Archive for April, 2013|Monthly archive page

April 20th in Vancouver

Vancouver has a reputation as a green city.

Of course, by “green”, I don’t mean “environmentally friendly”; I mean “smokes a truckload of marijuana”.

So, with 420 almost upon us, I was curious as to how Vancouver would mark this rather unique occasion.

There are many stories of how “420” became a byword for marijuana. Some have it that it was police code for catching someone smoking a joint, others believe that it is because Bob Marley’s birthday is the twentieth of April (4/20), while still others claim that it is the number of chemicals in marijuana.

Those stories appear to be inaccurate; for instance, Bob Marley’s birthday is Feb 6th, there is no police code for someone smoking a joint, and there are only 315 active chemicals in marijuana. Instead, it seems to have come from a group of stoner high school students in San Rafael, California in the 1970s.

From there, it gets about as clear and well documented as you would expect from a group of stoner high school students.

One group, “the Waldos”, claim the name originated from them. The story goes that in the fall of 1971, they heard that a Coast Guard service member was no longer able to tend his plot of marijuana plants near the Point Reyes Coast Guard station. So, with a hand drawn treasure map of the crop’s location, they planned to meet up after school and hunt for the plot. As some of them had sports practice after school, they set the meeting time at 4:20pm, at which point they would get high, and drive about hunting for the plot until it got too dark to see. They would greet each other in the school halls with “420”, meaning “Lets meet up at 4:20 to get high”. Over time, this morphed into meaning that someone was high. Or that they would like to get high. Or ask if someone wanted to get high. You get the drift.

Another group with a counter-claim is the “Beebs”. Their story is that they were getting high one afternoon when the leader of the group took a hit off a bong, glanced up at a clock and noticed that it was 4:20. High, he then intoned “Four score and twenty years ago”. The phrase stuck, and after that, it became their slang for getting high.

That’s where the phrase would have stayed, if it weren’t for The Grateful Dead.

It was around this time that The Grateful Dead farewelled the San Fran summer of love at the Haight, and relocated to Marin County, just blocks away from both the Waldos and the Beebs. With both groups hanging around The Grateful Dead – a band not exactly known for its anti-drug stance – use of “420” to mean marijuana began to spread through the Deadhead subculture. When The Grateful Dead left on tour, they took the name with them, spreading it throughout the US and Canada.

Since then, the name has slowly become part of pop counter-culture; people on Craigslist will advertise for “420-friendly roommates”, clocks in films can often be seen set to 4:20pm, even the bill in California that legalised medical marijuana was named SB 420.

And in recent years, 4/20 – the twentieth of April, as it’s written here – has become North America’s counter-culture day, a day when marijuana smokers in every city light up at 4:20pm; some as a form of rebellion, some in support of marijuana law reform, some simply because they like smoking pot.

April 20th is International Stoner’s Day.

Having lived in Vancouver for 6 months, I’ve become used to how casual folks here (including the police) are about smoking pot. It’s not uncommon for me to get a nice whiff of it while cycling home, or smell it in my office as someone walks past my open window smoking a joint. I work about one hundred metres from the police station.

So, with this in mind, I was curious as to how Vancouver would celebrate 420.

Quite openly, it turns out.

Now, just to be clear, marijuana (except for medical use) is still illegal in Vancouver. Selling it without a medical marijuana licence is also illegal.

I just don’t think anyone has told Vancouver that.

So, around 3pm on April 20th, I headed down to the Vancouver Art Gallery, where I’d heard some people would be gathering.

“Some people” turned out to be close to twenty thousand folks packing the area. Roads had been closed off, stages erected, and fast food trucks and food vendors lined the streets, obviously knowing a target market when they saw one.

Large stalls selling marijuana had been set up, their signs happily advertising weed for sale, their product proudly displayed, while descriptions were listed underneath the different varieties of pot. People wandered around holding bags of marijuana or hash brownies for sale. At least I presume they were hash brownies. Otherwise paying $5.00 for a brownie seems kind of a lot.

I made my way through the mass of people.

There was a certain carnival atmosphere to the crowd, a delight at being part of 420. Some people had dressed up, others had brought bongos, hacky sacks or small kites with them. A band played on the stage. It reminded me of music festivals I’d attended, but without anyone spilling beer on me.

