The Origin of 420: The Bebes & The Waldos
I say 420. You say cannabis, marijuana, smoking weed, getting high, hippies, national cannabis day, “pot code,” …tell me when to stop.
Two cannabis smokers looking at some potent herb might remark, “This is some great 420.” Want to ask someone if they feel like taking a toke? They’d understand, “Let’s go 420 at the lunch break.” If I wanted to go out right now and buy some weed from a friend, “Can you sell me some 420?” is all I have to ask. Virtually every cannabis user knows the meaning of 420.
The numbers first started spreading its reach through the underground cannabis culture, and today, are recognized by virtually everyone, in every continent of the Earth, by people who speak English, who speak Dutch, Russian, Chinese, by people in television and in theater, by politicians, by college students with day jobs and by their bosses, by CEO’s…by, really, everyone.
Cannabis smokers across the world watch the clock in their time zones, lighting up as the hand strikes 4:20. April 20th is celebrated yearly by millions as International Marijuana Appreciation Day. At 4:20 pm, on April 20th, tens to hundreds to over fifty thousand people have gathered together to put the brakes on life, sit back, chill, and smoke a joint or hit a bong. It’s been done in the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, at Parliament Hill in Ontario, Canada, at the Vancouver Art Gallery, and on the University of Colorado’s Boulder campus,.
Yet, no one really seems to have any idea where 420 came from.
A lot of people throw around ideas about it like it’s nothing. I remember a guy who would stare at people, with his oh-so confident smile, and assure them, “420 is the police radio code in Cali for ‘marijuana smoking in progress, dude.’” My good friend, who was actually a great reggae guitarist and singer, told me at one point, “Bob Marley died on April 20th. The day’s dedicated to him, and the influence he has.” Bob Marley was great, but;
Wrong, and wrong.
And we’re going to clear up every single bit of that confusion right now.
First off, here’s a breakdown of all the myths that aren’t true.
420: THE MYTHS
• 420 is the California police code for marijuana smoking in progress.
Okay, “marijuana smoking in progress” isn’t a police or legal term whatsoever. People are charged with possession of cannabis (or sale of cannabis, if that’s what’s going down), not “smoking.” California Penal Code 420 is a section talking about the crime of hindrance of someone’s use of public land space. No cannabis involved.
• Bob Marley (or some other celebrity) died on April 20th, and 420 is dedicated to him (or her) and his (or her) cannabis use.
Bob Marley fans, I have to say I’m slightly disappointed. Bob Marley died after a 4-year battle with skin cancer, a type of malignant melanoma, developing under the nail of his toe and finally spreading to his lungs and brain. He passed away at what is now the University of Miami Hospital on May 11, 1981, aged 36; may he rest in peace.
• Cannabis contains 420 active chemicals.
No; the measurement of chemicals in cannabis is never exact. Each cannabis strain has over 400 chemicals in it, maybe over 500, and the number changes depending on the specific strain and plant. Also, we’re talking about total chemical count here; not active chemicals. To get a perspective on that, coffee has a total of more than 800 chemicals. Psychoactive compounds in cannabis are called cannabinoids, and so far scientists have found a little over 70 of them; they each give slightly different effects and show up in varying amounts from strain to strain.
• U.S. Congress Bill 420 is the bill to legalize cannabis.
I admit this one gets confusing. California Senate Bill 420 was legitimately passed and signed into law, and it was the one that legalized medicinal marijuana in the state. But that was in 2003, way after 420 was claimed by stoner culture, and there’s no similar 420 bill in the U.S. House or Senate. Senate Bill 420 is some jumble about changing tax return due dates.
• 4:20 is tea time for cannabis users in Holland.
This one makes me laugh. In the Netherlands, they really do have a part of their structured meal called tea time; and no, it’s not at 4:20. They drink tea and coffee before lunch, at around 10 to 11 am, and after dinner, around 7 to 8 pm.
• The first time someone ever tripped on acid was on the 20th of April.
