In case you’re thinking you pay New York premiums on everything, it turns out an eighth of weed goes for $50-60 in Sarasota, Fla., about standard price in New York too. That price point was good news for Joanna*, a Sarasota native who saw a hole in the local marijuana market she could exploit — namely, everyone at the restaurant she worked at kept asking her for weed. She had harbored dreams of leaving the small beach town and moving to New York for years and was living in her parents house to try to save money, but it was slow going. So instead of saving her restaurant paychecks, she got creative and started selling weed. It only took one month to save up $5,000. She bought a plane ticket to the city, packed a suitcase and found a place in Bed-Stuy with no job. She had enough to put down three months rent.
“I’ve got to get out of here and move to New York,” Joanna, 25, recalled to Brokelyn. “I just moved with my little suitcase.”
She struggled through tough jobs and long hours her first few years in the city. Now she’s got a 2-year-old son, a place in Sunnyside, Queens and a good job working in social media. She doesn’t sell weed any more — or smoke it, thanks to the kid — but she’s happy she’s got a Brooklyn origin story that involves her own brand of hustle.
Joanna grew up and eventually went to community college in Sarasota, a place she described as a haven for moneyed beachgoers and retirees, lacking that kind of cultural magnetism that draws people out of small towns and into New York. She and another friend had plotted a move to the city since middle school to seek a place among the creative class. Specifically, Joanna wanted to be a photographer. In Florida, she mostly went to the beach or rode her fixie bike for fun.
“There’s no opportunity, there’s no music venues, there’s nothing young about that town,” she said. “It’s so laid back, there’s no motivation. You can work for the local newspaper or magazine there but it really doesn’t get you anywhere.”
She was living with her parents — her dad, who served in the military for 20 years, worked for the government, and her mom was a day care teacher. Joanna said she’d rather live at home for a few years and move to New York than live on her own in Florida. Asking her parents for money for the move wasn’t on the table.
“I felt like it was my risk,” she says. “I wanted it to be mine.”
She was hostessing at a downtown bar and restaurant when she saw how much money a friend was making selling weed (every restaurant usually has an in-house weed dealer, fyi). She made a connect with a “old cowboy dude” who bought directly from California, and sold it to her cheap. She started unloading quarter pounds a week to the wait staff.
“All the waiters there were old and they didn’t know where to get pot from so they bought it from me,” she said.
She didn’t pitch her dealing as a Kickstarter project to support her move, but she didn’t have to.
“Everyone knew I wanted to move there, but I wasn’t advertising it,” she said. “I’m not selling Girl Scout cookies or something that I have to beg people to buy.
She sold for about six months, but made a big push to save up for the move in one final month, when she racked up $5,000. By October, she packed a bag and got on a plane, and made her way to Brooklyn. The money was enough to get her a $1,350 a month, two-bedroom apartment in Bed-Stuy; she put down the first three months rent and eventually got a roommate.
Like your stash on a Broad City marathon night, the weed money didn’t last long in New York. She got a restaurant job right away and an internship at a photo studio in Williamsburg.
“It took a lot of work its not like everything fell in my lap,” she says. “It definitely was a very hard job: 12 hours a day, working seven days a week on my first year.”
Her Florida weed dealer skills weren’t up to the challenge of New York though, where professional grade delivery services dispatch couriers on bikes.
“I felt like i was not ready for that,” she said. Plus, her Florida connect got arrested right after she left town, so she was OK leaving it behind.
Eventually things got smoother: She moved to a place in Williamsburg near Bedford and South 4th Street, but got priced out when the landlord raised the rent from $1,400 to $3,800. She met a guy while working at Eataly, and they had a kid. They’re still together and live in Sunnyside.
Moving to New York has always held a special place in the American imagination. It’s imbued in our collective psyche about “making it” in the big city and it’s changed over the years: once the image was a woman in a prim 50s dress getting off the bus with a suitcase and a dream in their hand; then it was people like Madonna, who famously moved to the city with just a few bucks in her pocket (and getting a job at a Dunkin’ Donuts) trying to hustle to the top of the scary city; lately it’s shifted to the Taylor Swifts of the world, who probably took an Uber from the airport and plunked their bags down in her pre-paid apartment and probably got salads delivered right away. But there are still lots of people out there who make it on their own and don’t rely on help beyond their own sense of hustle.
If you’re not originally from here, everyone has a New York City origin story. Or at least you should, because there’s not much excitement in having your parents buy you an apartment and a recruiter to get you a job right out of college. Those kind of people are the ones that lead to a lot of the griping that the New York hustle is dying, that kids today have it easy. And New York is anything but easy.
Joanna clearly didn’t have the city handed to her. But she doesn’t hold any ill will for people who live off their parents money or didn’t have any hustle in their genes.
“I’ve never tried to compare myself to everyone, I feel like that is a horrible quality,” she said. “It’s just going to bring that negativity. Whatever your circumstances are, you have to make it work. To compare yourself to people is just an excuse.”
*(not her real name, obviously)
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