By Natalya Jones
By County Grind
By Liz Tracy
By Chris Joseph
By Liz Tracy
By Matt Preira
By Jesse Scheckner
By Michael E. Miller
Here's hoping you finished your gift shopping early, especially for that friendly, red-eyed pothead on your list. 'Cause if you didn't already buy little Derwood a hand-blown, color-changing, double-thick glass bubbler for a special stocking stuffer, you'll have to improvise with a cardboard tube and some tinfoil. This is because the Grinch -- actually, federal agents from the Department of Homeland Security -- stole nearly all the Christmas pipes in Broward County. Glass pipes. Metal pipes. Stone pipes. Wood pipes. Steamrollers. Dugouts. Bongs. Sliders. Stems. Screens. Baggies. Scales.
Relax -- you can still buy rolling papers. But for how long, Spock? For. How. Long?
On the afternoon of Friday, December 12, a task force of federal agents surprised eight Broward County head shops, taking their most popular wares, ensuring that their booming holiday business would be a bust. The Sun-Sentinel reported that agents seized items that were "being used solely for the ingestion of illegal narcotics." After reading the news reports over the weekend, Bandwidth decided to survey the damage.
First, a visit to what we naively conjectured would be the most receptive, um, joint: Peace Pipe, a well-stocked store at 4800 N. Dixie Hwy., Oakland Park. We had personally patronized the place, and the staff was always cool and friendly. Maybe they'd be even more so once I told them I was with New Times, the newspaper that presented the store a Best Head Shop award earlier this year.
The big store looked as if a team of elves had cleaned out all the pipes and replaced them with a glittering armada of trinkets, knickknacks, and doodads. The lack of clerks in the front and chatter from a half-closed door behind the counter indicated that a pow-wow was taking place. When a burly dude emerged to ask if we needed help, we replied that we wanted to talk about the bust.
He retreated into the back room for a second, then reemerged, flashed a thin sliver of a straight-faced smile, and said: "No comment. I'm going to have to ask you to leave the store now."
Evidently, unless you're toting a badge and a gun, head shops don't want you around. It's easy to understand why a small-business man wouldn't want to take on the federal government, but the fact is, George W.'s henchmen are acting illegally, and the proprietors are surrendering without a fight. After all, these store owners had their pipes -- not their balls -- taken away.
Next on the list was We-B-Joys at 3565 N. Powerline Rd. The front section of this large store was already heavily knickknacked; the "adult only' section was in the back. A clerk behind the counter was telling a would-be customer the sorry tale: "Last Friday, every store in Fort Lauderdale that sells pipes was raided," she explained to the dude, who slumped against the glass case as he heard the news.
At the back of the store, an extremely paranoid woman who would identify herself only as We-B-Joys' owner looked absolutely befrazzled, with hair that appeared stressed from being tugged by the roots. Eyes bugging, hands practically trembling, she explained that the December 12 incident has spurred her to abandon the paraphernalia business for good. She worked at Macy's for 18 years, she explained, and she'd gladly return.
When Bandwidth approached with a notebook, Ms. Befrazzled stared in wide-eyed horror, as if the spiral-bound paper could actually be a deadly weapon. "Please don't quote me!" she cried. "I can't take this anymore. I just want to get out of this business! And I'm glad to get out!"
Two years ago, "like an idiot," she said, she bought the store. Now she can't wait to give it back. She exuded so much trauma and stress that it actually lowered our blood pressure to leave We-B-Joys.
Then it was down to Twisted Mellon at 60 E. Oakland Park Blvd., where co-owner John Fry said he was working that Friday around 11 a.m. when the agents strolled in. "It was scary," he told Bandwidth, adding that it was almost 4 in the afternoon when they finished poking around. "But I have to say, they were very nice. They even cleaned up after themselves."
Fry holds no grudge against the agents, though he doesn't understand why a raid rather than a letter describing nonkosher items was necessary. He estimates that pipes made up around 25 percent of the store's total revenue and believes Twisted Mellon will do just fine as a full-fledged novelty shop, complete with vibrators, lotions, incense, natural cigarettes, posters, T-shirts, and the like. He's canceled future shipments of pipes, and if distributors still send him some, he said, "I'll just refuse the order."
At the moment, Twisted Mellon plans no legal recourse. "I'm not going to fight it, because I don't have a clue as to what I'm fighting. Why would I hire an attorney? I haven't been charged with anything. They want you to give 'em $2,000 just to talk. I'd rather put that money into the body jewelry and rings, stuff like that," Fry said. "Besides, what if we do get [the pipes] back? I don't know if I'd be comfortable selling them again. It's unfortunate, but the world's changed. Fighting people just isn't part of my life. I don't think that makes me a coward. I'm a retailer, not a martyr."