Oh, you hippies. You’re half right. Albert Hoffman, the man who synthesized the first-ever batch of LSD, accidentally got some on his finger and became intoxicated on April 16, 1943 (a couple decades before the weed counterculture blew up and went mainstream anyway). Three days later, just one day before 4/20 and actually at 4:20 pm, he also had the first “on purpose” acid trip, taking a big dose, riding home on his bike and well, basically, tripping out along the way. But still…this is LSD we’re talking about; how is this suddenly the origin of a cannabis icon? It’s not.
• The Columbine High School shooting took place on April 20th.
Okay…yeah…in 1999. Decades after 420 has been used. And why would people start connecting a terrible high school shooting to cannabis use? I’ve even heard some people claim 420’s origin is Hitler’s birthday. He was born on April 20th, yeah; it was also the year 1889. Guesses like these, at least to me, just don’t make any sense.
• When you multiply the two numbers in Bob Dylan’s Rainy Day Women #12 & 35, you get 420, and he says “everybody must get stoned” in the song.
Hi, this is Earth, it’d be chill if you could come back from space. Why would people multiply the numbers before they talk about it? Aren’t they going to be too stoned for math?
• April 20th is International Marijuana Appreciation Day.
Yep. Because of the impact of 420. Next.
• When The Grateful Dead went on tour and stayed in local hotels, they’d always get room 420.
The Dead themselves have told people this isn’t true. I mean, come on, they each get their own space, they’re not all going to fit in room 420. People also like to say their office in San Fran was number 420 Ashbury Street. Completely made up; it was number 710. The myth that Jerry Garcia died at exactly 4:20 is bunk too: the legend passed away in his room and was discovered at 4:23 am, hours later. But the link to The Grateful Dead is there for a reason. Read on and in a second you’ll see what I mean.
And now, last but not least:
• A group of kids at San Rafael High School in the 70s met every day at a statue at 4:20 pm to go out and smoke.
For a long time, this version of the story has been known as the true origin of 420. Many websites, magazines, and even TV segments have entitled these San Rafael teenagers as the creators of the infamous number.
The story goes something like this.
420: THE MEANING AND THE ORIGIN: THE STORY OF THE WALDOS
The year is 1997. Steve Hager, editor-in-chief of High Times Magazine, is no stranger to 420. In fact, just 10 years before, he created the first-ever Cannabis Cup, holding it on none other than April 20th.
But he was still left clueless about the meaning of 420 and its true origin.
It was just one of those things. One of those sayings that gets around by word of mouth, and no one ever actually sat down and made it up, it just kind of, poofs into existence and ends up spreading like wildfire. And no one ever knows where it comes from.
Or so Hager thought, until he was contacted by a strange couple of guys from San Rafael, CA who dubbed themselves the “Waldos.”
The Waldos said they had all the answers. In fact, they said they were the ones who came up with 420 in the first place. And they said they had proof.
So Hager bought a plane ticket, flew out to the coast, and didn’t look back, determined to find out who the Waldos really were. He hit the streets of San Rafael, interviewing friends of the Waldos, talking to locals, and sweeping every inch of the city for even the smallest piece of info he could get his hands on.
He pieced the entire story together himself, and finally, announced to the World that the true origin of 420 had been discovered.
Here is Hager’s story.
Rewind to 1971.
5 kids are hanging out by a wall right outside San Rafael High School’s campus. They burn joint after joint as the time passes, laughing at nothing and talking for hours on end.
One of the Waldos turns to the other. “Dave, Dave. I heard there was a San Rafael Coastie who grew weed up near his station, then moved off and left his entire field just sitting out there. It was Coast Guard Station Point Reyes. Check it out?”
Waldo Steve and Waldo Dave thought it through over a last J, and decided on the plan. After school the next day, the Waldos would all meet up at the Louis Pasteur statue on campus at exactly 4:20 pm. They’d all light up there and then take Waldo Steve’s ’66 Impala up to Point Reyes, hotboxing the car along the way. Once at Point Reyes, they’d start out for the coast guard’s abandoned cannabis field, taking as many smoking breaks as they needed, and well, that’d make it a day.
