On this day exactly three years ago, Mike Clements found himself in need of an ego boost. “It was my 50th birthday and I was feeling kind of old,” he told me. So he decided to post his driver’s license on Reddit.
Why would sharing his license with a bunch of strangers do anything for his mood? Well, Clements had a hunch that the people in r/trees, the site’s section for marijuana enthusiasts, might appreciate his birthdate: April 20, 1969.
He was right. The post eventually earned more than 50,000 upvotes of approval and landed Clements on the website’s coveted front page. “I think somebody on Reddit called me ‘Weed Jesus,’ ” recalled Clements, who works at a games store in North Carolina.
In case it needs spelling out, his post was a hit because his birthdate combines two of the most celebrated numbers on the internet: 420, or April 20, is the informal weed holiday, and 69 is a slang term for a sex position that has achieved immortal status, so much so that nearly everyone knows one must pay tribute to it by always responding with a “Nice.”
Clements isn’t the only one who recognizes his luck. “People always say it’s the coolest birthday ever,” said Michael Johnson, a housing case worker in Federal Way, Washington, who was also born on April 20, 1969.
In my reporting, however, I discovered it wasn’t always so cool. For much of her life, Gabrielle, a tech worker in Seattle and fellow 4/20/69 baby, wished she had a different birthday. (Gabrielle declined to use her last name to keep any association with weed out of her search results.) “It wasn’t a good birthday,” she said. “A lot of bad stuff has happened on it, like Columbine. You know it’s Hitler’s birthday? So a lot of bad people just utilized it as a date to do crappy stuff.”
Plus, “my birthday often falls during Passover, which meant that as a child I couldn’t have birthday cake,” she said.
But Gabrielle said she noticed the connotation of her birthday starting to change about 20 years ago: “The first time I remember someone else laughing at it was when I went to a dispensary in Seattle, and when I showed them my ID at the dispensary, this woman was just like, ‘Well this isn’t real, right? This is what we put for, like, fake things when we’re creating data for the store.’ ”
“When I was younger, 420 was a thing, but just the time, not the date,” Gabrielle added. “This was probably in the early 2000s that I realized, ‘Oh, this has become a thing,’ ” Gabrielle said.
Clements credits technology with taking 420 from schoolyard lore to practically a legit holiday: “I’m pretty sure the internet proliferated that,” he said. “It was a meme before memes.”
These days, Gabrielle likes her birthday much better: “It’s sort of nice that it was reclaimed as a fun thing,” she said. “When I have to give my birthday, I used to say ‘April 20, 1969.’ Like, I used to say it so it wouldn’t sound that like that. Now I completely lean into it because it’s so funny, and I always watch to see if people respond.”
Just how rare is the distinction of a 4/20/69 birthday? While the Social Security Administration said it could not provide numbers for me (I tried!), you can roughly extrapolate that there are probably fewer than 10,000 Americans with that birthdate: There were 3.6 million babies born in 1969, or about 9,800 a day. However, that doesn’t account for April 20 being one of the more unpopular birthdays on the calendar: Studies have ranked it 310th and 328th most common. Nor does it account for the people born that day who are no longer living.
Is there anyone famous in the 4/20/69 club? Good question. The most well-known person born that day is Felix Baumgartner, the Austrian stunt-jumper who holds a Guinness World Record for being the first person to break the sound barrier in free fall. His team did not respond to my email requesting comment, perhaps unsurprisingly: They style their dates differently in Europe.
While the 4/20/69 kids I spoke to all get a kick out of their birthday, all have also had the experience of people thinking they must be full of it.
“Most of the time I don’t get believed,” Johnson said. “People are going, ‘No, no, you’re lying.’ I have to pull my ID out, be like, ‘Here you go. Look.’ ”
“I’ve been refused alcohol many times, especially when I was younger, because I look very young for my age,” said Clements. It came up once when he was apartment-hunting: “I was gonna rent an apartment and they wanted another picture ID. I was like, ‘It’s really my birthday.’ ”
But just as often, it’s come with some perks: “I’ve gotten pushed to the front of lines at bars,” Clements said. “I think I’ve gotten tickets to concerts before.” Once, he’s pretty sure, it helped him land a job: “I was working at a music store. They just loved it. It just really broke the ice.”
“Obviously at a dispensary anyone will laugh, and then they’ll often give me a discount,” Gabrielle said.
The 4/20/69-ers said the variety of people who are amused by their birthday tends to vary. While some internet users have lamented that anyone born in 1969 would be too old to appreciate how special the birthday is, Gabrielle and Clements said they both find that people their age are in on the joke.
“Younger people get the 420, the older set might get the 69 part,” Clements said. “People probably in their 40s to 50s like I am probably get both of them.”
“You would think it would be just young people, but I just went to the optical place at Costco, and there was like, I don’t know, a 60-year-old guy helping me, and he laughed when he saw my ID,” Gabrielle said. She added that her kids also find their mom’s birthday “really, really funny.”
On the other hand, one 19-year-old I contacted because he posted online about 4/20/69 being his mother’s birthday declined to put me in touch with her because he didn’t think she would understand the reference. “It’d probably mean having to explain to her what 420 and 69 stand for, and explaining to a boomer modern slang would be real awkward,” he told me. (People born in 1969 are not technically boomers, of course, but that might be a losing battle.) Another son of a 4/20/69-born mother I got in touch with said his mother gets the joke, but actively dislikes it: “She hates that the only reason her son remembers her birthday is because it’s a weed holiday.”
To be fair, weed isn’t for everyone. In fact, it’s mostly not for Gabrielle or Clements, despite a birthday that makes them pothead royalty.
“I don’t remember the last time I smoked it,” Gabrielle confessed. “I must have been in my 20s.” She’ll take a gummy to combat anxiety when she flies, but for her birthday, “I don’t do anything to recognize the 4/20 of it all.”
Clements, who also said he hasn’t smoked in years, knows that his not being very into weed can disappoint people: “They want to hang out with the guy with the 4/20/69 birthday,” he said.
Johnson, for his part, has no such hang-ups: He usually gets high on his special day, and he’s always thought it’s the perfect birthday for him. “It fits my personality in a lot of ways: easygoing, laid-back, doesn’t really stress out too much about things.”
There’s still hope for Clements: When we spoke a few days ago, he said he was considering giving weed another try this year. “I might actually get a friend to reintroduce me to smoking just to see what it’s like nowadays,” he said. Whatever happens, I wish him, Johnson, Gabrielle, and the rest of their cohort a very happy 53rd birthday.