A little after 10:00AM, I sat in my car, notebook in hand, watching people.
I was parked in the lot of a Denver marijuana dispensary, counting how many people braved the blizzard to shop inside.
As they piled in, I noted their gender, and whether they looked in their 20s, 40s, or older.
I kept watching… marking down stats… and hoping no one would catch me spying…
… for more than seven straight hours
When I felt too frozen in my car, I started the engine and blasted the heat for a few minutes. Did some deep breathing exercises and meditations. And wondered where my life would be in a few months.
The owner had sent me on a spying mission. He was interested in opening some dispensaries in Colorado, and wanted to see what kind of market demand there was.
Save for the cold, that day’s mission was a nice break from fussing about in an office of a crumbling business.
I counted more than a hundred customers swarm the dispensary on a snowy day where many would hesitate to drive to the grocery store.
Definitely a lucrative business to get into…
… unlike the one we were in.
Around this time, I closed three more stores in one swoop. Before that, I chauffeured my co-worker friend around so she could lay people off. I’d worked with these folks for months – even years. But one 60-second conversation later… and we’d never see each other again.
I would have been really depressed, had I not felt so scared.
On another day, my co-worker friend and I called every single county in Colorado, to find out their laws and regulations for selling marijuana. That gave me a doorway into the weird and wacky ins-and-outs of local governments:
“I’m calling about your county’s laws and regulations regarding marijuana.”
“You have to ask an attorney – we can’t give legal advice.”
“I’m not asking for advice – just what the actual laws are.”
“I can’t tell you that!”
Some of the most rural, middle-of-nowhere counties surprised me, though, and sent detailed PDFs on how to start a marijuana business in their jurisdiction.
I hoped the owner would start this new business soon, and that I could be a part of it. I also wondered if we could keep the current one going as well. My online marketing was working. And with the store closures, we evaporated hundreds of thousands of dollars of expenses…
… but it backfired
The landlord of the first location we closed, sued the company. And somehow, even before a judgement was made, this former landlord managed to vacuum every last penny out of the business’s bank account.
The owner admitted to me that he called his bank in a panic, demanding at least enough funds remain to make payroll. He succeeded. He also admitted he cried in the office alone that night. It was hard to imagine a guy like him in that state… but I knew all too well what he was suffering through.
The State of Colorado sent a letter to the company’s accountant, demanding to garnish my wages. I called them to negotiate (as in, explain to them how broke I was) but they wouldn’t give in.
During a lunch break, I drove back to the law firm I’d retained for my first bankruptcy, to discuss going through a Chapter 13 bankruptcy. It’s an interesting hybrid designed to unload taxes owed.
The lawyer had converted half his office into a used car lot.
It… sort of… made sense
When someone goes through a bankruptcy, they frequently need a new car and don’t have the credit for a loan.
The lawyer said I could go through the Chapter 13, and have my remaining debt organized into a payment plan. I’d have to take a second job to afford it. Driving back to work and thinking things over, I refused to go through with it. There had to be a better way out. A curious relief washed over me. I couldn’t tell if it were a sign, or my body giving me a respite from the constant grief and stress.
The state moved forward with my garnishment, but they reduced it to a mere $75 per week. Still, my remaining pay was so low, it was like I was making $9 per hour.
Around this time, I deployed my friend’s $3000 loan for my own business’s marketing test.
I watched the numbers day by day.
I hoped this would work, and give me some light at the end of the tunnel.
Then, I faced paying back the loan… barely enough income to afford rent and food… and possible unemployment.
A friend of the owner visited town, to strategize busting into the marijuana industry. Him, his assistant, the owner, and my co-worker friend spent a couple days discussing all the details. I wasn’t included.
I never would find out if they went through with it.
On the first day of March, 2014, the owner asked me to come talk in his office.
I sat down and he said, “There’s no easy way to say this, so I’ll just say it. We’re closing. Like, closing closing.”
Oh. After thinking a bit, I realized the time I’d just spent sign-spinning outside that day, might have been my last.
The news really hit me then
“Well,” I told him, “Nobody could ever say you didn’t do everything you could to make it work.” It was true – I’d watched the man eat and breathe the business – taking customer calls seven days per week, working all hours, and obsessing over every detail.
But it was over. Almost three years before, I’d found that job on Craigslist. So, right after walking out of the owner’s office, I sat at my desk and returned to the site, to see where I could land next…
… and that was how I ended up competing with over a hundred other people for a job trimming marijuana plants.