really had that many skunks or it was just the constant smell of weed burning in the distance. If you are lucky enough to live in Los Angeles, you already know the answer. Nary more than a wayward sniff of grass was detectable on my Saturday night in The Village. Smoke Shops popped up on several streets corners but I couldn’t help but wonder “…. for smoking what?” Hookahs lined the storefront and ads for Juuls occupied the same or double the space as dubious low-quality CBD signs in the window. Any and all mentions of cannabis seemed relegated to these antiquated, unremarkable headshops.
Assuming I would eventually walk by someone lighting a joint and strike up a conversation, my expectation never came to pass. Inebriated businessmen, rainbow-clad party-starters, overly confident co-eds all walked by in groups and pairs with no weed to speak of. NYU flags repeated block by block promising the presence of the college lifestyle but, at least as I’ve known it, it seemed that didn’t really exist on the late-night streets of the weekend.
I ended up back in my hotel room sober with hopes for cannabis the following day. On a joyful jaunt through Mid Town the next morning I happened upon a delightfully boisterous Weed World food truck. With the Merry Pranksters in mind, I pounced upon the psychedelics-on-wheels aesthetic immediately and got a flick for Tik Tok (follow us @emjaydelivery). The 4200 Gas-O-Matic advertises lollipops, brownies, and vapes among a barrage of cannabis imagery. With a “hell fuckin’ yeah!” exploding from my chest I texted the number on the side immediately and within minutes an adult on a hoverboard rolled up swiftly. His mode of transportation, the first inkling of fuck-shit, and when I asked if they had infused pre-rolls his confused “infused?” the second.
$20 bucks later, I marched off victoriously as I tucked the jay safely like a newborn babe in my pocket for just the perfect moment. I was headed to a free hip hop concert in The Park and I could think of a better opportunity. As I felt my way into the vibes of the experimental, independent artists showcased (check out @MoorMother) I stood up from the grass to light the day’s hunter-gatherings. Within 2 puffs of the weed, someone tapped on my shoulder. I turned around assuming I would find another cannabis-deprived smoker in need of a boost but instead found a staff member frantically telling me I had to put it out. In all honesty, it had never occurred to me that it was possible to be sanctioned for cannabis at an outdoor concert especially after the passage of legalization. I relocated to the porta-potties to resume my mission but it felt like something had been taken from me and the experience. I knew what I was doing wasn’t wrong and it felt preposterous that it wasn’t welcome in this environment.
The joint tasted like weed and obviously smelled like weed to the adamant security guard but THC, my friends, this was not. Well, not the one that gets you high at least. Our resident OG and fantastic editor here at Bluntly warned me about the nonsense floating around The City known as delta 8. Unlike delta 9 THC, this cannabinoid does not get your brain quite as high as delta-9 but is more akin to CBD. Later searching the web for Weed World led me to the well-known conclusion every New Yorker had reached—these were smoke and mirrors-tourist traps with no real substance. I felt like a noob but it was truly eye-opening to realize that in The City this type of access to legalized cannabis is so fully out of reach that anyone claiming to offer it is obviously illegitimate—they don’t know this is actually how we do out in Los Angeles. I was curious to see how The Pizza Pusha’s Stoney Island would hold up amidst this achingly disparate cannabis climate.
The train from Manhattan to Coney Island gives you a fast-forwarded tour of Brooklyn’s westernmost portion. It’s beautiful to see Manhattan fade into Brooklyn with a gorgeous swath of street art included free of charge. I missed exactly zero aspects of denigrating our struggling ozone in my gridlocked single passenger Los Angeles reality as the cheap, reliable no-responsibility train wove its way through the boroughs.
Exiting the train in Brooklyn I broke into overjoyed tears at the striking sight of The Atlantic. The beach has always been a California thing for me and in my previous conception, one of the strongest pros in the Los Angeles column. I sent videos to my mom of the spectacular 360* view on my right the greatest city in the world, on my left my favorite feature of this planet. The ocean drew me to her as fast as my legs could carry me. . The water was choppy and the tide darker than the California seas. The sky seemed closer and the shoreline a tight snapshot of a single defined place and moment in space-time. We were held by the earth is this perfectly designated slice of land between the heavens and the seas.
