He--for there could be no doubt of his sex, though certain of his proclivities did something (in the mind of the military wing of his family) to complicate it--was in the act of watching a slackliner on a slackline strung from opposing trees. It was hard not to think of Man on Wire (if you haven't seen it, go, go, go). The branches above the slackline, heavy with leaves, which the slackliner walked in and out of and occasionally ripped out of his way, made the whole sight kind of circus-y. Passersby stopped to watch. The stoner watched the slackliner (this guy) and then watched the sky, on his back, next to a girl he'd just met (bottle-orange hair, candy-striped top, also stoned). The leaves and the sky. A small airplane shot out of the leaves.
The stoner thought about all the people who'd given him a hard time about going to Hempfest: the friends going to Smoke Farm who blinked in disbelief when the stoner chose Hempfest (close to home, by the water) over the possibility of bad outdoor theater in a remote location; the actress/singer/Joni Mitchell fan who, when the stoner intimated that he was going to Hempfest by texting that he was "was being a hippie" today, texted back "the first step is admitting u have a problem"; Dan Savage, who declaimed over after-work drinks on Friday that every other weekend of the year is more ideal for getting stoned in Myrtle Edwards Park because there's no one else there; the stoner's young friend from New Orleans, another stoner, who nonetheless texted, "Hempfest is just a celebration of everything that's not fun about pot"; and so on and so forth). You get a lot of heat for going to Hempfest. It's easy to be intimidated by the disdain. By the unfashionable-ness of it. Dan Savage, of all people, is giving his friends a hard time for going to Hempfest?
Whatever with those people. Hempfest is fantastic. It helps to show up in the afternoon, around 2 or 3, and to go with friends, and to sit in the shade with a view the water and the sky and the barely clothed people in the ripeness of their youth walking by. It's true that you hear the stupidest shit from the people who are given microphones and access to a stage, but (satisfyingly) the people you are sitting with aren't falling for it either. "We are here and now!" an officially sanctioned Hempfest speaker was shouting into a microphone in the distance. The girl with the bottle-orange hair smiled and said, "Man, that's some motivational speaker. No wonder we can't band together. These are our motivational speakers."
Nevertheless, from those very unmotivational stages, or at least from the northernmost one, comes the most amazing sort of rain when the clock strikes 4:20 pm: free joints. Raining down. Hundreds (thousands?) of them. Onto the crowd. This year there was such a crush of people on the path in the minutes before 4:20 pm struck--perhaps the joints-raining-down-from-the-sky thing has been too well publicized--that the stoner and the slackliner and the girl with the bottle-orange hair couldn't get to the northernmost stage (does it happen at all the stages?) until about 4:22 pm, by which point the sea of bodies was already obscured in a haze, battlefield-like. The stoner asked a random girl for a hit of hers and she reached in her bag and gave him a fresh one, adding, "They handed them out."
This will happen again today, by the way.
If nothing else, the stoner thought, Hempfest is an answer to the dominant American culture--the suburban, generic, corporate-controlled mainstream. It's the embodiment of an alternative. That this alternative seems so drastic, that it causes so many of your friends to bristle, is only evidence of how well the conservative line has been sold to us. This alternative isn't drastic. It is not some lawless primal orgy. Hempfest is crawling with police officers and security personnel, watching everything: 100,000 people smoking pot outdoors on a nice day, laughing, relaxing, reading, buying stuff, listening to music, eating noodles, eating ice cream, walking on slacklines between trees, sitting on the rocks, watching the trains groan by, etc., etc.
The only hippie-riffic conversation the stoner got into occurred in one of the VIP areas, behind one of the stages, where a man in what looked like a utilikilt, except it was made out of black lace, sat down and smiled. This man in lace and leggings and some serious facial hair was walking with the assistance of a light-wood cane topped with a brass knob. The rest of the man's ensemble was more than dubious, but it was a handsome cane. The stoner complimented it. The man in lace replied, "It used to be Jefferson Airplane's manager's."
The stoner replied with an expression that must have looked like awe.
"Yeah, Jefferson Airplane's manager's cane. His son gave it to me."
The stoner was trying to think of a Jefferson Airplane song. He said, "What was one of their big songs?"
The man in lace shook his head and said he had no idea. Then he added, "If you ask me about psychedelic trance or something, I can probably tell you." Then there was a long silence.
The stoner went and got his bike and rode out to Elliott Avenue, and then up the west side of Queen Anne Hill to watch firemen march uphill into brush fire. He took a photo of the fire engines with his cell phone. Then he rode back down to Elliott Avenue and, hungry for ice cream, stopped into a Baskin Robbins. For there one was. He ate it outside on the sidewalk, next to his bike, staring into cars waiting at the light.