Hippie Hill, Golden Gate Park, 4/20: Toke Was There [Photos]

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All photos by Jack Rikess for Toke of the Town
The climactic moment: 4:20 p.m. on Hippie Hill in Golden Gate Park, April 20, 2012

By Jack Rikess

Toke of the Town

Northern California Correspondent

Maybe there’s no greater metaphor for what’s going on with marijuana in 2012 than the proceedings that took place with Friday’s 4/20 celebration in Golden Gate Park. To recognize marijuana or not, that is my question.
Last Wednesday I called the director of Golden Gate Park, wishing to speak to him about the annual 4/20 festivities and if the Park plans to do anything different on that day, e.g. add more trashcans, porta-potties, security, etc… 
I wasn’t allowed to speak to the director because all media questions are to be routed through the Park’s media person. When I asked if they were prepared for this Friday’s yearly gathering she explained that because there weren’t any permits or paperwork submitted, she didn’t know anything about the event.
I was thinking, is this the new “don’t ask, don’t tell?”

I didn’t want to push the subject, be accused of single-handedly ruining the day for everyone else by making the City acknowledge that every April 20, a large portion of our state descends upon Golden Gate Park for the purpose of getting as high as possible. 
I didn’t know if I wanted to see that proclamation put forth. Maybe it is better that 4/20 is kept unofficial and hasn’t been forced to go the corporate route that is ruining the Burning Man vision. 
So, what I did is celebrate April 20th the best I could…

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Golden Gate Park at 6:30 a.m.: I have the brilliant idea of doing before and after shots of the park before the herds of heads roll out their blankets and bongs


6:30 am: I have the brilliant idea of doing before and after shots of Golden Gate Park before the herds of heads roll out their blankets and bongs. I know that for the past week, travelers from all over the world have been sleeping in the park, waiting for the Stoner’s Holiday to commence. With that said, I wasn’t expecting the 100 or so people, already gathered on Hippie Hill cleaning their pipes, internally and externally, to be getting prepared so early in the morning. 
After a week of clouds and shadows, the fog never had a chance against the early morning blazing sun; the Weather Gods once more shining down upon the hippies they love. It could be a beautiful day.
Weird Note: Usually on April 20th, from all directions of the compass, folks of all stripes and garb typically are heading to Golden Gate Park for the big pot party. There is hardly anyone making their way on the sidewalks and beaten paths that head to the park. Foot traffic is thin. Could this mean a low attendance? Like the dream is over?
Attendance at this point: 200-300 people.

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10:30 a.m.: The unofficial vendors start to arrive; a small village is being formed

10:30 am: The unofficial vendors start to arrive. First up are blankets full of munchies. Not the exotic or flamboyant, more like your Snickers and Doritos’s, with small bottles of Tropicana. I ask the ladies setting up if they did their research and if they determined that this is the food that pot heads love? “Absolutely, they’re people here bar-b-queuing hot dogs and hamburgers, but this is the easiest and this is what people want,” the woman smiles like a true marketing head.
I run into two pure 4/20 characters. One is offering a raffle for home-made decoupage pot-friendly hats. The raffle tickets are going for 2 bucks a piece. The gentleman encourages me to buy a ticket early before they sell out. He starts to argue with me that for a two dollar ticket, I can get a hat worth a $100.00. I say maybe I’ll come back. The problem is, he has a junk-yard megaphone and is berating me loudly as I walk away for not purchasing his ticket. I can hear his logic continue about the value of the lottery system and how this country was built on such a system as I slowly move away. 
As I try not to listen to my short-comings as a non-consumer, another fellow shows me a laminated ticket from the original Woodstock in 1969. He says that he’ll be giving the ticket away today. To me, this is much more interesting than the Dr. Seuss pot leaf hat from the raffle guy.
I ask him how much would he take for the ticket now? “No, man, I can’t sell Woodstock, or the memories. This needs to be given away.”
I inquire, “How are you going to give it away?”
“I’m not sure man. But it’s going to be stupendous!” 
It’s a little after eleven a.m. and there’s no army of heads trotting like lemmings to the park like year’s past. I’m starting to get skeptical. Has the world changed this much because of the Federal busts of this past year?  Tents and make-shift shelters are being erected around the crown of Hippie Hill and out on the grounds. A small village is being formed.
Attendance at this point: 300-400 people