Then the next day came. Waldo Steve was looking forward to the venture, and couldn’t help poking comments at it all day. He’d pass by Waldo Dave in the hall and smirk, saying “420-Louis” as they crossed paths. He loved the idea that no one but the Waldos had any idea what it meant; it was their inner code word.
And then 4:20 came. The Waldos met, smoked, drove, hotboxed, smoked at Point Reyes, lit up joints the entire search, found nothing, and hotboxed on the way home. No sign of the grow field.
The day after that, during the last class period, Waldo Steve whispered to each of the Waldos “420-Louis.” 4:20 came and they all met up again, right in front of the Louis Pasteur statue. They smoked again, searched again, and again, they found no sign of this Coast Guard’s grow. But really, they didn’t care all that much anyway.
Waldo Steve would just end up saying “420,” and they’d all go and smoke. Sometimes they’d drive up to Point Reyes, or sometimes they’d just go out driving along the streets of San Rafael, toking along the ride. Soon enough, 420 just meant smoking weed, or even weed in general. They’d say “let’s go 420” right in front of parents and teachers, or get really high and say something like “Dude, I’m so four twenty’d.”
But the Waldos didn’t stop with it there.
Waldo Mark’s dad was a “hip 60’s dad” who worked with real estate for The Grateful Dead. Waldo Dave’s brother, Patrick, also managed the Dead sideband Touloos Ta’ Truck, which Dead bassist Phil Lesh played in alongside David Crosby and Terry Haggerty, and the Waldos were all good friends with Lesh. By the time The Dead picked up and moved to Marin County hills, literally blocks away from SRHS, the Waldos were hanging out and smoking with them all the time. The Waldos would be saying “pass the 420” or “look at this dank 420,” and it caught on with The Dead. At the same time, the Waldos had complete, charge-free access The Dead’s parties and rehearsals through Waldo Mark’s dad. They stepped up onto stage with The Dead once, in front of all the screaming fans, passing joints back and forth between each other and the fans and saying “hey, 420!”
The numbers took their place in the Dead underground counterculture, making their way from concert to concert and state to state as The Dead toured the U.S. in the 70’s and 80’s.
Hager first picked up the term sometime around then. According to him, that’s when 420 really skyrocketed. He started saying it among his group of friends and eventually in High Times Magazine articles. Then he created The World Hemp Expo Extravaganza and held it on April 20th. And after that, he created the High Times Cannabis Cups, and held that on April 20th. Talking to the Huffington Post, Hager said, “The publicity that High Times gave it is what made it an international thing. Until then, it was relatively confined to the Grateful Dead subculture. But we blew it out into an international phenomenon.” 420 went global.
In the 90’s, the Waldos were in their 30’s and 40’s, working their careers, and occasionally still, well, 420’ing. By that time, they had encountered 420 everywhere. Waldo Steve had toked with smokers in Ohio, Florida, and Canada at 4:20 pm. Waldo Dave had caught the sight of 420 etched into park benches, painted over road signs, and even being the subject of elaborate street graffiti.
In 1997, the pair finally got in touch with High Times Magazine, speaking to Hager. Hager ended up flying out to San Rafael, took it all in, and decided that the two were truly the creators of 420.
High Times announced the story to the public, and it was mystery solved. That was the end of it.
Well, until 2003. In step the Bebes.
420: THE MEANING AND THE ORIGIN: THE COUNTERSTORY OF THE BEBES
Rob Griffin, editor and author at 420 Magazine, had heard the Waldo story before. But to him, the string of events just didn’t seem to fit together right.
Why did they just randomly pick 4:20, just to leave school at 3 and come back an hour and a half at a statue, he thought? And the drive to Point Reyes is more than an hour each way, wouldn’t the sun be almost coming down by then? A lot of it didn’t make sense.