There were police cars surrounding the square and officers redirecting traffic away from the closed roads. For a while, I wondered if this was really just an elaborate sting, but as the afternoon wore on, and the police did nothing more menacing than chat with the participants, I slowly began to realise that this was really happening. Twenty thousand people were gathering together to break the law in the city centre, and no one cared. In fact, the City of Vancouver appeared to actually be supporting them.

After all, someone in the city council had signed the paperwork for the road closures. Someone had approved the application to set up a stage. And someone must have signed off on the police’s time to do traffic duty down here.

The City of Vancouver wasn’t just turning a blind eye, the City of Vancouver was grabbing the bong and taking a hit.

This was a decidedly strange experience for me; when I was a teenager in NZ, buying pot tended to consist of driving up to a shady looking house late at night, tapping on someone’s door and asking in hushed tones if you could “buy a tinny”.  Once the dealer had established that the scared kids on the front steps weren’t cops, they would take the twenty dollar bill slipped through the barely opened door, then hand over a rolled up twist of tinfoil hopefully containing marijuana rather than basil.

Now, obviously I’m a sweet, innocent girl who would never have knocked on strangers doors in the middle of the night to buy pot, but the idea of it being sold, heck advertised, on a main street in the centre of town, was making my head spin*.

As the clock struck 4:20, a few cheers came from the crowd, then the sky overhead turned hazy as twenty thousand people simultaneously toked on their joints or bongs.

420 continued on into the evening, but I didn’t stay for much longer. It had started to rain lightly, which I decided was my cue to head home. For some reason, I felt an urge to sit on the couch, watch TV and eat a packet of biscuits.

I have no idea why.

The crowd at the 420 celebrations


Marijuana for sale in a not-at-all discrete kind of a way


Seriously. Not at all discrete.


A bag of marijuana for sale is held high above the crowd




flower girl

And then there were some people dressed as flowers. Because, why not?



I’m guessing there weren’t just chocolate chips in those brownies


A cloud of smoke can be seen above the crowd at 4:20pm

*Although that could also be because I was surrounded by twenty thousand people smoking dope.


Adventures on a Small Island (Part II)

(A very belated posting… you can read Part I here)

The second day dawned at our cabin in the woods. Contrary to what Hollywood would have us believe, we’d made it through the night without being attacked by chainsaw wielding madmen, a zombie redneck torture family, or brought unspeakable evil to life by reading aloud from an old book found in the cabin.

In fact, the only book in the cabin was “Hikes of Quadra Island”. I doubted it would be doing much raising of ancient evil.

It did, however, have some good suggestions for what we could do with our one day here. We decided to climb Mt Seymour, the highest point on the island. Okay, so that highest point was only 600 metres, it still sounded like a fun way to spend the day.

Quadra Island was everything Twin Peaks had promised North America to be*. Brooding, grey and desolate, with towering forests, and gaunt winter trees. There was a strange mix to the buildings here; rundown shacks sat next to expensive, well maintained houses. We passed a miniature castle (complete with turrets) while, two doors down, a burnt out car sat outside what I’m pretty sure was a meth lab.

Turning off the island’s single paved road, we headed up a small gravel logging track, looking for the hike. That we had to drive up and down the road several times before we found it – an overgrown path marked by a small, weather worn sign – was probably our first indication that things weren’t going to go as planned.

We headed up the trail. Tall pines and cedars loomed over us, while small ferns broke through the undergrowth. The low-lying fog gave everything a flat, surreal light. Moss dripped from the trees in the damp morning air.

Then we came to the first small patch of snow on the ground.

You wouldn’t think this would be such a surprise, it being Canada in winter and all, but oddly enough, it doesn’t really snow in Vancouver. In fact, it had only snowed once all winter;  the snow arrived late Monday night, and was gone by the time we woke up Wednesday morning.

Accordingly, neither of us had really taken snow into consideration when planning our hike.

But it was only a small patch, and I like snow, so I amused myself bouncing through it before it disappeared and we continued our hike upwards.

Then we came to a longer, deeper patch of snow. Snow fell inside my boot. It turns out I like snow a lot less with cold, wet feet.

The snow grew steadily deeper, soon covering the landscape. My feet kept plunging through the fresh snow, sinking me to my knees. I adopted the “stamp, stamp, step” method of walking.

Going was slow.

The trail became overgrown, with thick trees rising through the middle of the path. We scrambled carefully up some ice-covered rocks and looked around.

