I first met Adrian* at a dusty bar situated among warehouses, a couple miles from downtown Cleveland, where they keep the doors locked—you have to knock to get in—and the owner’s aging black lab mingles freely with the aging customers. The vaguely illicit nature of the place was suited to the purpose of our meeting, which was to exchange $100 cash for a quarter-ounce of high-grade cannabis.
A friend of mine, a fellow journalist in Cleveland to cover the RNC, had found and gotten in touch with Adrian before even setting foot in the city for the first time, and had arranged to meet with him a few hours after landing and stock up on pot. My friend is astoundingly resourceful with this sort of thing, but even for him, this was impressive. He asked me if I wanted to grab a beer and tag along on the errand, and I said yes, eager to meet the man whom, I presumed, would be helping stuffy old guys and the journalists who cover them get stoned all week.
It didn’t turn out quite like that for Adrian. As of Thursday morning, my friend has been his only convention-related client, which is a shame, because I can vouch for the quality of his product. You’re missing out, Marco Rubio! Maybe our Republican friends found somewhere else to get their fix, or maybe there are other controlled substances they’d rather be ingesting.
At the bar on Monday evening, Adrian talked to us about how he thought the convention might backfire on the Republicans. Aside from one or two brief stints in other cities, he’s a lifelong Clevelander, born and raised, and he said he’d never seen the scrappy city so happy as when the Cavaliers made their Shakespearian championship run this year, with Lebron back at the helm. If anything were to go wrong in the city during the RNC, he said—the chaotic demonstrations and mass arrests that nearly everyone was predicting—it could take away that hard-won feeling of Cleveland pride, and voters all over the crucial swing state of Ohio would blame the GOP circus for pulling the rug out from under them.
Adrian works a flexible, non-desk job, and picked up selling weed a few months ago to bolster his formal income, which, he says, is less than $25,000 per year. He didn’t want to discuss his rent on the record, but said that the two jobs together allowed him to live in an entire house by himself, and he implored anyone who lives in a larger city to “just look at housing costs in Cleveland, and then go in a closet and cry.”
His story wasn’t quite the weed-kingpin-of-the-convention narrative I’d been hoping for—and the mass protests haven’t quite panned out, either—but I was impressed by his flaneur’s sense of the city. I met up with him again at a quiet spot downtown to hear more of his thoughts on the state of Cleveland and the RNC.
*Adrian is not our humble weed guy’s real name, and he asked me not reveal many personal details about him. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
I was expecting to hear that your business has been booming this week. Is it actually worse than it would be if the convention weren’t in town?
By a lot. I haven’t had one convention-related client besides your friend, and no residents are downtown. All the people who do live here are gone.
I’m kind of new to this, so I don’t have the world’s largest client base. A friend got into it, and said, “Hey I need someone on the ground,” and that was it. I do a couple deliveries a week, if that. Trust me, I’m not the kingpin—God no. I just provide a service at a slight markup, and that’s it. It’s like driving Uber: Don’t rely on it for money, but do it on the side. It’s just like any other work.
I keep my client base small, and I don’t fuck around, because if you fuck around, you get caught.
How do you feel about the RNC coming through town otherwise?
It hasn’t worked out for a lot of people. I know a lot of people had a good time, and I’m happy for them, but there’s a lot of folks in this town that have lost pay. Restaurants are not making money. It isn’t the big overwhelming godsend they said it was going to be. The vast majority of my friends work in the service industry, and they’re not making money. I’m sure there’s extra money being made, but I don’t know a single human being who’s profiting.
My only hope is that with all the people who did come from out of town, the city makes enough of an impression on them that they come back, because that’s the only way we’re going to get a net positive out of it. If it helps our burgeoning tourism industry, it was worth it. If not, I’m going to be mad.
Every single person who comes to this town leaves saying how nice it is. And it bums me out that we have this shitty reputation that we don’t deserve. Come by and visit. Get a hotel room, they’re cheap downtown, and you can walk everywhere downtown, it’s fucking great.
