Some kids in California came up with it, but I didn’t know that the first time I celebrated April twentieth. I lived in Oregon at the time. My balcony overlooked Pine street, and I remember watching from my patio furniture as all the other college kids went to class, exercised on the streets, did all the things college kids are supposed to do. I remember the taste of that west coast weed, I remember the deep bass bleeding from our living room speakers, and I remember laughing with my friends as we smoked our way into oblivion on my first four-twenty.
Eugene is a verdant place, where the heat is ripe and everyone looks like they belong in an outdoors magazine. It’s a liberal college town, one so quintessential that you’ve seen it in movies, and pot was just a part of life. We got high every day at 4:20 because that’s what you were supposed to do. We had our rituals, we used alarm clocks. But we thought “420” was the call-code cops used to call in a charge for marijuana possession. It made sense: when Snoop Dog said “187 on an undercover cop,” he meant murder; the band 311 chose their name because “311” is the call-code for indecent exposure; “420” obviously had something to do with cops and smoking pot (which is why it was so cool). But I was young and clueless—sometimes, clichés really do fit best—and I didn’t know the truth:
The Waldos were a real-life troop of Goonies back in the early seventies. San Rafael, California, was their hood. They were athletes and high school kids and best friends. I’m sure they wore sweatbands in their shaggy hair and striped socks pulled all the way up to their knees. I’m sure their music was loud and I’m sure the sixty-six Impala they drove around town still felt modern, new.
One day, one of the Waldos heard about a military man who lived in the Point Reyes Forest. He was shipping out somewhere, leaving his post on the peninsula, and he wouldn’t be around to guard his pot patch, growing somewhere out in the forest. One of the Waldos even had a treasure map. So, they made a plan: every day after school and after practice, they’d meet at a Louis Pasteur statue next to the wall behind which they usually got stoned (incidentally, this wall put the “wall” in “Waldos”). They’d start smoking immediately, and then they’d drive out into the Point Reyes Forest. They’d get out of that sixty-six Impala and then they’d roam the loamy forest floor, hunting through the dappled sunlight for a hidden glen of unguarded pot plants. They never found what they were looking for, even after two weeks’ worth of searching, but they did find a form of immortality, because the Waldos coined something that’ll live on forever.
The rest of the story is easy-cheesy: one of the Waldos had a loose connection to one of the Grateful Dead, and “420” found a carrier, just like the common cold. And it spread through the Waldos’ school, like things do. The virgin-minded freshmen watched with awe as the Waldos got high behind their wall, and after each graduating class, the Waldos lived on, reincarnated in a younger troop. After time, those two weeks’ worth of raiding into the Point Reyes Forest were forgotten, but the time to get high wasn’t; school still ended at the same time, so did practice, and that statue of Pasture still stood watch over the new kids, doing his best to keep their minds from curdling. Those kids grew up and moved and told stories and had children of their own, and the origin story behind four-twenty was diluted with myth and geography until it found me sitting on that balcony in Eugene, smoking my way into oblivion, convinced in totality that my alarm was going off because of a police call-code.