Everything looked the same. A thick blanket of snow hid all trail markings. I wondered if this was even still the trail.

We kept on.

No matter how carefully I stamp-stamp-stepped, I would still plunge thigh deep every third step or so. I’d been hit by a car a few weeks earlier, injuring my rib cage. Hiking was fine, but the pain from constantly pulling myself out of a Sarah-shaped hole in the snow was beginning to make me very grumpy.

The trees got thicker and the path more overgrown. Eventually, we had to face facts: this wasn’t a trail. God knows what it was, but generally hiking trails don’t have large copses of trees in the middle of them that you have to climb over.

However, as I’ve mentioned, I’m stubborn. Even though I was cold, wet, miserable and in pain, now that I’d made it most of the way up the hike, I was damned if I’d let a little thing like “not knowing where to go” prevent me from getting to get to the top.

The hiking book indicated that the trail would cross a stream at some point. Listening, I could hear running water to my right, so I headed towards it, making sure I felt into at least three snow drifts along the way.

A fast-running river of snowmelt ran between rocks, with a broad patch of snow on the other side. Possibly the trail, possibly a deep, snow-covered crevasse.

My boyfriend – the less klutzy of the two of us – carefully picked his way across the river, where the verdict came back: not the trail.

At this point it was 2pm. We were lost, cold, soaking wet, and it would be getting dark soon.

In a rare display of intelligence, we turned back.

Back at the car, we took off our waterproof hiking boots and wrung out our socks. We were cold and hungry, but not about to admit defeat. Instead, we decided to check out the ruins of an old gold and copper mine on the island.

Lucky Jim’s Mine, it turned out, wasn’t so lucky for Jim. Started up in the turn of the century, the continual drainage problems from the island’s wet climate meant that the mine lasted barely fifteen years before closing down. According to our not-so-trusty “Hikes of Quadra Island” there was an old flywheel and several log cabins still at the site.

Unfortunately, time and the perpetual damp had long since destroyed the wooden cabins, and the forest had grown back in to reclaim the land as its own, leaving almost no trace that there was ever a mine here. Only the flywheel and mine shaft remained as testament to the history of the area.

The winter woods had a quiet eeriness to them. No birds sang. The low fog muffled all sounds. We were far away from any other cars or people.

It was the perfect time to realise we had a flat tire.

Luckily, our rental car had a space saver spare tyre, so, exhausted and cold, we changed the flat and headed back to our cabin, where we got to spend the last of our relaxing holiday trying to find a tyre repair place open on a long weekend.

Not surprisingly, this wasn’t terribly successful.

As you can only drive so far and so fast on a space saver tyre before it might explode and send the car careening off the road to a fiery death, and, since our exorbitant car insurance also covered Roadside Assistance, we called Thrifty to see if they would come and repair the tyre.

Unfortunately, they didn’t want to do that. Their advice instead was to “drive over the bridge to Vancouver and take it back to the rental office”.

After a confused silence, I explained we were three hundred kilometres – and a ferry crossing – away from Vancouver. The person on the other end of the line asked how far that was in miles.

It turned out the call centre was in Texas.

With nowhere open, and Thrifty no help, that left one final option: buy a tyre puncture repair kit from a petrol station and try to fix it ourselves.

One messy and frustrating half an hour later, all we’d managed to do was waste $10, entertain some bored locals, and get glue everywhere.

Out of options, and with a ferry we needed to catch in a few hours, we climbed back into our car, and began a slow, cautious drive south.

The ferry crossing back to the mainland was uneventful, remarkable only because, by this point, I was expecting the ferry to get hit by a meteor and sink, and it didn’t.

Once back on land, however, things swiftly went back to normal, when we took a wrong turn out of the ferry port of Tsawwassen, and ended up on a highway headed straight to the US border.

Of course.

We finally managed to get ourselves heading in the right direction, and arrived home close to midnight. Then we simply had to find an open car wash to remove the worst of the off-road evidence from our rental car, drop it back at Thrifty, and catch a late bus home to unpack, before starting the working week in a few hours.

It had been a fun weekend.

Climbing Mt Seymour

The last remaining relic of Lucky Jim's Gold Mine
The single remaining relic of Lucky Jim’s Gold Mine


*Well, hopefully minus the murder, incest and creepy demonic entities.

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