Copyright 2016 Waldos, LLC
Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, smoking pot was like being part of a brotherhood. Peace and love were the cornerstone of the cultural movement. Young boys were forced to fight in a war they didn’t support, and getting high was a part of rebelling. For some, it was a way to rebel against social issues and repression. For others, it was a way to help them navigate minefields amidst the chaos of battle.
Many soldiers reported that marijuana grew wild in Vietnam, and there was a never-ending supply to help them deal with the travesties of war. Those left behind at home would smoke and find comfort in the camaraderie it fostered. Protests and activists flooded the streets of America. Its citizens were horrified over the violent assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement was in full swing. You could fill up the car with gas for around 30-cents per gallon, and even the best weed was about $20 an ounce. Cultural and political trends flooded the globe; young adults revolted against the social norms.
Among all of the clatter were five high-school buddies who attended San Rafael High School in California: Steve Capper, Mark Gravitch, Larry Schwarz, Jeff Noel, and Dave Reddix were a hilarious bunch of guys who loved sitting on the wall at school, watching the people aquarium go by. These guys loved to make each other laugh. Their hilarious antics gave way to distorted impersonations and funny catch phrases that soon became inside jokes.
The group appropriately coined themselves “The Waldos,” but not for the reason you may think. They had first heard the term used by comedian, Buddy Hackett, to describe peculiar people. The Waldos were a bit eccentric, but they were mainly full-on jokesters. They fully believed that laughter was the best medicine, and they had no problem conjuring up some of their own. These five friends loved getting high and making each other laugh. After listening to Buddy Hackett, they decided they were definitely odd enough to be called The Waldos.
Behind their funny facade, the Waldos were an intelligent group of guys. They were accounting students, filmmakers, and athletes. In their down time, they loved piling into the 1966 Chevy Impala and going on “Waldos Safaris.” The Chevy Impala was a four-door hand me down from Capper’s mom. At the time, it was not a cool car because nobody wanted a four-door. However, it did have plenty of room for great big speakers that could pump out incredible bass. In Waldo Dave and Waldo Steve’s words, “It had a killer Craig 8-track stereo system.”
Since the Waldos loved music, it wasn’t hard to make the Impala work. Music was another great escape for the young men, and it was affordable. The gnarly sound of great rock and the roomy four-door paved the way for many great adventures. Capper was the pilot. His friends said that he could make friends with anyone in a matter of minutes. Capper would often disappear for a little while, only to come back and grab the rest of the crew. “Guys! You have to see this! We’re going on a Safari!” he would say.
One such Waldos Safari was to Burbank to see a taping of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, and then on to Disneyland in Los Angeles. Their friend, Laura, joined them to catch a ride to L.A. She was a sweet girl with long brown hair. It would be an easy ride with the Waldos and their bit of wacky weed. Laura had no doubt she’d have a good time. The crew headed south on Highway 101, burning down and enjoying the scenery.
Before long, they were joined by police cars. There was a squad car behind them, and in front of them, almost like an escort. When additional squad cars joined in, the kids doused the joints and shoved the fresh green weed down their pants. Pot still had a very negative stigma attached to it. Stiff prison sentences were handed out for small amounts of weed. Stoners were automatically viewed as criminals; there wasn’t much tolerance in society.
When six squad cars blue-lighted the Waldos, and the cops drew guns, the kids knew they were going to jail. After what seemed like an endless silence, an officer came to the car and took the kids’ identification. The Waldos sat stoned and in suspense inside the car, which wreaked heavily of weed. It took about 30 minutes for the officer to bring back their IDs and tell them they could go. While Capper was perpetually funny, he couldn’t understand why they had been detained or even pulled over in the first place. After all, he hadn’t been speeding or driving erratically. Turns out, the first officer to follow them had seen their fried friend, Laura, in the car, thinking she was Patricia Hearst (granddaughter of publishing magnate, William Hearst). The cop thought the Waldos were part of the Symbionese Liberation Army.
Luckily, it was just a bunch of stoned Waldos headed to Disneyland. They eventually made it despite their delay. They attended the taping of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson a day later than they had planned, and went on to have an awesome adventure in the theme park. That’s a whole other story.
Over the years, the Waldos amassed numerous outrageous stories from their Waldos Safaris, some of which were closer to home. Jeff Noel’s dad was a narcotics officer. Ironically, he was one of the top narcotics officers in the state of California. Despite his grueling job, Officer Noel tried to follow a regular schedule. That meant he often brought the truck home after drug busts and seizures before taking it to the field office the next day. Officer Noel got home at about the same time every day. Not only was Jeff Noel well-versed on the laws surrounding narcotics in the state, he was often able to salvage a little extra smoke for himself and his buddies from his dad’s truck.
