Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Postcards from the Counterculture: A Fosco Lives! Special Report

Unless you live in a college town, you may not be familiar with yesterday's 4/20 holiday (it's "clever" because yesterday's date was 4/20). It's that day of the year when pot smokers come together at 4:20 PM to celebrate "cannabis culture" by smoking up--often in public. It is a particularly popular holiday at two major US public universities (as noted in this article in the NY Times): University of Colorado at Boulder and (wait for it) Fosco's own University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC). In fact, the holiday has become so closely associated with UCSC that a picture of UCSC's 4/20 event is used to illustrate the 4/20 entry on Wikipedia. (And yes, the above picture is of UCSC's mascot, the Banana Slug, smoking pot.)

The event has always been unsanctioned by UCSC, of course. However, as the holiday has become larger and more public in recent years, the UCSC administration has become more concerned about the questionable PR. This year, UCSC sent an email to the parents of all first-year students asking them to discourage their sons or daughters from participating. As the email suggested (with keen insight into the mind of today's youth):

"I encourage you to talk with your student about his or her plans for 4/20. Ask direct questions about the choices they make and express your expectations regarding marijuana, alcohol or other drug use. Although students may not initiate discussion on this topic, your opinions and expectations can influence their behavior."
"Golly, Beaver, I sure hope you aren't planning to take the pot on April 20th. Remember that anyone who offers you drugs is not a true friend."

But that was just Prong ONE of UCSC's two-pronged attack on 4/20. Prong TWO was to essentially shut down the campus for the whole afternoon, in an attempt to prevent easy access to the Porter College Meadow (traditional home of the gathering). This meant shutting down the bus routes, closing the West Entrance to campus, and beefing up parking enforcement. Of course, there was added benefit of inconveniencing any non-pot-smokers who remained on campus: "Can't get home? Blame the potheads!"

Normally, Fosco would strenuously avoid an event like this, considering that he considers any group larger than twenty-five people to be an unpleasantly large crowd. And when that group is made up of pot-smoking hippies... well, let's just say that Fosco has aesthetic objections to "cannabis culture." However, this year found Fosco in class at Porter College until 4 PM on 4/20. Essentially, Fosco was a within an easy quarter-mile walk of the whole gathering: could his inner anthropologist resist a glimpse of the spectacle? Would a giant crowd of pot-smoking hippies be enough to convince Fosco to stay on campus for an extra half hour?

Yes, of course, I went to look. You would have too. And this is what I saw...

By 4 PM, the people walking toward Porter Meadow had become a steady line (see Monterey Bay in the background?).

It's kind of like watching pot-loving ants, no? And look at the smoke cloud.

Here's a view of the line looking back from the Meadow:

One thing I didn't mention yet: this was the hottest day we've had this year. It was 97 fucking degrees. (And yes, even with my canteen of water, I was regretting the quarter-mile walk by this point--anthropology is hard.) Of course, the heat did give the Santa Cruz Sentinel the opportunity to use the "twice-baked" pun in their coverage, so I suppose it was worth it.

One option for beating the heat was to smoke in the woods that surrounds the meadow:

Other heat-beating options I observed: umbrellas, parasols, shirtlessness, sweating profusely. These photos were taken around 4:05 or so--note the giant crowd and smoke cloud.

For the first time in the history of UCSC's 4/20 event, there were some party-crashers: local Christian nutballs showed up with signs to protest. Seriously!

Don't these guys have something better to do? Like picketing AIDS funerals? Or throwing blood on abortion doctors?

This guy was my favorite:

Who would have thought that God could hate so many things! Luckily, this guy has made a list for us. Can we go to a closeup? Yes?

Let's just take a moment and convert this sign into a list.

People Who Will Be Judged (Presumably Unfavorably) By God
  • Sex Addicts (tough luck, David Duchovny)
  • Baby Killers
  • Witches
  • Dikes [sic] on Bikes
  • Pencil Neck Weak Kneed Gutless Men (hmmm...)
  • So Called Christians
  • Pot Smoking Little Devils (Bingo!)
  • False Religions
  • Lewd Women (well, duh!)
  • Porno Freaks
  • Homos
  • [something I can't quite read]
  • [another something I can't quite read]
  • Sports Nuts (Seriously?)
  • Perverts
  • Racists
  • Money Lovers
  • Two Faced People (sorry, Harvey Dent)
  • Rebellious Women
  • All Non-Homemakers (wow, I bet these guys get lots of dates)
  • Party Animals
  • Drunkards
  • Jesus Mockers
  • And Catholics...
Whew. I don't know about you, but that's the kind of God I could really get into. Watch out, Sports Nuts.

