It's a beautiful blue-sky day in Grant Park. Near the new sculpture--the one that looks like red metal boat oars rotating on top of a pole--there's a small group listening to a man bark through a megaphone: "Man, we don't want crack, we don't want heroin, just bring us the marijuana we need!"
A shout goes up from the assembly. It's the annual rally of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, held to coincide with their "Midwest Marijuana Harvest Festival."
The man with the megaphone appears to be in his mid-40s; his long gray hair occasionally blows across his face while he delivers his polemic.
His sweatshirt sports a colorful caricature of Reagan holding a white vial. Across the top it says, RON SELLS CRACK TO FUND THE CONTRAS.
The crowd seems primarily composed of aging hippies. A few have brought their babies. There are some teenagers present--most of them are wearing tie-dyes and headbands. The man with the megaphone is sweating and growing excited. He paces while he speaks, waving his free arm around. "Did you see the Tribune today, man? It says the feds want to lock people up and fine them ten grand for possession of a joint! Not only do we want pot legalized, we want a guaranteed weekly stash!"
Another volley of yells goes up from the small sea of bobbing headbands.
Twenty yards away, five Chicago police are milling around, keeping a close eye on the demonstration.
Tied between two trees is a long banner with a huge pot leaf painted across it. A fist rises from the bottom, smashing through a hypodermic needle. It reads BOYCOTT WHITE POWDER, BRING BACK HERB.
In the crowd of 70 or so there are a lot of tobacco cigarettes burning, but there's no sign of any marijuana.
A scrubbed, 30-ish preppy type walks by. He is wearing a green polo shirt. Where the little alligator might have been is a white pot leaf.
The gray-haired spokesman has finished for the moment, and turns the megaphone over to another speaker. This guy is younger--around 30--and wearing a shirt and tie.
He begins a plea to stockbrokers to make marijuana a legal commodity.
"Sinsemilla tips? Sinsemilla tips?" A sharp-looking man with dark sunglasses--he looks like a film producer--walks around using that hook to sell his magazine of the same name.
An older gentleman in a three-piece suit stands near the worn spot in the grass that serves as the podium. He appears to be nodding off; his head sags against his chest.
A cry goes up to "Stop AIDS, stop violence, bring us our safe marijuana, now!" The crowd roars with approval and the man bounces awake and joins in applauding.
A few minutes later he is identified as a member of the ACLU. He takes over the megaphone. "More people die each year from alcohol and cigarettes than they do from drugs!" he says.
An androgynous character walks by, selling T-shirts that urge END MARIJUANA PROHIBITION NOW. This person is tall with long salt-and-pepper ponytails. sprouting from above each ear. Black jeans end a foot above the vendor's black patent leather shoes.
It turns out she's a woman--hard to tell even after hearing her gruff voice--and with blue eyes and streaked brown teeth she describes herself as a "wandering anthropologist," supporting the legalization of pot.
The number of cops has increased to ten. They stand around kicking stones. Suddenly all of them leave but three, who move considerably farther away.
As the rally starts breaking up, thank-yous are said, and the crowd is moving around shaking hands, a guy about 19 pulls out a huge clump of golden-brown pot; it's a bud the size of an oven mitt.
A full burning matchbook is employed to light the tip, and the bud starts crackling like a yule log.
Holding the bottom by a thick stem, he brings the tip under his mouth and inhales the cloud of smoke pouring off its end. The crowd tightens around him, all trying to get their turn.
Mr. Sinsemilla Tips spots the plume of smoke and steps quickly toward the hub of people. "Say, whoa, let me get some of that!"
The long-gray-haired speaker pushes toward the burning flower top. "Man, lemme get part of that!" He grabs for it and tears a chunk off the side.
The guy holding it snaps, "Hey, you gonna get greedy now, man?"
"I'm just gonna roll a joint, lemme roll a joint!"
He does so and retreats to the back, near the banner. A portion of the crowd closes around him. "Don't let it get too far! I'll never get another hit!"
The group passes the bud while behind them Buckingham Fountain shoots, and the cops watch from across the park.