I was so exhilarated by the juxtaposition—the meeting point of nature’s effortless perfection and The States’ highest watermark of civilization—that I forgot what existed at this precise meeting point. No child or character entrusted to Keanu Reeves has realized a more extended or heartfelt “Woah!” as I happened upon my first view of Coney Island. Death-defying rollercoasters, classic midway games, beloved carnival treats, and a Ferris Wheel meet the ocean with fantastic good-time synergy. It’s almost hard to believe The Pizza Pusha found a way to improve on this.
Secluded a block or two behind the bustling family-friendly fairgrounds, Stoned Pizza operates out of a discreet, hidden location guarded by security. Surrounded on all sides by street art, the grounds of Stoney Island are impressively expansive. It’s fantastic and hard to imagine how they managed to hide away such a big space.
As you walk past the tight security and velvet rope, inspired, invigorating live music awaits. On top of the amusement park and ocean, the live band adds so much to your experience as you await your cannabis dinner. Oh, and did I mention a movie’s included? Wander past the dining area and the band’s stage to a giant inflatable screen facing an audience of lounge chairs in the shape of weed leaves. Stoney Island achieves exactly what its name promises—an amusement park of weed. But where exactly was the good-good?
At Lowell’s cannabis cafe in Los Angeles, you had one server for traditional food and drinks and another for anything that containing cannabis. At Stoney Island, the concept is an all-in-one prix fixe: a coursed tasting of dinner dishes infused with cannabis. Unfamiliar with New York’s edibles and prone to overindulging, I attempted to make like The Offspring and keep ’em (the food and the weed) separated. Stoney Island operates more like a food stand than a restaurant. The cookie-cutter dishes are made via assembly line and brought out to the tables as is. They didn’t really seem equipped to modify the food and refused to adjust dosing.
Noticing the free-wheeling approach to plating and service I decided to eat slowly in case I unintentionally was given an infused item stronger than I wanted it to be. This approach was quickly validated as the first inklings of an edible’s onset arose before I could get a clear answer on how to buy the cannabis items advertised when you make the reservation (spoiler alert: you cant.) As I reached for my orange soda I felt the familiar buzz and exclaimed aloud “yup, I’m high”. I wasn’t sure which of the food items came out dosed and which didn’t so I used an escape-room-esque strategy to avoid getting uncomfortably high.
Stoned Pizza advertises their dosing at ludacris levels. Over 400 mgs for pizza and 30 mg for sodas. Most of the tables in the joint held 2 people and as I looked around no one in these couples seemed like they’d just ripped through 200 millies. Eyes were glassy and reaction times slowed, but no one was laid out in the carnage I’ve seen even 20’s enact on others. Either everyone here had the highest tolerance of anyone I had ever met or there was something fishy at the pier.
As per my established pattern, I excused myself to the restroom to check in with the body and wash my hands as a litmus test for inebriation. My heart was racing. There was a heightened delightfulness to physical sensation and slight impairment of motor skills. I noticed the heaviness normally accompanied by edibles was missing—the pressure of seemingly increasing gravity was not there. I was zonked—heavily zoned out but feeling safe and present. After my Delta 8 experience the previous day I recognized the similarities-racing heart, bodily well-being, and kinship to cannabis without its distinct fingerprint. I was stoned fair and square but my money’s on no real (delta 9) THC in this sideshow attraction.
As soon as dessert arrived, I greedily grabbed my growing hoard of stoner delights and headed to the movie section. I assembled my slowly decreasing feast and settled in for Friday. I noticed the only people smoking had brought their own and I wondered if I again, as the previous day with the Weed World wagon, was the only one in The City who hadn’t gotten the memo on the subtext.
A sound in the distance caught my attention. To my delight, it arose from an old-timey popcorn machine freshly popping snacks for our enjoyment. The servers came around with attentive, loving care to our inebriation. The food does get you high (and made for the single best transportation experience of my life on the way back to MannyHatty) but I think Stoney Island is most justly framed as a cannabis-themed carnival attraction much more so than a restaurant or purveyor of cannabis.