The other night, you said something about how Cleveland was riding high after the Cavs victory, and that you were worried that the convention might take away from that if things got hectic.
That’s what we were all terrified of: something awful would happen and ruin the one time in history that we’re having fun. I don’t want the nation to get their riot porn, or their terrorism porn. Nobody wants that. But they promised us economic gains we’re not seeing, and if anything did happen… [he trails off]
It’s been different. We won that title, and there were hundreds of thousands of people there on the parade day. We had all those people downtown, with no barriers, no nothing. There was only a handful of minor incidents.
The city’s been really happy, and everyone’s been really nice. Everything was seemingly going great. And then they were like, “Oh, this convention is going to come in,” and we watched the security go up. And then it’s the tension of, “Is somebody somewhere going to do something really stupid?”
But we haven’t seen a lot of that so far. Why do you think that is?
No, we haven’t. And I’m hoping that it finishes quietly.
If the protesters are locals, we’re not going to wreck this place. It just doesn’t make sense. If anybody’s doing damage, they’re not from around here. And that’s what we’re all saying. Every resident is saying, “If you see someone damaging property, they are not from northeast Ohio.” If people are saying “I’m going to raise hell,” well, I’m going to smack the taste out of your mouth if you do. Because I have to rub elbows with everybody. We have to live here. And it’s hard enough living here. We can’t make it worse.
What makes it hard to live here?
It’s a tough town. We lost a lot of population—the housing crisis nailed us. We’ve taken good, heavy-handed losses as a city for 40 years. We just kept getting hit. What are you going to do? We don’t destroy this place, because we need it.
I grew up during the worst time in Cleveland: Just after the steel mills left, and then after multiple recessions, and we just kept taking hits, because we produce things in this town. We all have analog jobs. We don’t have a tech industry to leech off of. We don’t have a banking industry that will cause other things to pop up. This version of Cleveland is the best I’ve ever seen. We’re trying. We fight every fucking day. We fight amongst ourselves a lot too. But what people don’t get, and the thing that I would like to convey, is that we really are all in this together.
All of the people I knew in Cleveland moved out when they were young, ten years ago. I didn’t, because I couldn’t, and now I’m stuck here. I don’t make enough money to leave, but I make enough money to live. Some days I enjoy being stuck here, and some days I can’t stand it. Certainly, there are days when I just want to pack my shit and leave. But then I realize that I’m not going to have the lifestyle I do anywhere else. I’m not going to be able to have a non-desk job and afford housing. And afford to go out every once in a while—not all the time, because I’m a hermit—but I can afford to do it occasionally.
Have you been following the events of the convention itself?
It’s funny, because the RNC’s whole message has been anti-immigrant. And Cleveland is really such a pro-immigrant town. It’s the only place in America where we still make Pollack jokes, because there are so many descendants of Polish people who live here. We have so much great Middle Eastern food, because we let so many Middle Eastern immigrants in. And we love them! They’re talking about building a wall, but we’re the ones letting people in. Let’s say you left a really horrible situation: you can come here and start again, because it’s so cheap.
But I haven’t been watching it on TV, and I’m not a liberal or conservative, because I don’t have the time. If you have the time to argue politics, you don’t have to work two jobs. I wish they would lower the employees of Fox News to minimum wage, and at CNN, and everywhere else—no offense to the press. I’m tired of people making that much money telling me, who makes less than 25k a year, how to live.
Are you looking forward to everyone packing up and going home?
I think, if you follow the numbers, over the next few weeks, you’re going to see a huge decrease in actual crime. Because we’ve all been on edge. We’re just tired. The police they’ve brought to town have been really cool, super professional, and great. And I get why they have to exist, but between the low-flying helicopters and the constant sirens, none of us are getting any sleep.
We just want to go back to our quiet town. It’s a small city. We all know each other. And that’s what we want back. I’m not saying people aren’t welcome, but that’s why a lot of us stay here: It’s small and we can all get along. I think that after this week, Cleveland’s going to take a big nap, for at least a week.