The Waldos would steal away in the tool shed behind Noel’s house to smoke some weed, but they kept a close eye on the time. One day Noel’s dad arrived home early and unexpected. Skinny bell-bottomed Waldos dove out of windows and doors like water busting out of a plastic bag. Capper remembers Noel getting into a lot of trouble that day, but it is a fond memory he recalled as he giggled.
In the fall of 1971, as the Waldos sat in their usual spot on the wall, a classmate approached with a treasure map. His name was Bill McNulty, and he told the tale of his Coast Guard Reservist brother-in-law stationed at Point Reyes, who had planted a crop of weed at the Point Reyes National Seashore. This Coast Guardsman was named Gary Newman. After extensive thought and the accompanying paranoia over the possibility of getting caught, Newman decided to wash his hands of the pot patch. The Waldos were given the crudely drawn map, and told that they were welcome to the spoils if they could find it. And so began the greatest Waldo Safari of all time.
Since two of the Waldos had football practice after school, the group decided to meet afterwards. They would meet in front of the school at the Louis Pasteur Statue at 4:20 p.m. in the afternoon. The group would pile into the Impala and prepare to trek up the coast in search of this notorious marijuana garden.
The music blared — five friends enjoyed themselves as smoke bellowed out of the windows of the powder blue Impala. While they didn’t find the pot patch that day, they were five friends on a mission. As they passed each other at school the next day, they simply whispered “420 Louis” to each other, which was their code to meet at the Louis Pasteur Statue at 4:20 p.m. that afternoon to get stoned and continue their search for the marijuana garden. Eventually, they dropped “Louis” and 420 became the code for getting high. They whispered “420” to each other at school, in front of parents, and among other authority figures. As if telepathic, they always knew exactly what 420 meant.
A few years later, the Waldos started hanging out backstage at Grateful Dead concerts. While they were friends with the band members and enjoyed the music, the Waldos say they weren’t official “Deadheads.”
Mark Gravitch’s father was a realtor for the Grateful Dead. Reddix’s brother, Patrick, was also friends with one of the band members; he managed their side bands. He would tell the rest of the Waldos where the band was practicing, and even get them tickets to the show. Eventually, the Waldos would dog sit or house sit for the band members when they needed it, and a friendship was forged between the two groups.
The Waldos would use the 420 code around the Grateful Dead, who also picked up on it. The Grateful Dead is credited with helping to spread the 420 code nationwide. Oblivious to the size of the 420 movement, the Waldos just viewed 420 as another one of their inside jokes.
As the years passed, the Waldos would see 420 scratched on park benches, flyers, and a host of other places. In 1998, Larry Schwartz called Waldo Steve and convinced him it was time to set the record straight. They contacted Steve Hager, an editor at High Times magazine, to tell the Waldos’ story. Mr. Hager flew out to California to see the group’s burden of proof, which was extensive. There were handwritten documents, yellow with age, that used the 420 code. There were personal pictures, newspaper clippings, and yearbook photos. Additional documentation has been added over time. It is all kept in a safety deposit box at the Wells Fargo Headquarters, coincidentally located at 420 Montgomery Street in San Francisco.
Almost five decades after the Waldos first went on their greatest adventure ever, urban legends still circulate about the origins of 420. Contrary to popular belief, it is not a police code for weed smoking in progress, or the number of chemical compounds in marijuana. It was the direct result of a never-ending adventure started by five bell-bottomed friends long ago.
They have since traded their bell bottoms for polo shirts, but they still laugh and cut up with each other. They strive to satisfy their unwavering curiosity and thirst for life. When asked about what the Waldos wanted their legacy to be, they cited friendship, kindness, and humor.
“It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice,” said Waldo Dave. The group agrees that good luck is the ultimate superpower behind friendship and humor.
The Waldos started a cultural movement that took the nation by storm, and blossomed into an unofficial holiday. They love that marijuana has gotten stronger over the years; society is more accepting. The group partnered with the Oakland company, Chemistry, to develop a commemorative vape cartridge called 1971.
The Waldos intend to celebrate April 20 promoting their product, and remembering their good friend Patrick Reddix, who lost his battle with bladder cancer on December 20, 2018. He passed peacefully, surrounded by his friends and family. The universe ushered Reddix through its corridors as if it understood the incredible relevance. The official time noted on Reddix’s death certificate is 4:20 p.m.