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Bayou Blow

Coke is the new weed

It's official, cocaine is back. Both The New York Times and The Atlantic Monthly have recently exposed the drug's easy availability and record low prices, and newspapers and blogs from the Big Apple to Seattle and down to Los Angeles have run stories on the resurgence of the devil's dandruff among the hipsterati. According to the Times, New Yorkers openly post ads seeking coke buddies on Craigslist with come-ons like "Late-night ski lift looking for a snow bunny," and an Austin friend told me that coke is now easier to find there than weed, even in that citadel of stonerdom.

From hanging out at a lot of bars and clubs here, it seems like these trends have filtered our way too. Coke people — dealers and users — are so obvious, and lately there seem to be a lot of them around. You see knots of people watching the door at a bar, waiting for the man to arrive, or you see some guy in the corner furiously jabbing away at his cell phone, trying to summon some wayward peddler. Or you see two or more sets of feet in one stall in club bathrooms.

On the other hand, Captain Steve Smith of the Houston Police Department's Narcotics Division said that cocaine arrests have been flat or decreasing for years. Still, arrests are not the sole barometer of a drug's popularity. Rob Arnold, a spokesman for local rehab center The Right Step, told me that powder cocaine-related admittances were up among adolescents (while remaining flat with adults), and according to the U.S. Department of Justice, cocaine seizures in Texas have increased sharply since 2001. Since then, Houston has emerged as one of the leading distribution centers for cocaine in America. In 2002 and 2003, more blow was seized coming from Houston than anywhere else in the country. (We're number one!)

But just how much of that is falling off the backs of those trucks here? I asked Lelia Rodgers, the owner of Rudyard's, a bar with a fairly strict anti-coke stance, if she thought the drug was in style again. To her, it's hard to tell. "When you're down in the trenches, it's hard to look up and all of a sudden say, 'Wow, there's a lot of cocaine around now,'" she says. "Drugs come in and out of fashion just like anything else, and coke has always, always been prevalent."

One owner of a local bar with a high-end clientele was less equivocal. "I don't think there's any question about it," he says. "It's so cheap, apparently. An 8-ball (an eighth of an ounce, or 3.2 grams) is $100 or something like that. When I was growing up in the '80s, it was always $100 or more for a gram. In real dollars, back then it would have been like 20 bucks or something. To think that the powers-that-be have fucked this thing up so badly to drive the price down like that is just bizarre."

Low price is one factor; another is coke's reborn glamour and fashionability. Ten years ago, coke had a stigma as the drug for sleazy lawyers, American psychos and Gordon Gekko types as well as the members and fans of douchebaggy bands like Mötley Crüe and Poison. Heroin became the cool hard drug, riding in on waves of somber grunge and flicks like Pulp Fiction, wherein Eric Stoltz's oily smack dealer spoke for a significant portion of flannel-shirted, stringy-haired Generation X in saying that "Coke is deadÉheroin is back."

Heroin chic only lasted a few years; people dropped dead like they always do, and the kids moved on to other drugs. An odd coalition of rednecks and gay men took to crystal meth for a time, while others fiddled around with pain pills. (They still do, but that's another story.)

Meanwhile, cocaine made a slow and steady comeback, which is where we are now. If we are not exactly snowblind in a blizzard, then certainly we are in something more than a flurry, egged on by rappers like Rick Ross, Clipse and Young Jeezy and Vice magazine, the bible for a certain type of nihilistic hipster.

"Everybody got tired of the whole Kurt Cobain 'I'm depressed so let's just go shoot up in our garage apartment' deal," says Brad Moore, a bartender at Rudyard's and the owner of the new Washington Avenue nightspot Pearl Bar. "Now it's more like 'Let's fuckin' party. Let's get drunk with some hookers and blow and throw the TV out the window.' There's no more of this feeling-sorry-for-yourself bullshit. It went from Nirvana to Nashville Pussy quick."

"There's people who think of themselves as nondrug users that will do cocaine," says the anonymous bar owner. "People who would never smoke pot or do hallucinogens will do a toot every now and again."

Anonymous interviews lots of prospective employees at his bar, and he says those chats are often telling. "When they've worked at a club or applied at different clubs, a lot of times what they will say is, 'I just don't want to be around a bunch of people doing blow.' I think it's almost a given that if you go to a club, there's just gonna be a bunch of blow going around."

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