Anyway... the golden moment, 4:20 PM PDT, finally arrived and the smoke got even thicker:

These pictures don't quite capture the moment adequately--for one thing, you can't hear all of the drums. Consequently, allow me to offer the brief video that I recorded (and uploaded to YouTube):

Sadly, I cannot make this experience available to you in "Smell-O-Vision" because, as my college roommate David noted, the whole thing "must have smelled unspeakably awful." I cannot disagree.

All in all, I managed to stave off incipient heat-stroke until about 4:30 when I gave up and walked back to my car at Porter. I wasn't the only one leaving:

Caption: "We'll always have these stupid memories."

Walking back, I passed the only official UCSC presence at the event:

And what did I learn? Well, for one thing, I thought there would actually be a more communal atmosphere at this thing. I had envisioned people passing joints and conversing. Instead, everyone just broke up into their own friend groups--and most of them weren't actually very nice about it. I had kinda been expecting to be offered some smoke (not that I would have indulged), but that didn't seem to be the vibe. I've been to much friendlier football tailgates. And I've had more pot offered to me at concerts.

For another thing, I wonder how many actual UCSC students were there. Walking down, I was in front of a group from Berkeley. In the Sentinel coverage, they interviewed students from everywhere but UCSC: UC Berkeley, UC Davis, CSU-Monterey Bay, Cabrillo College. N.B., some kid from Berkeley was named in the Sentinel coverage as "Skittles." Delightful! Also suprising: I didn't see anyone I knew there. I've been at this school for three years and have a pretty large circle of acquaintances: colleagues, grad students, current students, former students, etc. Of course, it's possible that my students saw and avoided me...

Random 4/20 observations:
  • You could not pay me enough to eat the vegan food being sold onsite by the Hare Krishnas.
  • Hippie guys are not very attractive.
  • God is surprisingly wrathful. That's probably bad news for my afterlife plans.
  • Too many people brought their dogs (which are prohibited on campus). And too many of them were pit bulls.
  • I thought there would be more music (of the non-bongo variety). Where were all the people I saw walking with acoustic guitars?
  • It was SO FUCKING HOT.
All in all, I think I learned some important lessons. And I hope that I have created a precious anthropological record--especially for those of you who wonder what undergrad life is like nowadays.

Oh, and of course, I will NEVER do this again.

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Anonymous said...

So, I am a lewd, money-loving rebellious woman, who happens to be a sports nut...but now that I'm not employed I could techinically be considered a home-maker - wonder if that negates all the bad?

I think he should've included these other things undoubted on God's list of "undesirables":

Sushi-lovers (can't trust people that eat raw fish)
Modern art fanatics (God only likes Monet)
People who don't like Judge Judy
and, of course,
ANYONE who reads the New Yorker.

"God - dooming people to Hell since the beginning of time. Over 1 billion served"


Jill said...

I'm 15 things on the list!! 15...wow.
Hell sounds like such fun...we can all play the bongos.

FOSCO said...

@beemiss: don't forget people who watch "Bravo." God hates Project Runway.

@Jill: Wow. That's a lot. Funny, I never took you for a Sports Nut. :)

I hope that I'm allowed to bring some other instrument--like a cowbell!

m said...

Those woods are my favorite woods to smoke in :3

FOSCO said...

@Mere: I bet it's nice there when it's empty.

I'd actually never been down there. I don't explore the campus much--at least not on foot.

Anonymous said...

@Fosco - I hope God doesn't hate Project Runway!! It is impossible to hate Tim Gunn. Have you ever seen him and Mo Rocca critiquing the Fundamentalist Mormon Womens' fashions? Hysterical.


Unknown said...

Killer synopsis Fosco! I attended this rendition of 420 too when I was a student at UCSC - and you summed it up pretty accurately. The students were rude, mostly visitors, and the vibe was laaaaame.

The only year I remember being memorable was 2006. There was a live band playing, people dancing, no protesters, and unlike your experience - you coudln't step foot on the meadow without being offered smoke.

Seems like the event has gotten too big for its britches. But if you need the collective peer pressure of 2000 people to smoke pot - you're doing it wrong =D