Alex Inman runs a high-end head shop in Westchester about 20 blocks from Florida International University. Casa de Cristal is one of a handful of places in Florida that sell Mothership brand glass items, the Holy Grail of the water pipe world. The company bills its products as "elite functional glass art," and there is no list of places to buy them online. Instead, improbably rich potheads figure out where to get them via word of mouth.
The 23-year-old business owner receives about 20 calls per week from all over South Florida about the pricey, coveted bongs. Two of the models for sale are the Mini Fab -- a large, rounded variety reminiscent of a cut-glass wine decanter -- and its slimmer counterpart, the Torus. The cost: $2,000 apiece.
"They're perfect in every way, and you're paying for the artists' time," Inman says of the pieces, which are handmade from laboratory-grade glass. "Just like how you go into a gallery and a painting costs $15,000 but it costs $5 to make it. These [water pipes] are basically art."
Inman has accrued lots of regular customers since he opened last March, but he didn't recognize a blond beanpole of a man in a beanie who walked into the shop this past January 10. Inman, a graduate of Miami Sunset Senior High, pegged the customer, who spent 45 minutes eyeing bongs, as someone from up north -- meaning Broward County.
Around 7 p.m. that Friday, the sale seemed imminent. All that was left, the customer said, was for him to consult his friends on the phone. Although the customer kept nervously touching his nose, Inman says, nothing seemed sketchy or weird at the time.
The guy walked outside and stayed there a few minutes. After Inman buzzed him back in, the man pulled out what looked like a .38 revolver. Inman boxed up the pipes and sent the robber on his way. Then he called Miami-Dade Police.
Since the armed robbery, Inman says, he's gotten calls from concerned people in the glass community, some from as far away as Washington state, voicing their support. High-end glass retailers are a tight-knit group, he says, and the crime has left everyone dumbstruck -- almost like they would feel after a good bong hit.
"I've never heard of this happening," Inman says. "It kind of blew my mind."
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