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1 p.m.: The streams of people are starting to follow the tentative blue smoke beginning to rise fromn the park

1 pm: Okay, this is more like it. The streams of people are starting to follow the tentative blue smoke beginning to rise from the park like Yogi Bear to Huckleberry pie. Drums circles are magnetically attracting other drummers. Guitars are being played. And the surest sign that this gorgeous sunny day is beginning to transform to its core value: Young hippie chicks in halters and long, cotton dresses are twirling as the natural rhythms and beats of the day begin to overtake one of the country’s most famous parks. 
If the unofficial vendors had a meeting and brainstormed on what would sell the best on 4/20, I believe the answer to that question had to be edibles. By early afternoon, the pathway to Hippie Hill is strewn with pans and sheets and shoe-boxes filled with anything that could be infused with marijuana. Of course brownies and Rice-Crispy treats are the best sellers but the teas and the grilled-cheese sammys are major crowd pleasers. There has to be over hundred people selling edibles throughout the grounds.
Attendance at this point: 500-600 people.

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3 p.m.: It is now wall-to-wall stoners

3 pm: I left the park briefly and returned. It is now wall to wall stoners. The cops have set up a gauntlet at the main entrance to the park. Anyone with glass bottles, coolers, sound systems, cabanas, porters carrying luggage, and being outright uncool, is being pulled from the oncoming herd. This is new. Usually the police form a perimeter around the hippie show and sit back and chill, unless needed. Today, they’re showing that they’ve stepped up their presence. 
The only problem with this is that there are like a million ways to get into the park. So they’re really only stopping the few who aren’t smart enough to approach the park from the north and south entrances.

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3 p.m.: The cops have set up a gauntlet at the main entrance to the park

I think back to my conversation with the park spokesperson. The park isn’t doing anything different, yet the police are aware that 4/20 exists. Huh?
There has to be over 5,000 red-eyed, pot-loving kinfolk floating around the park by this time. I caught up with Andrew and Jeff from New Jersey. They’ve been sleeping in the park for the last couple of weeks. I ask if they’re here for the 4/20 celebration? “Naw, we’re trying to get into a school out here. We’d be smoking here regardless what day it was.”
Teresa and Wendell from Texas describe themselves as “Old Hippies.” They didn’t know about SF’s 4/20 preoccupation. “It is so cool that you can smoke here. Does the city allow it?” Teresa asks. I say, “Yeah.” “It’s too bad we don’t have anything to smoke,” Teresa replies. 
Then to show the out-of-towners the true 4/20 spirit, I quietly ask the good people that are near us if anyone has an extra joint for some visitors? 
T and W walked away with two nice sized bombers.

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I begin to notice how many people are from outside San Francisco, from across the bay and other nearby locales. It’s like the true San Franciscans are partying elsewhere. 
Rebecca, Turtle and Burdman made the pilgrimage from Marin County. It is their second 4/20 for Rebecca and Burdman. They love the vibes and people. “Everyone getting together is so beautiful,” Rebecca says. “What is sad is, some people don’t know today is a holiday. There’s some that don’t even know what 4/20 means,” Rebecca says despondently.
Turtle had recently moved from Cincinnati and is blown away with the spectacle that’s parading before him. He sums it up best by saying, “This is so cool. This could never happen in my town.”
More and more people are arriving by the minute, presumably to find a location in preparation for the magic clock strike of 4:20 pm.

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4:15 p.m.: More and more people are arriving by the minute, presumably to find a location in preparation for 4:20 p.m.

