Riding up Blackcomb on the Excalibur Gondola was, admittedly, a deja vu experience. Arriving a few minutes past 8 a.m., the lineup was a few steps down the stairs leading to Lot 6 and not moving.
A few minutes later, it was moving so fast people were breathing hard to keep up. I’m not sure whether there was no one waiting in the village or they were just letting the midload people up, but within one minute, I was about to get vertical.
Clambering into a car with seven other people—all masked I’m happy to say—that sense of deja vu kicked in as I realized this was what it’s like to load efficiently instead of that infuriating single-person-in-a-car thing.
The mood inside was giddy. And unusually cosy. Everyone seemed to be a local, or at least an instant local, judging by one of them explaining to another how to ski back to the gondola. It was good to see the level of excitement. It being a powder morning notched that level up a few degrees.
I was feeling pretty good about finally heading up with not a drop of rain in sight and everything right with the world. Until I felt a hand in my pocket. Old alarm bells rang as I thought my pocket was being picked.
I grabbed the errant wrist and pinned the owner against the door. “What the….”
“Just seein’ if you had a smoke in there, Dude.”
J.J.! Caramba. Not the sense of deja vu I particularly wanted to experience just then.
“You know I don’t smoke, J.J. And I can assure you there ain’t no beer in there either.”
Generally, encounters with J.J. Geddyup only involved a metaphorical hand in my pocket. The cost of bumping into J.J. is always a couple of beers and not infrequently breakfast, lunch or dinner, depending on when he pops up during the course of an otherwise pleasant day.
Whistler’s only private eye for years and, as he’s singularly proud of pointing out, the only one in town who fits the seedy picture movies paint of the profession, J.J. belongs to the genus Fringe Character. His ancient Re-Use-It, Descente coach’s overcoat, tattered and frayed, seems to stick out more than it used to when Whistler was still a town where hardcore skiers’ gear was held together with duct tape and ty-raps. He still puffs furiously on Gauloise Blues or whatever he can bum, infecting those around him with repeated, rasping coughs. And his voice still sounds like cement and gravel grinding in a mixer, awaiting water to calm things down. J.J. isn’t necessarily the worst person to bump into on a powder morning but coming up with a worse one takes more thought than I was capable of indulging in at that moment.
Resigned to fate, I tried to keep our banter to a minimum. Judging from the freshness of the others in the gondy, I wasn’t sure they were old enough to inflict J.J. on them.
“So,” I asked, as quietly as possible, “You workin’ any these days?”
“Matter of fact, yes I am,” he answered, digging a bent cigarette out of his pocket, along with a well-worn brass Zippo emblazoned with a paratroop crest and someone else’s initials.
“You can’t smoke in here, dude,” one of the young ones said. “In fact, you can’t smoke anywhere on the mountain.”
“Nazi,” J.J. muttered, sticking the cigarette between his lips, its bent end pointing down like an excited dousing stick, and pocketing the Zippo.
“Kindness, J.J. Watcha sleuthing?” I asked.
“Nothin’,” he replied.
“Nothing? I thought you said you were working.”
“I am. But there hasn’t been much demand for my PI skills so I’m movin’ on. Goin’ mainstream. Hitching a ride on the capitalist express.”
“Sweet Jesus, don’t tell me you’re actually getting a job?”
“Not to state the obvious, but I don’t think I’d make a good employee. I’ve been my own boss for a long time.”
“You’ve been largely unemployed for a long time, J.J. Let’s not kid each other. So what’s the plan?”
“Goin’ into business. Totally legit.”
“No offense, but define totally legit. I’m not sure you mean the same thing I mean by those words.”
“Cannabis? I don’t know how to say this, J.J., but unless I’m wrong, you’ve kinda been in the pot-selling business for as long as I’ve known you. Hell, I’ve bought weed from you.”
“Truly true, dude. But that was illegal weed. I’m going legit. Now that the muni masters have finally decided to let people open legal pot shops, I’m goin’ into business. Licenced, legal, legit, upright citizen, small businessman, the whole middle-class works. Das Kapital!”
“Cool,” one of the other people riding the gondola said. “You really a PI?”
“Retired, thank you. But if you’d like to buy some weed... “
It was a fortunate turn of the card we slid into the terminal at that moment. None of the instant locals had any idea how close they’d come to befriending J.J., which is to say being a mark for life.
“Let’s continue this conversation on the chairlift,” I said, not actually believing I wanted to prolong what was certain to be, well, just weird.
“You really think the muni is going to issue you a temporary operating permit for a pot shop, J.J.? I don’t mean to sound cruel, but you’ve got more baggage around town than a busload of skiers.”
“What you say is true, if cruel. But what you don’t say is I’ve also got dirt on some of the people who’ll make the calls on issuing permits. Ain’t been pokin’ my nose into other peoples’ business in this town for 30 years for nothing, ya know, bro.”
“Whatever. Don’t know; don’t care. But seriously, J.J., are you sure you want to take on a commercial lease, utilities, improvements, staff, payroll, withholding, paying taxes, regular operating hours, bookkeeping and all that?”
“Ouch. You paint an ugly picture. I just want to sell weed.”
“You already sell weed... with no overhead and none of that other stuff, especially the taxes part. I mean, you’ve been flying under the radar most of your life. When was the last time you filed taxes? Or even admitted being alive to any level of government?”
“Hmm... that’s why I like talkin’ to you, dude. Sometimes you remind me of things that just slip my mind. You’re right. Screw it. You wanna buy some weed?”
“You just sold me some last week? Let’s ski instead.”
“How about a beer?”
“It’s 8:30 a.m. J.J.”
“Yeah. Bar up."