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Dispatch from 420: Running with the Stoned Bulls

By Jack Rikess | SF Evergreen

It’s five after four on April 20, and I’m running with stoned bulls.

A rush of humanity has burst into a full panic zone, with countless running for their lives in a complete terror. The fear of being trampled by hundreds of freaked-out partiers outweighs any idea of turning around for a photograph.

And I thought things were just mellowing out after the fire engine plowed through the crowd on a sidewalk.

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Just a short time ago, forty minutes before the magic hour on 420, I’m at the summit of Hippie Hill soaking in a perfect view. A panorama of heads meeting, tribes joining, and all-around-ganja-get-down is filling the park grounds as far as the sun-glassed eyes can see. The people as are varied as the strains and waxes being consumed.

For thousands and thousands of strangers to be boxed together in the valley and the hollowed hill, having pitching tents, staking out real estate, playing with fire in the name of barbequing—the scene is pretty tranquillo.

Everyone’s sharing. There was a fight, but some brave soul stepped into the middle and took the shirtless barefooted country boy tripping on something to lower ground.

Everything was pretty cool until five police in riot gear appear next to us on the top of Hippie Hill. They descend the slope, snaking through the people as the stoners casually watching the police walking like Tibetan monks, single file with a purpose. What that purpose, exactly, is? Not sure.

The helmeted police march right through the circles as joints are passed and puffed. They don’t even stop or glance at the kids torching their dab rigs. Like their presence is more symbolic than official. They’re not here to ticket, but to show who is in control.

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By the time the riot squad is at the bottom of the hill, it appears that hordes of folks are running to those cops. But in a few seconds, the sardine-packed sidewalk is zipped open to reveal a big old fire truck motoring slowly on the path dispersing the crowd into the vendors that line the walk.

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You can tell by the Grateful Dead insignia around the company number that it is our local Haight-Ashbury crew. They continue their people-plow, turning a corner and barely making it.

It’s now a little before four p.m. Wisely, besides for adding more trashcans and bathrooms, the city officials cancel the normal park recreation activities for the day. No kids. No open tennis.

But the tennis court gates are open, and small groups mostly chilling from the hectic action on the other side of the cyclone fence occupies the bleachers.

A dude from Merced – I do not know why, but I swear half of Merced and the Modesto area was represented – is displaying some choice Cherry Pie when more riot police materialized from the trail leading into the park from the outside drive.

A scrappy youth from Oakland screams, “Fuck da Police!” at the four cops moving through the oncoming traffic. Two other police, who were following, stop and give the young man a strong gaze and sternly move on.

“I got away with that today because there were too many people,” the young man mutters. He laughs.

Ten minutes after that is when the mass of people pile out of the park towards us and the single path that leads out to the street. Starting with a hundred easy, soon another two or three hundred people are dispersing at a rather alarming rate.

People are spilling out like water out of a burst pipe. We think we’re safe behind the fence. Then, someone asks “Is there’s a shooting?”

Now it’s a race.

And I remember thinking yesterday, it seem like it was going to a good 4/20.

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On Sunday, I went over to the drum circle, as I am wont to do, to see what’s happening in Golden Gate Park and with the 420 preparations. People have been streaming into the Haight all week. This will probably be the park’s largest crowd to date, weed-wise.

It was a great sign to see the official cardboard recycle/refuse bins that the park sets out for normal events like Easter egg-hunts and the Hunky Jesus Pageant, concerts, and charity walks. They’re stepping up.

So were the police. It was the night before and police are already posted at exits and entrances. But so are the vendors. It’s sixteen hours and two thousands joints before Monday’s four-twenty and the park is in full motion.

I arrive at high noon on Monday on the twentieth. As the guy next to me says, “I’m home.”

Two couples from Modesto (I know) are casing the grounds for a spot for their blankets. “Dude, I’d say we pitch here and watch this thing grow,” one says.

That’s what happened. The day grew and grew. I met many folks who were staring delivery services. Flyers are being handed out for a free eighth for anyone who signs up.

Nina Mirage of Mirage Medicinal explains why she thinks they have an edge over the five to ten new companies I heard about today.

“We’re local. My brother and I run the company. We grew up here and know our clientele’s needs and we’re here for the patients. That’s how we started, so we need to stay true to that. We’ve been working two years on getting this going. If you live in San Francisco, you’re either in tech or weed. We have both. Check out our app!”

Most of the attendees I spoke with said this was either their first foray into Golden Gate Park for four-twenty or had been only a few times. All ages were present but unlike Disneyland or Vegas, a few four-twenties go a long way.

After the stampede that nobody could explain later, I went around to the side of the park.

4:20 p.m. on 420.

Bullhorns go off. Music begins to crank out of the speakers in our own little Parkachella. The air is thick with cannabis and smiles. All are wishing the other happy high holidays.

Besides for the helicopters and two drones flying overhead and the station of police lining the perimeter— the same number that show up for a Forty-niner game – it appears everyone can for one day smoke some dope and have a good time. And nobody gets hurt.

You smell that? That’s the future.