I’m not good at counting heads, but I know tokers. I would say conservatively by 4:15 pm at Golden Gate Park, there are at least 10,000 people, if not more.
It soon feels like pagans preparing for war. Faces are being painted. There is an escalation of voices and music, dovetailing and bombarding off the throngs of people. Drum beats are getting faster as the anticipation of twenty after four approaches. Young men hit the ground in unabashed excitement, unable to control their exhilaration. The hippie girls twirl faster. More people get naked.
Then the countdown begins. 
At 4:20 pm, San Francisco time, the park is ablaze. Forget contact high; this is subdermal. I am bathed in blue smoke. The sun was shining and people are happy. These really tough looking big Hispanic guys are maybe some of the nicest folks I meet. They shared their pre-rolls and huge smiles broke out from these guys, reminding me not to judge.

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4:20 p.m.: The park is ablaze. Forget contact high; this is subdermal.

And that’s an important point: I don’t know how many people attended 4/20 in the park, but most everyone was mellow and full of love. The saying of the day was, “Hey, its 4/20, be nice to someone today.”
People shared what they had. I did hear that some of the edibles were just that, only edible, no cannabis added. You know, some things can’t be helped.

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People shared what they had.

A few young ladies are seen doing the old, “Timber!” as they fell to the wayside. I asked the medical people if there were any problems. “Only dehydration for the most part. Nobody hurt so far.”

An hour later, motorcycle cops begin motoring on the park paths in order to clear people out or at least give the stoners the message, “We’re here and we’re in control.”
The only problem or outburst that garnered attention from the crowd is when a three-person Jesus Squad shows up to try to dissuade the revelers from partaking in their herbs. A circle surrounds the man on the evangelistic bullhorn as he swore we all are going to Hell. The police enter the circle; I think to protect the street preacher from the kids in tie-die and hemp. It is actually good theatre.  Then a member of the hippie crowd complains that the police are always on the side of religion and it’s not fair which turns into a shouting match. I think that was the most aggressive the day got.
4/20 is crazy. The liquor stores, grocery stores and other businesses next to Golden Gate Park that cater to concert-goers did great. I talked to other merchants, they hate 4/20.
The owner of one of the many coffee shops that line Haight Street said, “Today is a huge hassle for us. Kids want water, to use the bathrooms. There’s puke all over the place. People can’t move or park.”

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It was true. Haight Street looked like a parking lot. Cars moved to a slow crawl. Then I realized that the reason for this was most of the people attending were from outside of the city. 4/20 brings a multitude of stoners to the city for the day. Why? Because they can’t do in their town, like we can here in San Francisco.
Like Rebecca said, “It is sad that some people don’t know today’s a holiday.”
For so many people and locations, to smoke a joint in public is a quick way to take a ride with Barney Fife. In SF, we’re lucky.

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But how much should we push our luck? The bureaucrats that run Golden Gate Park do not recognize a gathering that has been happening for the 20 years that I’ve been attending. On the other hand, the cops call in off-duty officers and put in for overtime.  
Four to five bathrooms are there to service the umpteen masses that attend. Garbage cans the same. So people piss and throw garbage everywhere. 
What to do? Beyond the medicinal and the recreational, will there ever come a time when we can say this is who we are and for one day a year we want to recognize a plant that does so much for us? We don’t care if you agree; we just want more bathrooms. Y’know, like the ones you put out for St. Patrick’s Day, Columbus Day and for Super Bowl parties.
Should 4/20 be an official Golden Gate Park event? If that was to happen, there would have to be rules and regulations. 
Isn’t that what we want on some level? Or don’t we?

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Jack Rikess
Toke of the Town correspondent Jack Rikess blogs from the Haight in San Francisco

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Jack Rikess, a former stand-up comic, writes a regular column most directly found at jackrikess.com.

Jack delivers real-time coverage following the cannabis community, focusing on politics and culture.

His beat includes San Francisco, the Bay Area and Mendocino-Humboldt counties.

He has been quoted by the national media and is known for his unique view with thoughtful, insightful perspective.

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