Many an artist and writer has long struggled to capture the essence of San Francisco in an image, an outcry, or a few well-formulated words. They should have been shopping for weed instead.
Some people swear by Geary Boulevard or Market Street for the title of our most emblematic thoroughfare, but I think it's Mission Street. It's all there: High and low, rich and poor, old and new—with all the frisson and friction that competing for space in uncertain times and on unequal terms creates.
As it happens, almost a third of the city's 30 (and counting) marijuana outlets are located along the path of the 14-Mission bus. Starting on the city's southern rim and working my way north, I found a weed club for all walks of life in 2017 San Francisco, from the blue-collar worker, forearms tattooed with "415" in gothic script, to the patron of the $12 toast.
Mission Organic Center
Twenty-first-century working-class values surround you in the Excelsior District. Men in paint-splattered clothes wait next to women in medical scrubs for the bus at Mission and Geneva. (Gender, at least, obeys rules from San Francisco's blue-collar past that the late Dan White, infamous neighborhood native and Harvey Milk assassin, would have recognized.) Here also, up the street from a workwear store selling Ben Davis overalls, is the city's only union marijuana dispensary.
Mission Organic Center (5258 Mission St.) has the fluorescent lighting of a dental clinic waiting room—antiseptic trappings made up for by the tattooed twentysomethings working behind the counter, each and every one of them a member of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5.
There are topicals and tinctures for pain and seizures here as well as uber-strength edibles—each the sort of medicine that could relieve the country's opiate crisis—suggesting this place will stay "medical" even when a doctor's note is no longer required. Uncommon questions about potency, sourcing, and lab testing are answered—"Not everything is tested, honestly," my budtender says, candidly—and there's none of the usual impatience when I smell-test my sixth and seventh strain before picking out a few grams.
Two other patients come and go before my fussiness has been addressed, but I make the most impact while making my exit. "Bye! Thanks for coming!" all four people behind the counter say. As a card-carrying union man myself—a member of the Pacific Media Guild's freelancer union—I want to leap upon a chair, raise a fist, and shout something about solidarity. Instead, I mumble some thanks and buoyantly reenter the afternoon sunshine.