That changed on October 14, 2012, when Griffin found an email in his inbox from a guy named Brad Bann, who called himself “The Bebe.” Now, The Bebe was claiming he was the real father of 420; not the Waldos, not Waldo Steve. He attached a copy of an email “Bone Boy” had sent back in 2003 to High Times (without reply), describing The Bebe and his legacy. The email was titled “The Bebe Is The Thomas Edison Of 420.” (You can read Griffin’s actual post and Bone Boy and The Bebe’s email at the link down below.)
Get ready for story time again; we’re going back to the Fall semester of 1970.
The Bebes were a group of friends and athletes who hung out, played sports, and smoked weed together. They all lived in San Rafael in a neighborhood called Peacock Gap, which was essentially “a golf course, surrounded by houses,” and they all went to SRHS. The Bebe had grown high school infamous for the Bebes’ crazy in-class antics, random nicknames that they’d give to classmates and people in San Rafael, and their malevolent pranks, like their wacky recordings, known by classmates school-wide.
The Bebe nicknamed a lot of people in SRHS. Originally, a gomer was weird, socially awkward, out-of-place guy, named after Gomer Pyle (Full Metal Jacket). “Sup Gome,” he’d say, and eventually that changed to, “Sup Waldo.” So The Bebe ended up naming the Waldos; and it wasn’t because they hung out by some wall, either. It was just some goofy word.
The Bebe named all of the Bebes individually, too. Wild Du, Puff, Thorgy, Hello Andy, Bone Boy, The Worm, the Blue Boys (Blue and The Mead), and Turkey. So they were the Bebes.
One Saturday early in the semester, The Bebe was hanging out with Wild Du and Puff at their place, sitting back and passing around a bong with a couple other Bebes. The Bebe took a look at the clock and blurted “It’s 4:20, time for bong loads.” So they packed the bowls full and toked.
Getting on a pretty good level, The Bebe took out the mic and the group started one of their prank songs. The Bebe cracked his jokes and made his impressions, at one point imitating Lincoln and saying “4 score and 20 years ago.” The Bebes fell in love with it and picked up the term instantly, and soon after, it spread though the school.
It’s not a significant origin, Bone Boy said. If The Bebe had just said “It’s twenty after four,” or had simply glanced at the clock ten minutes later, 420 might have never popped into existence. But, with its complete randomness, maybe it’s somewhat stoner appropriate.
It first really caught on as “4-twone.” Kids at the school would be asking the Bebes, “Hey, got any 4-twone?” or someone would say “this is some bomb 4-twone.” The Bebes loved using it as a secret code word, too, using it to fly under the radar of authorities. The Bebe was over at Hello Andy’s one afternoon, talking to his mother, when out of nowhere he declares, “It’s 4:20!” Hello Andy’s mother frantically replied, “My goodness, it can’t be that late yet. I have to go pick up your sister!”
The Bebe remembers the Waldos, too. He recalls them a weird bunch of kids: a junior, two or three sophomores, and the rest freshies, who hung out and smoked a ton, he said. And he and Bone Boy still insist that the Waldos entirely stole their credit for the creation of 420, and that the false truth is just being spread. Bone Boy ends with the statement, “It’s a simple truth, really. Brad Bann aka The Bebe is the Thomas Edison of 420.”
Griffin was stunned. He read the email over again, thought for a long time, and decided to look into it. He called up The Bebe, and ended up getting in touch with almost every Bebe. He interviewed them all, put the pieces of the puzzle together, and showed the world on October 14th, 2012.
420: MEET THE BEBES & THE WALDOS
Meet the Bebes:
• Wild Du
Wild Du, A.K.A. Dave Dixon, was one of the first Bebes, according to The Bebe, and he was there the moment The Bebe checked the clock and created 420. He first met The Bebe as a freshy: the pair went messing around at a brick yard near their neighborhood. Du remembers The Bebe poking holes in the brick mortar, annoying workers, and throwing bricks and rocks around; all the mayhem prompted an employee to call 911 and get the duo arrested. The two spawned countless reels of their ridiculous recordings and songs at Du’s house, and in the early 70’s, they formed the “420 Band.” Out of SRHS, Wild Du sold knife sets to different customers and businesses along the California Coast.