After a seaside caricature high the previous night at Stoned Pizza, I woke up in my Chelsea digs with the hilarity of morning-after discoveries. All of my clothes fanned outside the luggage in messy bundles. Every cabinet and door left open blocking every possible passage way to the exit. A plastic bag filled with plastic water bottles (ecocidal sins I’d never commit within the county boundaries of Los Angeles) I procured the night before by buffonishly pawing in the vendor’s cart like a bear attempting to break into campers’ food supply. And I lost my Metro card. I felt good and slept an amazing 11 hours but was sad I still hadn’t smoked flower in The City.
Later that day,I happened upon some stoners hidden behind a tree in The Park and rushed over at my first healthy whiff of weed. I trounced upon their secluded enclave like I’d just stumbled out of a time machine explaining I’d come from a foreign land years into their cannabis future where a utopia of weed was available in every form on every corner. I asked from a place of equal parts exasperation and naiveite—”where do you buy weed here?!”. The first to respond answered simply “you can’t” with his friend adding “you have to get a prescription” quickly after. “What in the1996 is this bullshit?!” I thought but replied “so like you have to know someone…” and lingered in the suggestion that they might help me out. They had already returned to their conversation and were clearly finished with the interloper. “I don’t want your stank ass delta 8 anyways,” I thought as I walked away unsuccessful.
From the park, I made my first venture to Yankee Stadium to watch The Bronx Bombers sweep the Red Sox and pull ahead of them in the division for the first time this season. I got soft serve in a souvenir cup and a replica jersey in the timeless pinstripes. As Boston fans stomped out in frustration, Sinatra’s “New York, New York” played as the crowd sang along and swayed back and forth in jubilation. As a diversion distracted security, I snuck down to field level and made it to the seats directly behind home plate and everything was perfect.
In a particularly ambitious attempt to savor every last drop of my last night with The City, I decided to walk from Yankee Stadium (on 161st) to Chelsea (my room at 17th & 6th). My intention was only to soak up the city. As if I could inhale enough of it into my lungs that I could take some with me. I felt the rhythm and personality of each neighborhood fluctuate and expand with each passing street.
About 20 minutes north of The Apollo, a man approached me with compliments asking to know what I was up to and where I was from. He was kind and respectful so I shared that I was in from Los Angeles which immediately prompted him to ask: “you smoke?”. I felt seen and finally in the company of a cannabis colleague. From my exuberant and exhausted “yes!” he gleaned exactly what I meant—”I know it’s tough right? I moved here from LA and traveling back and forth it’s hard to know where to go”. He popped into his brand new sparkling clean double-parked Benz. “Here I got you” he reached into a white pouch of cannabis decorated with a single pronounced X in black ink on the cover. “This is the heavy-Black Cherry Gelato”. 3 thousand miles away from Los Angeles and Sherbinskis still holds the belt for brand name quality in cannabis. I thanked him profusely (shout out to Caleeb c.147th street) and excitedly broke the buds down for storage in the tiny 5th pocket of my jeans (which fun fact is literally only useful for drugs). I scored an elephant-shaped hand pipe around 135th and finally dug into my first bowl of New York flower shortly thereafter. The lift was stoney and heaven-sent for the aches 10 miles of Manhattan awoke in my body. It felt like the city could hear me and was in that moment talking back in the language it knew I could finally understand.
I made it back to the hotel with the most triumphant bushel of flowers I’d ever received. And stood out on 17th for perhaps the hardest earned smoke of my lifetime. And just like that, The Big City welcomed me into its arms with the healing power of cannabis.
There's a clear winner
Without qualification, exemption, reserve, hesitation, or second-guessing New York is by far the superior city. But without the slightest competition, Los Angeles is laughingly light years ahead of The City in terms of cannabis. I will double and then some Kesey’s estimate with New York at least the Kobe number behind LA’s scene.
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