High country: Looking back on my first and last 4/20
April 19, 2018
For me, 4/20 is like most party-fueled holidays. From dealing with overwhelming crowds to drunken debauchery to my mild social anxiety, I don't really partake in these kinds of events (in my nearly 10 years in Aspen, I have yet to attend #HighlandsClosing).
Large-scale 4/20 rallies have existed long before legalization, but continue to grow in popularity. Judging from what's unfolded in Denver's Civic Center Park over the past few years — gunfire has continued to ring out and in 2017, event organizers were slapped with multiple violations related to ineffective security, mountains of trash left behind and unlicensed food vendors. It's just not a good look for cannabis and the progressive path we are on.
Thankfully, 4/20 in Aspen only means scoring special discounts at downtown dispensaries versus an all-out smoke-out in Wagner Park. But before I fully developed into Debbie Downer, I did experience my first and last 4/20, and it remains a perfect, untouched memory. Walk with me …
April 20, 2000: Burlington, Vermont
I was a freshman. I was in doubt. I was green. It was a pretty rough first year of personal transition at the University of Vermont, and come spring, I had already decided to transfer back to my home state of Ohio and attend Miami University the following fall.
Aside from a general awareness that 4/20 meant smoking pot, I had never officially observed the unofficial holiday. There was a buzz on campus in the weeks leading up to it: Who was skipping class, who was wearing what and who was getting weed? I was lucky enough to have my best friend from high school by my side as a fellow Catamount, and we were obviously going.
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We were "Kate and Katie," and we had come so far since our days of once smoking oregano we got tricked into buying, hitting a toilet paper roll in our friend Chrissy's bathroom and taking our first-ever bong hits together at an epic no-parents party.
Now, we had landed in one of the meccas of marijuana and we were ready to celebrate.
Armed with an eighth of our own (that we bought from the dude down the hall named "Kegger") and a brand-new glass bowl from a head shop on Church Street, we met up with a few other friends and headed straight for Redstone Green. We arrived well before magic hour, the cloud and smell of smoke already apparent. As we made our way to the center of it all, our friend Sarah was stopped by a camera crew, who she told it was "one of the greatest days ever" only to get a concerned call from her parents down in Rutland a few hours later after they spotted her on the local nightly news.
We settled into a smoke circle among a sea of students, and I was in awe of what was happening around me. My favorite jam bands blaring, cool hippie chicks hula-hooping, hot guys strumming guitars, the New England spring sun shining and, of course, puffing, puffing and passing. I had never seen that many people come together for a shared love of cannabis and simultaneously smoking … ever.
To this day, whether legal or not, college campuses are still the purest form of 4/20 celebrations, uniting hopeful young co-eds through a date, time and vice. It's exactly the essence of why the Grateful Dead adopted the term from a group of San Rafael High School students nicknamed the "Waldos" in 1971, which has clearly stuck.
Shortly after the chanted countdown to 4:20 p.m., our friends were long lost and Kate headed for her abnormal psychology class, while I wandered back to my dorm room in Harris Millis Hall.
I was high. I was happy. I should have stayed at UVM where I belonged.
Katie Shapiro celebrates 4/20 everyday. She can be reached at email@example.com and followed around high country @kshapiromedia.
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