As of today, he’s 58 and loyal to San Rafael, still seeing some of the Bebes from time to time, for a blaze and a chat about the good ol’ days. Du claims the Waldos have even admitted their 420 story to him in person, but they just won’t come out to the public with the truth.
Dan Dixon, A.K.A. Puff, Du’s brother, was also right there when 420 happened. The Bebe remembered him as popular amongst everyone at SRHS, including both the Waldos and the Bebes. Some time after The Bebe and Puff graduated, they joined the army, touring Germany together. Later, Puff spent a long career coaching Basketball, then took up a career as a caregiver and pharmacy tech.
He still loves cannabis and smokes often, at 57. Puff lives in Oklahoma takes care of his mother-in-law, and he still practices his golf swing. The Waldos, according to him, “even tried to recruit me, to make their story more credible.”
Thorgy, A.K.A. Tom Thorgensen, was a few years younger than most of the Bebes. He smoked his first joint not long after his 12th birthday and started toking daily shortly thereafter. At one point, his mother told him, if he ever needed any help with cannabis growing, she was there for it. He ended up selling weed to the Bebes, hanging out with them all the time. Out of SRHS and into the 70’s and 80’s, Thorgy got big, crafting himself as a top dealer in San Rafael.
Today, he doesn’t sell. He works as a carpenter, still living comfortably in San Rafael. He’s 55, and likes to rebuild old cars after a bowl or two in his spare time.
• Hello Andy
Dave Anderson, A.K.A. Hello Andy, lived between the houses of Du and Puff when they all went to SRHS. He’d come over to their place to hang out with them and The Bebe, smoking all the time. Hello Andy remembers The Bebe laughing into the mic, making up weird police code like “One adam twelve. We have a 420 on 4th Street. Send 2 units. Over,” or doing things like picking up a rock, selecting something that happened to be around as a target, and saying, “Estimate angle 420,” before chucking it.
Later, Hello Andy delved into engineering, which he still works in today. He’s 57 with a place in Sacramento, and tokes every now and then if he feels the need to celebrate (like at the Bebes’ 420 reunion).
• Bone Boy
Whenever the Bebes were rolling after school hours, they were in Bone Boy’s glistening blue 1966 Plymouth Barracuda. Bone boy would crank his system to The Doors, Hendrix, Zeppelin, The Allman Brothers…whatever classic rock was on at the time, and take the guys out to the various designated smoke spots they had around San Rafael. He remembers driving up to the Baskin Robins after one of these sessions, and The Bebe making these really loud, high-pitched squeaks that he called “sonics,” and no one in the shop would have any clue what it was (or have any idea it was just The Bebe messing with them). The teachers and working staff at SRHS would even hold entire discussions just on how to deal with the Bebes and their various high school shenanigans, Bone Boy recalls. One day, when Bone Boy met up with The Bebe to hang out and smoke, The Bebe just showed up driving a golf cart. Seeing the look on Bone Boy’s face, he assured him, “Don’t worry, nobody pays attention.”
Bone Boy had a long, successful career in music, and he’s now living in Huntington Beach, CA, at 57.
• The Worm
He hung out with The Bebes and goofed around with them during tackle football practice. The Worm had a prosthetic arm. The Bebe remembers him as “a real game person,” saying, “I love that guy.”
One half of the Blue Boys. The Bebe started calling the two younger Bebes “blue boy,” and eventually they took up the name.
• The Mead
The other half of the pair. One time, Hello Andy saw the Blue Boys getting together and whispering during football practice. They quickly walked up to the coach, looking innocent enough, and asked him for the time. When he replied “4:20,” they burst out in laughter and ran off, leaving coach without a clue as to what had just happened.
