It starts on the downbeat about an hour before noon. Five cats in assorted guises from assorted backgrounds bang on congas, snares, and on upside-down five-gallon buckets, pounding out an Afro-beats while the first couple hundred of celebrators mosey their way into Golden Gate Park, and to establish themselves at party central headquarters, Hippie Hill.
It will be another five hours or so before the land and the world as we know it will bend in time. The reality that we call Marijuana for some, will change their conscientiousness and for others just take their change. For now, everything seems copacetic, tranquil, and even sedate with just of a hint of backbeat in the air. Since early morning, folks of all creeds, colors, genders and baseball affiliations, whether Giant’s or A’s, have been streaming in to what should be the biggest pot party this side of Seattle. Soon there will be nothing but grins, smiles and a lot of nodding. But for now, there are some five hundred people who are animated; chatting gaily laying down blankets and lugging coolers as more and more stoners appears every minute, getting ready for…something.
12:30PM, Downtown San Francisco.
Most of the major dispensaries are offering “Twenty Dollar Eighths” or some other 4/20 special like a free doob or bud. Many have raffles and drawings. SPARC, D-Tree, Medithrive had lines way out the door, with security handling the over-flow. It is a bad day to say hello to friends working in the industry. Everyone’s busy.
Walking from the Haight to the Mission to the Downtown area, a parade of well-wishers and Four-Twentyer’s moved through the City like floats in Ganja Mardi Gras procession. The home team was well represented by the leaves of green strung around the beautiful young maidens’ hippie dresses as they walked in flip-flops over puddles on this overcast San Franciscan day. Dudes in hot red jerseys flashed 420 slogans or something spelled out on their sweatshirts like, “Get Stoned” or “Got Stone?” All were orderly and polite with trails of blue haze following.
If you had a problem with the stench of marijuana smoke, San Francisco probably wasn’t the place for you then. Because of the low cloud covering, it was like someone had Saran-wrapped the City. The smell of weed had enclosed the City from the ocean to the Embarcadero. No one was safe from its odor.
President Obama had left earlier in the morning for an important meeting with Jesse Eisenberg in the South Bay, missing the pot perfume by a couple of hours. The presidential motorcade, along with the city’s perennial downtown construction, made bus service a snail crawl. The ‘71 Haight’, the bus that went directly to Golden Gate Park was filled to the gills with hemp-wearing folks.
Four-Twenty has been happening unofficially in Golden Gate Park for many years now, and the City still doesn’t recognize the need for more public transportation. By the numbers queuing up in line, waiting to get on the’71 Haight’ buses, you could tell they were out-of-towners. All the locals used the underground buses or the less common or known ones.
Hippie Hill is three miles east of the Pacific Ocean. Because of the President’s appearance, or because of construction, or maybe because the members of the Woodstock Nation, the Lollapalooza kids, and Michael Franti’s friends decided to have a get together, the City was clogged and many chose to dance and stroll to the Park in the slight rain. Think like it was a checker board and someone tipped it sloping west with all the pieces sliding and laughing along Fell and Oak Streets.
I can’t imagine what it is like for someone who isn’t getting high on Four-Twenty? Do they sit indoors with canned food, Chuck Norris VHS’s and pray?
3:30PM Hippie Hill.
The Park isn’t in the way I left it. At the entrance on Haight, a gauntlet of gentlemen in fake black leather inquire to the passer-byers if by chance they might need some marijuana for their afternoon’s enjoyment. Edibles are everywhere. Already I’ve heard that some edibles are made with swag and even less, and won’t get you buzzed. As soon as you clear the trippy tunnel, lines of vendors, more edibles and bud-sellers greet you, offering party favors and cold drinks.
Every year Four-Twenty in Golden Gate Park gets larger in population and commerce. It always starts the same way with a low-tech beginning; a drum circle and a few boom boxes playing some old school riffs. By three o’clock, there are anywhere’s from seven to ten sound systems set-up with DJ’s and turntables blaring the ticking of the nanu-beats the kids like to dance to. By most estimates, there are four thousand stoners in the Park and more on the way.
Some stoners do work.
Adam, Brandi with an ‘I” and Chris came in from Modesto for the celebration. “This is my fifth time being here,” Adam says with a big grin. “It used to be just a few of us up there on the hill, maybe there were six hundred people. Now, it’s like…Wow!”
“This is my first time,” Brandi giggles with a wink. Chris nods along letting others do the talking while he tokes on their ceramic pipe.
“But we’re all here for one reason…” Adam says taking his turn on the pipe.
It was a celebration for sure. All age types were there but it looked like if you were between the ages of 16 and 28, you were with your people. To be sure, there wasn’t a dress code or age limit for the event. All were welcome but I think the more comfortable in felt in a dorm, the more at home you would have felt here.
A couple in their sixties, dressed in kakis and rain gear seemed a little bewildered and out of place stood on the edge of the crowd.
“We were at the museum and ran into this…gathering,” Brenda of the Central Valley said. “We didn’t know this was happening.” She says surprised. “But he,” she points to her male partner,” I thinks he wants to get loaded.”
The male partner smiles eyeing a circle passing a joint.
A Little before 4:20.
Remember that not one poster went up. I don’t believe I saw one posting on Facebook regarding the 4/20 celebration in the Park. It’s all word of mouth. Like the eternal joint being passed from generation to generation. And then it happens.
Looking at the clock on my phone, it reads 4:18. Then I hear, 10, 9, 8, 7,…..1. Oh well…
Then there were cheers. Then there was smoke. Then someone to mark the occasion, stupidly set off a M-80 or some other loud, reverberating type of firecracker. Then there were cops on horses. Then there was more pot smoke. Then things were normal again. That all happen in a Golden Gate minute.
More and more people joined the festivities. Work was letting out and more were showing up in suits and non-hemp oriented material. Marijuana was everywhere. The cops kept to themselves off to the side. They were jovial and helpful.
Some kids were selling home-made T-shirts with hand-written fonts saying, “Hippie Hill 2011.” A person asks them if they will trade a t-shirt for an edible. They say they’ll have to call their dad on the cell and see if that’s okay. They’re out selling for him. They were serious.
Later that same night
I went to see the very funny Ngaio Bealum with his ganja-gang of jokesters at the Punchline downtown. Ed Rosenthal was there. Because I had an appointment with the President in the morning, sadly I needed to duck out early before the legendary after-hours party was going to start.
At ten in the night, the Haight was still jamming. The Big Lebowski was letting out at the Red Vic and more were in line for the late show. Escape from New York pizza had a bad case of the munchies if the massive line out the door was any indication of where stoners go for their pie.
Officer Albie Esparza, the public information officer for San Francisco Police stated that there were six arrest made during the whole day. Three attendees needed medical attention. I asked the very gracious officer if she could give me her opinion on how she thought the day went. “Well, we can’t really give you our opinions, but I’d say, for the five thousand that attended, I’d say it was a relatively relaxed event, for us and them.” the officer slyly recited.
As I walked home through the Haight watching the packed buses carrying the 4-20ers off to where ever they go, I thought about the officer’s words, very relaxed event. It was.
Just like marijuana itself. Now if we can just teach the world. We can have a day where strangers from all over come together, all for the same reason. Without fanfare or Ticketmaster or the digital press, and it still happens. And no one gets hurt, relatively relaxed speaking.
Tomorrow, my meeting with the president.