Before high school I never met anyone who wasn’t a Catholic Democrat so I didn’t know what to expect when I found myself in the company of classmates from Butte’s Republican minority. How we first related to each other was through marijuana. They smoked. I smoked. We all smoked. It wasn’t until one of them said, “Maybe the Young Republicans of Butte should actually have a meeting” that I even realized the kind of company I was keeping.
The mission of the Young Republicans of Butte was to get their parents to supply dues money that could be used to buy drugs. It was a very successful mission. Parents of the Young Republicans wanted to do everything they could to support their budding party faithful and money was no obstacle. In fact, dues collection often exceeded expectations. Lucky for me, my Young Republican friends weren’t nearly as politically polarized as their parents, so I was made an honorary member.
Not wanting to disturb the flow of funds, we took great care to be out of sight when we met. In warmer months it was easy to hide in nearby woods, but in Winter we relied on roads less traveled to preserve our privacy. Sealing ourselves in the rusty remains of a brown Dodge Dart, nine of us usually lent it just enough weight to plow through the waist deep drifts covering all local routes to closed mountain campgrounds, our typical pot party destinations.
One frosty night in February 1970, the Young Republicans of Butte spent a sizeable sum of dues money on a large quantity of quality Sensimilla, then immediately headed out to the closest campground. With intervals of pushing and digging and gunning the engine, it took an hour to navigate the six miles of rutted dirt road. By the time we settled in a spot behind a stand of large pine trees, the temperature had fallen from a tolerable zero to well below. We cranked the windows tight, blasted the heat before killing the engine. Two pipes and a joint simultaneously circled between the front and back seat. Oily smoke poured from our lips. We took this as a sign that the product was rich in resins and celebrated our good fortune by lighting another round.
Intermittently occupied with fits of laughter, brilliant insights, or the fractured patterns of milky frost on the windows, we hardly noticed that the air inside the Dodge had become a dense smog until someone in the back seat tried lighting one last bowl. He struck a match and it went out immediately, then another and another. On the fifth attempt we noticed that the match head hardly even sparked, like it wanted to light but was starved of oxygen. We concluded that we must be breathing pure marijuana smoke. A united rush of paranoid adrenaline peaked in an immediate need to answer one question, “Are we going to suffocate?” An altar boy among us offered to administer last rites.
Someone in the back seat said, “Shit, I can’t take this anymore. I can’t breathe and I’ve gotta pee. She opened the car door and a rush of cold air cleared the smoke immediately. We were saved by a teeming bladder. “Hell,” said the President of the Young Republicans of Butte, “ we better make a motion to always crack a window open.” We all voted yes then rejoined our agenda by lighting another round.