You could recognize Turkey among a crowd of people by his twangy, Southern-bred accent, The Bebe said. The guy would hang out with the Bebes for too long, yell “mah ass is grass,” and then take off running in whichever direction his house happened to be. He also “had a mini bike that would go 42.0 mph, some of our first transportation,” said The Bebe.
• The Bebe
The guy who started it all, Brad Bann. Griffin’s 420 Magazine post was made October 14, 2012, right on The Bebe’s 58th birthday. The Bebe has a home in San Rafael, and still gets out the mic now and then to record some of his prank songs; well, that is, when he’s not singing live in places like Vegas or England. He heads a Frank Sinatra cover band, leading guitar and vocals, all the while still toking on the rare special occasion. And by the way, he sounds great (check out his website & song in the links below).
And the Waldos:
• Waldo Steve
Waldo Steve, or Steve Capper, is now the owner of a specialty lending institution, and still keeps in touch with all the other Waldos. At one point in his career he lost assets to Bernie Madoff, head of the largest Ponzi scheme on record in U.S. history. Unlike a lot of his friends and some of the Waldos, though, Waldo Steve doesn’t smoke or have much to do with cannabis anymore, saying, “I’ve got to run a business. I’ve got to stay sharp…It’s a lot of fun, but it seems like if someone does it too much, there’s some karmic cost to it.”
• Waldo Dave
Waldo Dave, or Dave Reddix, makes a good living working for Waldo Steve’s lending firm as a credit analyst. He talks to all the other Waldos regularly but doesn’t really smoke anymore either, saying, “I never endorsed the use of marijuana. But hey, it worked for me…I’m sure on my headstone it’ll say, ‘One of the 420 guys.’”
• Waldo Mark and the other two Waldos
Waldo Steve says Waldo Mark and the other two Waldos are doing well and living successful lives, still puffing joints or hitting a bong from day to day. All five keep in touch with each other to this day. One of them, Waldo Steve says, makes a good living doing prints and designing graphics. One of them is the head of the marketing division of a winery in Napa Valley. And the last works as the head of the gutter division of a roofing company, living well and hitting a bong or joint when he can afford the time.
420 will forever be a part of the cannabis culture, and as time goes on, more and more people will come to learn its meaning. Moves like Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction have already made reference to it; I wouldn’t be surprised if the next I’m flipping through the tube, I pass by a commercial mentioning 420, or the next time I’m making a long drive and flip on the radio, a talk show host comes on screaming his opinions on cannabis legalization and 420.
The Waldos became mini-celebrities among stoner culture and those that knew their story, and though Waldo Dave jokes that they “never made a dime on the thing,” High Times ended up flying him to the Netherlands to attend the Cannabis Cup, free of charge.
Wild Du remembers smoking that Saturday in his bedroom with The Bebe around the beginning of the Fall semester of 1970. He recalls The Bebe’s exact words, as does Puff, and says they must have been said either October 3 or October 7, 1970. Bone Boy still condemns the ignorance surrounding the stories of the Waldos and the Bebes, and public comments on Griffin’s 420 Magazine post seem to agree that The Bebe is still being cheated out of true credit for the inception of 420.
When Huffington Post caught sight of Wavy Gravy at a Grateful Dead concert, back in the 90’s, and asked him what the meaning of 420 was and how it came to be, he looked at them and said it started “somewhere in the foggy mists of time. What time is it now? I say to you: eternity now.”
But when Griffin read through that email from Bone Boy and The Bebe, he closed the window and smiled, posting, “It all makes sense now.”
Rob Griffin’s original post on 420magazine.com including Bone Boy and The Bebe’s original 2003 email to High Times: http://www.420magazine.com/forums/420-magazine-articles/176850-true-origin-420-setting-record-straight.html
Ryan’ Grim’s 2009 post chronicling Huffington Post and High Times’ work in piecing together the story of the Waldos: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/04/20/what-420-means-the-true-s_n_188320.html
The Bebe A.K.A. Brad Bann’s website, where you can listen to him sing Sinatra’s “I Believe In You”: http://bradbann.com/